When New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey releases a new beer, it's always worth a taste, especially when it's an edgy style that allows for some artistic freedom. Carey's latest creation follows the hoppy beer trend into the emerging style of the Black India Ale. For this oil-black brew, he drew inspiration from the winding road that leads visitors to his hill-top brewery. Its name: Black Top.
What is it? Black Top from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wis.
Style: Black Top is an American-style India Black Ale or IBA. Brewers also refer to them as black IPAs, despite the contradiction inherent in combining "black" and "pale." (IPAs are typically golden to bronze-colored, and packed with a hoppy bite.) This is a beer style that is just beginning to be recognized by the overall industry and groups like the American Brewers Association, which describes it as having medium to high hoppy bitterness in flavor and aroma, along with a moderate degree of caramel maltiness and a roasted but not burnt character. The IBA ranges from 6% to 7.5% ABV.
Background: Dan Carey made the initial batch of Black Top in mid-July, so expect to see it in liquor stores within a week or two. It's made with all American hops, which include Amarillo, Chinook and Citra. The Amarillo really steals the show, with hoppy floral aroma and a spicy bitterness. Because of the amount of hops used, it's one of the most expensive beers Carey makes.
The jet black color of Black Top comes from a combination of pale, caramel and black malts. The beer takes around three weeks to make, and it finishes at 6% ABV. New Glarus Black Top is sold in six-packs for around $9.
Also worth noting: New Glarus will soon release another new brew. Laughing Fox, a crystal weizen, is expected to be on store shelves by the Labor Day weekend. It's a filtered reddish amber weizen beer with yeasty and spicy qualities. Carey named it for a family of foxes that roam the brewery grounds. Laughing Fox will appear in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles.
- Aroma: Hints of piney, citrus hoppiness with a light coffee aroma.
- Appearance: Deep black color with a thick, soft, brown head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, round, smooth mouthfeel.
- Taste: Rich, resiny bitterness that actually becomes smooth.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Firmly bitter, but not overly lingering. Ends with some crisp, sharp bitterness that makes it almost seem clean, if such a hoppy beer can be.
Glassware: There's enough hoppiness in Black Top that a basic wide-mouth pint glass will work nicely -- it needs no help from the glass to focus the resiny nose of the brew. The basic bar pint glass is fine for serving this emerging American style of black hoppy beer.
Pairs well with: This is a beer that goes well with flavorful, even assertive entrées. Its hoppiness will stand up to spicy heat ranging from Asian to Cajun.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Since my early sampling of Black Top was directly from the conditioning tank, there's just a bit of qualification to all of this. The beer was still very cloudy with a lot of suspended hops, giving it a harsh bitterness. All that should calm down when the final brew is released in bottles.
Black Top is something that hoppy beer fans will want to try, especially those who enjoy assertive beers with spicy and resiny bitterness. While it looks very much like a dark stout, a good Black India Ale offers a different type of bitter flavor, and shouldn't be confused with Guinness. The IBA is actually challenging to make because hops add resiny bitterness, while black malt lends an acidic bitterness. Too much and the beer can come off almost astringent. With an IBA, I look for the resiny, spicy and citrus qualities from the hops to dominate the acidic roasted or burnt tones from the malt.
Black Top succeeds on that hoppy tradeoff, and does so well. It's a distinctive brew that offers a refined but prominent hoppy bitter bite, with a vivid dark presentation. This is a beer to buy as soon as it is released. Cnjoy it while it's at its freshest -- when the hops in the brew are at their aromatic peak.