From Crop to Craft

What is stout, what is Black IPA? The beer above, from Magnotta in Ontario – a winery, brewery, and distillery – is a Black IPA.

This style emerged in the U.S. in the last 20 years, and is a dark-coloured India Pale Ale. The idea is to retain the hoppy burst of an IPA but with a dark colour and touch of roast flavor.

If IPA was a Supermarine Spitfire with eight Browning guns, Black IPA is the night fighter version.

A stout is black, or very dark brown, beer with the same element of roasted malt or barley, but enough to lend a decided toasted or even scorched flavour, burnt cordite comes to mind. Traditionally, stout was very bitter but in a neutral way, not aromatic like some pale ale was.

Stout is still often associated with Ireland but it emerged in the 1700s in London with its brother-in-arms, porter. The expedition to Ireland was later, under British auspices when Ireland was British, that is.

Stout and porter are really the same thing, the only difference was a general tendency that porter was less strong. Stout could describe a pale beer too and did before porter emerged – meaning in other words simply a strong beer. Once porter conquered the London beer market stout meant the brown kind, and has ever since.

Some Black IPA crosses into stout territory, some leans more to the IPA encampment. It’s a no-man’s-land of beer styles, really.

Generally, the “IPA” in Black or most contemporary IPA denotes a modern American hop signature: floridly fruity, often citric, sometimes weedy or “dank”.

IPA in England, where it originated also in the Georgian era, and also in London, can be as sharply bitter – was originally – as American IPA but the hop flavour is different. English hop yards produced flavours more like garden flowers or an autumn forest.

Sometimes English IPA had an acerbic bitterness but not much aroma at all, the Burton style could be like this.

Even before craft beer mobilized, some IPA as such survived in U.K. but the pint of “bitter” still available in many English pubs is a descendant. If you want to know what English IPA was like, the closest surviving examples in English pubs today are the bitter.

Magnotta’s version of Black IPA commendably uses Ontario-grown hops. These ended by not tasting very American at all, or are used at any rate in a way to impart a neutral bitterness. Some Ontario hops are rather acerbic or dank in my experience but not here, the taste is very good and traditional.

The result is to approach more closely an English heritage, perhaps like the old Black and Tan, a mix of bitter and stout.

In general the beer is excellent, with a full malty taste. Nothing crow about it except the colour!

Magnotta has been brewing for many years now, but this beer is the best I’ve tasted from them. I hope to get out to Vaughan, ON soon, where the company is based, to revisit the range.


7 thoughts on “From Crop to Craft”

  1. hi to all

    please try as well

    Mtl st ambroise oatmeal stout

    coffee chocolate nutty

  2. I know some stouts were dry hopped – this one from Ron Pattinson’s site has a bit of dry hopping and I’ve seen some others he’s written up too. Not a ton, but they’re there.

    The more I look at his site, the fuzzier my sense of styles gets. I seem to recall he listed early or mid 20th Century stouts which din’t have a ton of dark malts or sugars and got a ton of color from caramel coloring.

    • Thanks for this, I’m aware of those references. As I mentioned in my post, some export stout received this treatment, I believe Frank Faulkner’s 1888 book states that (available on Google Books). Some producers probably extended that to domestic production, but it was not typical for stout and porter in their heyday in the U.K. I’m not even sure dry-hopping was in general, as it is associated with running beers which become common at the end of the 1800s, but anyway a burst of hop aroma is not part of the stout palate traditionally, based on my reading.

      It’s certainly true caramel and sugar were used in the 1900s but we are past the classic era again. I am referring to late 1700s to 1846 when the beers had to be all-malt and much porter and stout remained so up to about WW I.


    • Tim, bear in mind as well that with gravity decline in the 1900s, anything to preserve the beer’s stability might have been resorted to. It makes sense there was more use of dry hopping for black beers then for this reason alone.


  3. To Gary:
    This post covers two issues concerning craft beer: the competition between hop aroma/flavor and bitterness and the advent of black IPA. In earlier times, “balance” usually referred roughly to the malt / hop formula. Now I see balance as a competition among three competing flavors, malt body, hop bitterness and hop aromatics. Your post suggests that you prefer more bitterness than is typical in American-style IPAs, and this is my preference too. Black IPAs are similar in style to home brew I made using a base of malt extracts in the 70s and 80s. The roasted malt and extra hops “covered” some of the off-flavors that would have been prominent in pale ales or lagers. (By the late 80s, some of my acquaintances were brewing fine all-malt home-brewed beers.)
    By the way, on my infrequent visits to Toronto, I try to visit “C’est What”. They currently list 8 cask beers, with traditional styles well represented, and many more draft brews.

    • Thanks Arnold, C’est What is an institution. I need to get there more often, it’s just that so many places have emerged offering their own take on good beer. Viewed historically (before craft), I can say that porter and stout were not expected to have hop aroma/taste. They had pronounced hop bitterness though, so taste in that sense, yes, but largely a neutral one. With the craft era, “American” stout emerged, meaning combining Cascade and that type of hop taste with porter and stout. Black IPA was similar, but less roasty.

      You may be right that early craft brewers and homebrewers did this to mask off-tastes in unaged beer, perhaps IPA itself in the American way has that origin. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and I think Liberty Ale and all that style always had some New World hop aroma too, so it’s hard to say, maybe IPA and Black IPA just continued that but “more”.

      For pale ale/IPA/bitter, some traditionally had hop aroma, especially if dry-hopped, some did not. (Porter was not dry-hopped by the way, nor stout except some for export). But some pale ale/IPA/bitter did not have hop aroma and taste, the taste was essentially malt-driven with firm hop bitterness. There were variations in palate in this class of beer.

      That older type of bitter still carries on in U.K. with again variations in the hop impact and taste. Porter now is more a craft specialty everywhere and is all over the map for how the hops are handled.

      But even Guinness shows the old way, attenuated in taste as it is. It is still quite bitter (try it unchilled), but it’s a neutral bitterness, there is little hop aroma and no American hop aroma.

      IMO for lager, traditionally hop bitterness again was wanted, not really aroma with the exception of Saaz use in Pilsner Urquell. The flavour balance was malt-hop-yeast background.


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