Whatever your thoughts on the term Black IPA, there's no denying their existence. You also can't deny that many of them are absolutely fantastic beers.
From Scotland, Fyne Ales make some wonderful beer and Sanda Black is no exception. The first thing you might notice from the picture is that even with careful pouring, which I promise I did, the beer is roughly half foam. That's not because it's over carbonated though, just because something in the beer gives it great head retention. On the nose there was the slightest hint of treacle but little else that I could discern. On tasting, that treacle was still there but with a whack of fresh grassy hops, though where they were in the aroma I can't say. That aside, there was far more roast than I would like in a black IPA. It was bordering on a hoppy porter.
For me, a black IPA should be mostly indistinguishable from a regular IPA with only subtle dark malt character. That meant that this beer was a slight disappointment for me but at the same time, still a very good beer and one I would happily drink again. It seems there's also a Sanda Blonde, it's lighter cousin. TheBeerNut had both if you want to know about that one.
On the other hand, Fade to Black from Left Hand is a very different beer. This was Volume 4: Rocky Mountain Black Ale. For one thing, it's a full percentage point of ABV higher than Sanda Black at 6.5% so I would expect a little more beer for my money. There's more on the nose this time and though treacle was fairly obvious, we also had some citrus and pine needle to go along with it. On tasting, I was struck by a distinct bitterness. They were clearly not shy with the bittering hops. As with many American beers, this was much fizzier than its British counterpart but not overly carbonated like many can be, I think it was just about right for the beer. Dark chocolate, treacle, hint of coffee from the darker malts with brown sugar and treacle making up the sweeter side of things and then a little pepper in the finish. It feels like a larger beer than it really is and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Moving up another percentage point to 7.5% ABV and from a little known nano brewery in New York called Sloop Brewing is a beer called The Black C. When I say little known, I'm their 151st follower on twitter as of a few moments ago, maybe we can get that number up? This is a New York brewery, a city with a metropolitan population of nearly 19 million people, over 4 times the population of Ireland. There's an air of Galway Hooker about them. They both use a type of boat/ship as their logo and brewery name. I know very little about them to be honest, this bottle was brought by New York ex pat, Richard Lubell to a tasting night we had at my house.
For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that the beer had travelled a long way and was probably left too long. With hop forward beers, this means a loss of hop aroma and possibly a little flavour too. What this meant for the beer is hard to say as we have no fresh example. It appears to be a mish mash of styles from various countries. American "C" hops, Belgian, German and English malts and a Belgian yeast. Since it's a hybrid of sorts, it took a while to get used to but I decided I liked it in the end. The dark malts were there for colour more than flavour and were not assertive or domineering as they can be in black IPA type beers. The slightest hint of milk chocolate was the main evidence of their existence. The beer is generously carbonated, something that is correct for both American and Belgian beers so it was not out of place. I'm fairly certain that Cascade was one of the hops used, that classic pine and grapefruit aroma and flavourings were fairly evident. Otherwise, something was missing and like I said, that was to be expected because it's reckoned the bottle was about 6 months old.
One of these days I will find a reason to go to New York. It would help of my wife had family there of course but for now, I'll just have to be content with places like Chicago, San Francisco and Denver as large cities with lots of beer and family to visit, among other places of course. She has a large family.