Get it right. It’s an India Black Pale Lager Ale

We can all stop calling it India Black Ale, or Black IPA, or Cascadian Dark Ale. Apparently the Brewers Association wants us to call it American-Style Black Ale. That is how the Brewers Association refers to it in their new Style Guidelines. Officially, the name used to be American-Style India Black Ale, by the way.

The new name makes more sense really. I guess. Most commonly I have heard these beers referred to as “Black IPA.” My friends will tell you that the name has always troubled me (understatement). I mean, to begin with, how can a beer be both black and pale?

I think the industry gravitated toward calling this style of beer Black IPA because of the ever-increasing popularity of IPA. Any beer with IPA in the moniker is going to attract more attention these days. IPA is a style of beer. Period. Done. Make it big and call it an imperial or a double. Acceptable. But what’s next? Sam Adams American IPA Lager? It’s both Indian and American: a lager and an ale.

I digress.

That’s just one of the changes introduced with the release of the Brewers Association’s 2011 Beer Style Guidelines—the official set of guidelines used to judge some of the most prestigious beer competitions in the country.

Here is the press release from the Brewers Association.

Boulder, CO • January 12, 2011—The Brewers Association (BA) recently released its 2011 Beer Style Guidelines. Updated annually, the guidelines currently describe 140 styles of beer and are used in prestigious beer competitions, like the Great American Beer Festival® and the World Beer Cup®.

For 2011, several beer style descriptions have been significantly updated:

  • Belgo-American-Style Ales
  • Belgian-Style Flanders Oud Bruin/Oud Red
  • German Bock
  • Rye Beer

Additionally, two beer styles have been renamed. American-Style Sour Ale is now known as American-Style Brett Ale, and its description has been significantly revised. American-Style Black Ale is the new name for American-Style India Black Ale, and it too has updated style guidelines.

Since 1979 the BA has provided beer style descriptions as a reference for brewers and beer competition organizers. The beer style guidelines developed by the BA use sources from the commercial brewing industry, beer analyses, and consultations with beer industry experts and knowledgeable beer enthusiasts as resources for information. Much of the early work was based on the assistance and contributions of beer journalist Michael Jackson. For 2011, revisions were aided by over 150 comments and suggestions from Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup judges, as well as other beer industry members.

“These guidelines help to illustrate the growth of craft brewers in the United States and also offer insight and a foundation for helping appreciate the hundreds of beer types brewed for the beer lover,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association.

The 2011 Beer Style Guidelines are available for download in the Publications section of

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  1. Why get it ‘right’, I say continue to give it the name it deserves for the region of origin, and the region that does it right. Cascadian Dark Ale forever!!!

  2. Disagree. I was at the Noble Fir drinking a Victory Yakima Twilight tonight (in between sips of my warming Deschutes Abyss…delicious!). Those clever bastards in Pennsylvania brew a damn fine Black IPA. By now it’s like saying Burton-On-Trent has a monopoly on Pale Ale. The cat’s out of the bag, let’s get a descriptor we can all live with.

  3. That’s an absurd argument…why don’t we call IPA a Hoppy Pale Ale instead, so its more neutral so we don’t offend those who don’t actually ship it to India. You have failed Russell.

  4. We can change the name when we’re no longer producing 75% of America’s hops. Cascadian Dark Ale forever!!!

  5. Hmm an interesting point, but invalid nonetheless. “India Pale Ale” may be the “historical” name of those beers, but it has been co-opted for years now by craft brewers having nothing to do with the Indian Subcontinent. Frankly ‘IPA’ as we know it is more of a modern, American invention anyways. But in much the same way as Pilsners no longer come solely from Pilsen, the term has become synonymous with the product itself. Its original meaning is now secondary. In the trademark world this is called ‘genericide’; when your trademark gets used to refer to the general thing itself, as opposed to just your own company’s product. Like how we xerox things, or hoover the floor. Similarly, “IPA” is now just the generic term for “Hoppy Pale Ale”. So we don’t call IPA “hoppy pale ale” because it has come to mean precisely that. The India part is irrelevant and simply denotes more hops. Also, I don’t think there’s anyone shipping from Burton to Bangalore left to offend. 🙂

    It can hardly be said that the NW, which may or may not have actually started this whole CDA thing, has an unbreakable lock on the style. I mean, Greg Noonan over at the Vermont Pub and Brewery brewed one in 1990. (A toast to him! R.I.P.) But given the boom in popularity in the last few years I’d say it has become a fully national style. American Black Ale is as good name as any for it, though I imagine some people around here will still call it CDA. Like how some Texans inexplicably refer to all soft drinks as Coke.

    But from a marketing perspective it took years for people to generally learn what an IPA is, and even now I still find myself explaining it, so adding ‘Black’ to IPA seems pretty easy and self-explanatory. Big hoppy beer, now black, “like that certain Irish beer on nitro over there.” Whereas Cascadian Dark Ale… You and I know what that is, but some beer novice wandering into a bar? Even to me it just sounds like a hoppy Amber.

    Ultimately though, I do like the idea of a distinctly NW regional style. But then I think of most good craft beer as distinctly NW. Everyone else is just poorly imitating our supreme greatness. 🙂 Remember that the BA guidelines are mostly just to sort categories for competitions like the GABF anyways. So breweries around here can and will call it what they like. As it should be. And if they can make CDA somehow noticeably distinct from the other American Black Ales being produced all around the country right now, then by all means more power to them.

  6. Hah, in the timeless words of Ralph Wiggum, “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

    Frankly though, our NW brewers need to step up their CDA game or those barbarians from the East and South will take over. Victory’s Yakima Twilight is pretty great. But Deschutes Hop in the Dark is also good, so maybe it balances out.

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