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Friday, April 10, 2015

Black Vanilla IPA – Horny Goat Brewing Co.


                It’s probably getting to the point that I should stop ragging on my old memories of Horny Goat in the intros to these posts.  After all, since my initial poor impressions of the brewery I have had a few very well brewed beers that seem to represent a turning point for the brewpub on Milwaukee’s south side.  Sure, the initial disappointment is ever present in the back of my mind, but with Brian Sauer at the helm, the newer beers he has started brewing are a testament to his skill and creativity.

                BlackVanilla IPA is just another example of Brian’s creativity.  Black IPAs tend to have strong hops flavors and aromas while also having some of the dark malt characteristics that a porter or stout might have, however the malts should be much more restrained than either a porter or stout.  Coffee, chocolate or roasted barley notes can exist, but they should be restrained with the hops shining through; this is an IPA-based style after all.  First produced in 1990 by Greg Noonan at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT the style was adapted by brewers in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California (yes, Stone, Widmer, and Rogue) in the mid-2000’s and quickly gained popularity.  The style, now known as a Cascadian Dark Ale takes its name from the Cascade Range that runs through Washington, Oregon, and northern California; a fitting name for a style that owes its popularity to the region that made it famous.

                I love a good Cascadian Dark Ale that plays on the borderline between a great hoppy IPA and an strong, malty porter, however the two styles don’t always play nice together, and as noted above, a Casadian Dark Ale should not have the strong roasted malt notes of a porter.  I was a little surprised that Brian Sauer chose to add vanilla to this recipe.  I love a good robust porter with rich vanilla notes, but expected the vanilla character to be at odds with the fresh hoppy notes that really make an IPA, or even a Cascadian Dark Ale shine.  Then again, there was only one way to find out, so I opened a bottle and sat down to enjoy the Black Vanilla IPA.  On to the review.


They Say:

                This take on a Cascadian Dark Ale is loaded with Northern Brewer and Centennial hops for a unique flavor combination showcasing both earthy and bright hop tones.  A malty and slightly roasted backbone is perfectly complemented by the addition of real vanilla beans to the aging tanks on this one of a kind black IPA.

6.6% ABV
65 IBUs


Brewmaster Brian Saur adds:

The black vanilla IPA utilizes Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans.  The base beer drinks very dark, like a stout, but is introduced to a vanilla backbone to smooth out the sharpness of the dark, acidic malts.  Centennial hops add the super cascade feel to make this a well-rounded Black Cascadian IPA.


I Say:

                Horny Goat Black Vanilla IPA pours a deep, translucent black capped by a thick, small bubbled, light tan head that holds excellent retention, lasting through the entire glass while leaving heavy lacing behind.  Strong notes of vanilla and roasted malts lead in the aroma, which transitions to a subtle earthiness.  The Centennial hops play their part contributing their piney character to the aroma which blends well with the dark malts.  While the hops certainly contribute to the aroma, it is dominated by the malts and vanilla.  The combination of aromas on the back end is reminiscent of taffy, or at least that’s what it brought to mind for me.

                Sweet vanilla leads in the flavor, although it is quickly followed by the charred notes of roasted barley.  The roasted barley adds a slight astringent character to the beer, which lasts into the finish.  Piney hop notes linger in the background, providing additional complexity to the brew, but as with the aroma, the flavor is malt driven with an extra push from the vanilla beans.  That isn’t to say the hops are practically absent, because they add a firm, assertive bitterness that plays well with the medium maltiness.  As with any good, heavily hopped beer, the bitterness lingers on the palette well after the last sip.  Black Vanilla IPA has a moderately light body with moderate carbonation.  It feels a little light on the palette for the style, but it works out pretty well overall.

                With Black Vanilla IPA, I wasn’t really sure what I was drinking.  The aromas and flavors were there for it to be a massively hopped version of an Imperial Stout or Baltic Porter, with the firm hop bitterness but the restrained hop flavor.  The bitterness was on par with a good Cascadian Dark (Black) IPA, but again, the hop flavors seemed too restrained for the style.  Add the vanilla to the aroma and flavor and it is back in the stout/porter categories.  It’s a very good beer, but it seems that Black Vanilla IPA has something of an identity crisis.  It isn’t every day that I am in the mood for a hoppy vanilla bean stout, but it is definitely an enjoyable one.  Just don’t get the wrong impression and think you are picking up a Black IPA because you will likely be disappointed if you do.

                That’s all for tonight, check back soon for another review!


                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

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