Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Ska Brewing The One Eyed Monster

"Tell me if we nailed it," Ska Brewing Co. co-founder Bill Graham said, handing me his glass. "Raspberries and dark chocolate."

Ska decided to bring a new beer style to Durango for its annual beer to coincide with the city's Snowdown festival.

The One Eyed Monster, released last week, is what the brewery calls a Black IPA: essentially, an IPA brewed with dark malts.

When I walked into the release party at Ska last week to take a couple of bottles home, Graham was there. So, naturally, I interrogated him about the new beer while he was trying to play trivia with his friends.

The black IPA is a relatively young beer style that took hold in the Northwest about two years ago. Deschutes, Hopworks and other Oregon breweries have been at the forefront.

Ska's take on the style is very different from others I've seen.

While Deschutes and other NW breweries tend to favor typical, aggressive IPA hops like Cascade, Citra and Centenntial, Ska chose to hop The One Eyed Monster with Fuggles, a relatively mild hop of English origin, and Brewers Gold, a relatively mild hop of German origin.

The One Eyed Monster comes in at approximately 6.5 percent ABV and 65 IBUs, similar to a standard American IPA.

Ska brewed only 30 barrels of The One Eyed Monster and is distributing it only in Southwest Colorado. The 22-ounce bombers cost about $4.50 each.

It pours very dark, with a decent head of foam. The taste, at first, is a wash of chocolate malt, followed by a palate-cleansing hop flavor that tastes refreshing, not a word I often use in craft-beer reviews.

The aftertaste is indeed reminiscent of raspberries, perhaps also toothpaste (not a bad thing).

The style has provoked disagreement among beer taxonomists over what it should be called. Ska went with "Black IPA," a name that some have criticized as contradictory because it's saying black India pale ale, and a beer can't be both black and pale.

Folks in the Northwest prefer the term "Cascadian Dark Ale," after the regional Cascade Mountain range, which seems a little silly. You can't expect brewers in Colorado and elsewhere to follow that lead.

Neither does "India Black Ale" seem entirely satisfactory, because this new style is entirely American. The Brewers Association splits the difference, calling it an "American-style India Black Ale," which is probably about as good as we're going to get.

Putting aside the name game, Ska's version of the style is unlike any other you may encounter. While some brewers have reached for aggressive citrus hops that batter the malt into submission, the simple, humble Fuggles and Brewers Gold might be the way to go.

The One Eyed Monster is dark, malty and hefty. The hops are certainly here, but they don't dominate. It's an entirely pleasant departure.

The One Eyed Monster is an innovative approach to a still-developing beer style.  Not incidentally, it tastes quite good.

Bill, you nailed it. A


  1. Wish I was in SW Colorado for this one. Love everything they do at Ska!