According to the latest Beer Style Guidelines released by the Brewers Associations, there are 73 styles of ales and 64 lagers in existence. That's 137 different styles of beer! Despite this plethora of options, the world's newest style of beer has created quite a stir.
While the style has been well-received by the craft beer community, there has been considerable controversy surrounding what to call this unique style. If you ask me (or more importantly the Pacific Northwest brewers who popularized the style), it is called Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA). Others prefer the more universal Black IPA (ignoring the fact that you can't really have a black pale ale . . .). And the official name designated by the Brewers Association is American-style Black Ale. At the very least I think everyone can agree that saying, "Hey, can I have an American-style Black Ale?" is a rather awkward drink order.
Even the style's origins are contentious. The term Cascadian Dark Ale was coined by Oregon home brewers Abram Goldman-Armstrong and Bill Wood. However, brewers from Oregon to Colorado to Vermont have claimed to be the first to brew the style. Though others have brewed black, IPA-like beers before, Goldman-Armstrong and Wood have the strongest claim of ownership by bringing together experts to define the style in 2010.
What is agreed is that CDAs are characterized by aromatic, citrusy hops like Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe. The malts used should be dark and roasty, but not heavy or burnt as in a stout. This unique pairing of malts and hops can result in some unusual flavors like rosemary, mint, or ginger, as well as healthy levels of bitterness and alcohol. Medium-bodied and easy to drink, CDAs are the perfect beer to challenge that friend who "doesn't drink dark beers."
Unfortunately, some of the style's best examples are out of our reach in the Pacific Northwest. DESCHUTES HOP IN THE DARK CASCADIAN DARK ALE is my favorite for the way the citrus hops and roasted coffee harmonize rather than contrast. The good news is that now plenty of other top-notch CDAs can be found in this area. In no particular order, here are eight Cascadian Dark Ales worth looking for:
• STONE'S SUBLIMELY SELF-RIGHTEOUS ALE started as Special Release until a cult-like following demanded it be brewed year-round. One of the hoppiest CDAs I have encountered, it is exactly what you would expect from this extreme San Diego brewer.
• SIERRA NEVADA'S BLACKBIRD BLACK IPA has a considerably lower profile for some reason — I've only seen it on tap once. Not exactly sessionable at 8.7% ABV, it's still considerably smoother than its rivals.
• And you know CDAs are here to stay when they start showing up in a can! 21ST AMENDMENT'S BACK IN BLACK is a little thin for my taste, but would still be an enjoyable companion for that springtime picnic.
• Out east, VICTORY'S YAKIMA GLORY is a winter seasonal that deftly meshes the opposing flavors together. The body is almost creamy, making it easy to drink a couple in a sitting.
• Some of the smaller breweries from Massachusetts have also taken a swing at the style. CLOWN SHOES HOPPY FEET 1.5 DOUBLE BLACK IPA is enjoyable as long as you don't mind some aggressive hoppiness.