Rise of the Cascadian Darks

Abram Goldman-Armstrong, Cascadian Dark Ale crusader

In celebration of all that is dark and hoppy (without too much roast, of course), Belmont Station officially kicks off their Cascadian Dark Festival at their Bier Cafe.


We’re turning over the taps in our Biercafe to Cascadian Dark Ales, (dark ales with IPA hopping levels). Watch our website for daily tappings. On tap today: Widmer W’10, Hopworks Secession, Laughing Dog Dogzilla, Cascade Dark Day, Lompoc Black Tiger, 21st Amendment Back in Black, & Pelican Bad Santa.

Still to come: Laurelwood Arctic Apocalypse, Deschutes Intergalactic Black IPA and Bourbon Barrel Black IPA, Barley Brown’s Turmoil, Big Time Dark Days, Elliott Bay Belgian Black, Rogue Mogul, 3 Creeks IBA, Lucky Lab, Walking Man Big Black Homo, and Southern Tier Iniquity.

Folks like sustainably-minded homebrewer Abram Goldman-Armstrong are lobbying for CDAs to be officially recognized by the American Homebrewers Association and the Beer Judge Certification Program. To Goldman-Armstrong and other proponents of the beer of Pacific Northwest origin, the term “Black IPA” simply will not suffice.

To call Goldman-Armstrong a beer aficionado would be an understatement. The Oregon native is an accomplished beer scribe and organizer of the largest organic beer festival in North America (NAOBF). Hopworks Urban Brewery used Goldman-Armstong’s own recipe for a CDA to construct the pitchy Secession Ale. Goldman-Armstrong has worked for some time to raise the public’s awareness for what he demands be referred to as a “Cascadian Dark Ale,” a beer that does share hop characteristics of a Northwest IPA, but with complexities all its own. While some, in order to dumb-down or make more widely acceptable, use the term Black IPA, Goldman-Armstrong makes a solid case for allowing the beer its own sub-style in the BJCP brewers guidelines. The beer style reflects the rich culture of brewing and recognizes the important harvest prevailing from the watersheds throughout and the climate zone spanning from Northern California into British Columbia.

Abram Goldman-Armstrong’s Proposed Style Guidelines for the Cascadian Dark Ale:

Cascadian Dark Ale (aka Black IPA)

Aroma: prominent NW hop aromas: citrus, pine, resinous, sweet malt, hints of roast, toast, chocolate malt, and/or Carafa, dry hopped character is often present.

Appearance: Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Head varies from whit to tan/khaki.

Flavor: A balance between citrus-like and spicy NW hop flavor, bitterness, caramel malt, and roast, chocolate, or Carafa-type malts.

Roast character ranges from subtle to medium. Black malt is acceptable at low levels, but should not be astringent. Intense ashy, burnt character is not appropriate. Caramel malt as a secondary flavor is acceptable but the finish should be dry. Diacetyl should not be present. Emphasis should be on hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium, hop bitterness and tannins from roast malts combine to create a dry mouthfeel. Resinous character from high levels of dry hopping may create a tongue coating sensation.

History: A style that emerged on the Northwest Coast of North America in the early 21st Century. Northwest hops are prominent, balanced with malt, roast malts give color and flavor, but body should be reminiscent of an IPA, not heavy like a porter or stout. The style is not only gaining traction with brewers in the Pacific Northwest, but is starting to spread to other regions.

Comments: Some brewers prefer to cold steep the dark grains to achieve a very dark beer without the tannin contribution of adding the grains to the mash. The use of Sinnamar to enhance color is common.

IBUs 40-90

Color: 40+ SRM

ABV 5.5-8.5%

Classic Examples: Rogue Brewer, Phllips Black Toque, Hopworks Secession CDA, Barley Brown’s Turmoil, Widmer Collaborator Cascadian Dark Ale, Lucky Lab Black Sheep, Stone 11th Anniversary Ale, Walking Man Big Black Homo, Rogue Black Brutal, Pelican Bad Santa, New Holland Black Hatter, Laughing Dog Dogzilla

Gordon Strong, president of BJCP responded to these guidelines with the following:

“There has been a mechanism around for quite awhile for someone to do something like that. I have a style guidelines template on the style section of the web site. If someone wants to propose a style, all they have to do is write it up and send it in.

Ever since the 2004 guidelines, I have also said that I supported the idea of proto-styles being described this way. Enter it in the experimental category, but use a style description that’s posted on the web site. Then pay attention to how often you see it entered in competitions. If it’s something that people are making a lot, then consider it for incorporation into the full guidelines at a later date.

I have approached a number of people about writing up styles in this way.

So far I’ve only seen two attempts, one at Australian Pale/Sparkling Ale and one at English Golden Ale. Both need a little more work before posting.

For newer American styles, I’d prefer to see if they are going to be made year after year rather than being a flash-in-the-pan. The BA makes guidelines for the GABF that change every year and often have these faddish styles included. We’d like to see if they have some staying power before including them, although writing them up as a provisional style certainly has a lower bar than that for inclusion in the full guidelines.

The specialty and Belgian specialty categories have lists of styles that could be considered real styles that haven’t been written up. Any of those could be covered in the same way.

So, yes, I’m in general support of doing something like this, but at first only as something that would be entered as a specialty. The hardest part is for someone to do the full research and accurately describe the full range of a style, providing commercial examples, specs, etc. Lots of people seem to think they can do this, but they never seem to come up with anything complete enough. If someone wants to do the work, I will certainly work with them to review what they’ve done and ultimately release it.”


BJCP’s Region Representative, Ted Hausotter added:

“The BJCP is the tail of the dog, it makes no beer, or does it create beer styles. It is just a group of beer judges sitting around waiting for you to ask them to judge a certain beer style to a certain criteria. Actually we do more but you get my point. The BJCP also will write the style guidelines so the beer judges can have a reference to judge it by. To bring this forward, articles need to be written in magazines to bring awareness of the style to home brewers. Recipes available along with a style guide needs to be available. The easier it is to turn in a entry in a (homebrew) contest, the faster the beer style is recognized.”

Interview with Abram Goldman-ArmstrongAbram and his cat

Aside from the detailed BJCP guidelines you’ve mentioned for a Cascadian Dark Ale, how do you briefly summarize what the style entails?

Abram Goldman-Armstrong: Big Northwest hops offset with roast character in a fairly light bodied beer. A session beer for the Pacific Northwest, massively flavorful, dripping with hop sap, and with around 6-7 percent ABV.

Why do feel it is important for people to understand and recognize this beer as something more than simply a Black IPA or Brown IPA?

AG: The signature hops of the style are all grown in Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest. This is a style that clearly originated here, and has grown in popularity over the years.

Did you invent the name Cascadian Dark Ale? Where did it first come from to the best of your knowledge?

AG: No, My friend and home-brewing buddy Bill Wood coined the phrase, when we were brewing an India Dark Ale in 2007. He was reacting to the term “San Diego style pale ale” he said that the CDA style should be named after the Northwest since brewers here invented it.

The first Cascadian Dark Ales were brewed by John Maier at Rogue. Mogul Madness, Black Brutal, Skullsplitter, and Brewer come to mind all brewed in the early 2000s, though Mogul is older I don’t personally find it roasty enough for the category. Matt Phillips at Phillips in Victoria BC, also developed the style independently in 2002 0r 2003. He couldn’t decide whether to release a brown ale or an IPA, and ended up brewing a hybrid, Black Toque, which was one of the first beers I had in this style.

How important is the geography, culture, or other variable behind this particular style of beer?

AG: This is a style that could only have come from the passion Cascadian brewers have for our hops. People (often correctly) accuse brewers in this part of the world (particularly Oregon of over-hopping styles that should not be. (NW style ESBs are a good example of this). Cascadian Dark Ale is a great example of how this love of hops can help develop new styles. Who would expect a big hop character to work with roast flavors? In the Northwest its been done in stouts, so when someone comes along and makes a CDA, people taste it and judge it in a “does this taste good fashion” instead of assuming that the beer did not work out right.

Abram Goldman-Armstrong on the pipes

How did the CDA symposium come together?

AG: It came out of a conversation I had with Shawn Kelso of Barley Browns at the Great American Beer Festival this fall, we went around trying different CDAs on the fest floor (most were from Oregon), and said hey let’s put together a symposium to talk about the style. We talked to Carl Singmaster of Belmont Station and Carl and I began wrangling kegs from across Cascadia.

What can people expect at this event?

AG: The symposium itself is a chance for brewers to taste and discuss the style, and hopefully develop the loose BJCP style guidelines into something a little more specific. (the symposium itself is limited to brewers and media only, due to space constraints) Everyone else can except the biggest assortment of Cascadian Dark Ales on draught in one place ever before, starting Wednesday the 20th (of January).

What are some of your favorite representations of the style?

AG: Barley Brown’s Turmoil, Phillips Black Toque and selfishly my own, a version of which is now available commercially as Secession from Hopworks.

Did you have a hand in pushing Widmer to release the W ’10 as their latest Reserve Series brew?

AG: No, but the brewers asked me about the style when they were developing it and I did push for the term Cascadian Dark, which appears on the the label despite the “Pitch Black IPA” tagline.

Hopworks also is bottling their Secession CDA, do you foresee many other brewers joining in to make this a regularly or at least regular seasonally produced style?

AG: Yeah, in addition to Phillips where it has been a standard beer since 2003, there seems to be a lot of interest in the style. Deschutes is rumored to be releasing one as a seasonal soon. Benton Brigade from Block 15 in Corvallis is already a seasonal. Stone has added one to its lineup after releasing it first as its 11th anniversary beer, Carl Singmaster even brought back a 9.5% imperial CDA from South Carolina.

As with most styles of beer outlined in the BJCP there is a bit of variance between one particular representation to the next, is there a specific aroma, appearance, flavor, or mouthfeel you prefer (ie more aromatic hops vs bittering hops; specific malt varieties)?

AG: Big NW hop aroma is required for the style. preferably dry hopped. I favor Amarillo for this, New Zealand varieties can also help with the citrus character, I’ve used Pacific Gem before. As for malt the not so secret ingredient in the style is Weyermann Carafa, which gives the intense black color without too much bitterness. Sinnamar, a liquid color extract made from Carafa by Weyermann is often used as well. I personally like a hint of roast barley and some chocolate malt as well. The mouthfeel is what sets this style apart from American Stouts, it should give the impression of light to medium mouthfeel, like an IPA.

What do you think it will take to get BJCP and ABA to recognize this specific style of beer as more than simply a Black IPA?

AG: Good question, the answer from BJCP is “entries, entries, entries.” They want a bunch of entries in the category 23 “experimental beer” class, labeled as CDAs. I have submitted my loose style guidelines to the Brewers Association, and will submit more comments post-symposium.

Any word of any CDAs making an appearance at the NAOBF this year?

AG: Not certain, I would love to get the Elliott Bay version for the fest, Doug Hindman brought a keg for the Brewer’s Lounge and it was quite good. Maybe Secession if Hopworks is amenable.

Abram Goldman-Armstrong and Shawn Kelso of Barley Browns will be at the CDA symposium on February 23, 2010

So here’s a note for all of you Cascadian beer bloggers, homebrewers, and all-around beer geeks: If you’d like to support the style, write about it, brew it, and talk it up. This will help it generate some traction. Otherwise you might be stuck with only Black IPAs.