I still scratch my head, but also rub my tummy
A Review of Pitch Black IPA by Widmer Brothers Brewing
Posted on 11/3/2011 by Brew's Your Daddy
                   
Great
I've made it no secret that every time I try a black IPA, I end up wanting to bang my head against a wall from sensory confusion. For years, when you saw a black looking liquid in your glass you were either drinking motor oil or having a stout. Like a Pavlovian dog, you became conditioned to expect certain flavors and aromas to accompany that black nectar. Things like chocolate, coffee, and roasted nuts always come to mind. Then somewhere along the line, someone decided that a brilliant idea would be to make a beer that looks like a stout, but toss out all those flavors and aromas, and replace them with those of an IPA. And that has led us to the style now known as the black IPA. I am the first to admit that these beers totally confuse me, but lately they have also had another effect. Recently I have started to appreciate this funky style more, and actually I've started to like them. So when I was at the World Beer Fest in Durham, NC, and I saw that Widmer Brothers Brewing had brought their Pitch Black IPA for sampling, I actually got excited and hopped in line for a sample.

In the glass, it lived up to its name. It was pretty much black all around, with just the slightest hues of ruby red tracing the edges when held up to a light source. A khaki tan colored head sat on top of it and hung around for quite some time. If you look up at my helpful pic, you can start to understand why I still have moments of confusion with this style of beer. It looks just like a stout. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong. That's what I thought. When I went in for the first smell however, my usual brain smoke started to boil. My nose screamed wonderful IPA, and my eyes and brain remembered what they just saw, which was seemingly a stout. Smells of some very floral hops filled my nostrils, while some really rich malty notes came through quite well. After warming for a minute or two the hops started to take on a bit more of an herbal tone, and some very faint citrus highlights started to peek through in the form of very ripe grapefruit.

Then the time came when I pressed forward and had to give up on trying to understand what I was seeing and smelling, and instead drink it. Once again, it lived up to its name. This time however it was the IPA part. There was a nice malt layer that was blended well with a hefty, but non-abrasive hops bite right up front. As we have said countless times on BrewChief, one of the hardest things to do is make a well balanced IPA, but so far so good here. The citrus flavors stayed inline with the nose, and grapefruit was the most dominant in that area. After giving it a minute or two, a nice roasted layer started to come through, and I was even able to find traces of caramel and light chocolate in it from time to time. There was a good mouthfeel to it as well. It fell more on the creamy range, with a bit of a thickness to it, and a decent amount of carbonation helped keep things rather clean throughout. As I got deeper and deeper into the glass, the phrase ''complex, but very well balanced'' stuck in my head.

As much as the overall style still frustrates me, I can easily say that Widmer Brothers Brewing has a great example of the style in their Pitch Black IPA. If you can get past the mental aspect of it, I would recommend it to all levels of beer drinkers. The pros can appreciate it as a great stylistic example, and enjoy all of its complex flavors and aromas. And if the rookies are willing to take a big step, this one would be a great place to start with this style. While it is an IPA, it is nowhere near aggressive, and is actually what I would call an easy drinker. If nothing else, it would make for some good entertainment with a great beer. You may find yourself in the same boat as I do from time to time with this style, but hopefully you will end up like I have. You accept the head scratching moments, and in turn are rewarded with the tummy rubbing ones.

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Pitch Black IPA by Widmer Brothers Brewing
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