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Alaskan Brewing Co. Black Imperial India Pale Ale

Alaskan-Brewing-logoBY Steve Lonsway

This month’s selection was taken from our own stock of guests beers that we run in the Stone Arch Tap Room. The Alaskan Black Imperial India Pale Ale comes in a 22 oz. bomber bottle with a very intriguing label portraying two black ravens perched in a riverside tree. This beer is part of the Alaskan Brewing Company’s Pilot Series which is what they name their limited edition specialty releases.

Because it’s a bigger beer, our team chose snifter style glassware which was the right decision for this beer. We paid close attention to our serving temperature and nailed it at 48 degrees. As we poured our samples, a couple comments came out indicating the dark ruby red pour.

It seemed to pour heavy as well. We had noticed that the foam started out more of a tan and as it settled (which was rampant) it darkened. I held the glass up to the light to admire the richness of the color and saw that the beer had brilliant clarity even though the label warned that natural sedimentation may occur. The color alone is reason enough to buy this beer. A rich brown/red and not opaque like many in this category.

The aroma aspect of this beer was just as pleasing. Our team identified smells similar to mint, chocolate, roast malt characteristics, dark cherry, biscuit, and Indian spice, possibly biryani? Intensely complex malt notes with spicy citrus hop aromas popping out to really tease the senses.

When tasting this beer, all the above aromas appeared in the flavors as well. An assertive dry, roasted malt flavor but not over the top and balanced to perfection with sweet citrus hops. The chocolatey notes definitely were more pronounced as it warmed. This dark beauty finished with a bit of an alcohol bite, strong hop bitterness and an extremely pleasing mouthfeel. With a touch of prickliness from the carbonation and a creamy, dry finish, this full bodied brew almost whispers treacle at the end.

BeerGlassThis beer will pair very well with spicy dishes especially the aforementioned Indian Biryani. Other fare that would complement this brew is blackened fish or an aggressive gumbo. Steve actually brought a bottle home to pair with the nights’ meal of black bean tacos and reported perfection!

Their website description of this offering states an original gravity of 1.087 which in brewing indicates fermentability that after fermentation, results in alcohol content. There is a discrepancy in that number. The site indicates a 8.5% alcohol by volume, the bottled version we sampled indicates a 7.7% a.b.v. We assume their draught version contains the higher amount. Regardless, the 7.7% in the bottle works really well.

The bitterness in this beer came in at 70 I.B.U’s. I.B.U. stands for International Bitterness Units and is a quick indicator of how hoppy a beer is. The higher that number, the more hoppy or bitter the beer is. Typically the human palette can only identify up to 100 I.B.U.’s so 70 is definitely on the higher side which, again works because of the high “fermentatblity” of this beer.

Overall an excellent, flavorful example of the Black I.P.A. style.

Now let’s get into the creators of this libation. Alaskan Brewing Company proudly calls Juneau, Alaska home and has since they first opened their doors in December of 1986. Started by husband and wife team, Geoff and Marcy Larson as the 67th brewing company to start in the United States, their continued hard work and impressive trail of awards has gotten them to be the 16th ranked brewery on the Brewers Association’s “Top 50 Craft Brewing Company’s” list based on sales volume (2012). Matter of fact they are the Great American Beer Festival’s most award-winning craft brewery – pretty impressive especially being located in the final frontier. Their flagship beer was derived from shipping records and an old newspaper article they discovered in researching brewing history in Alaska. From the Douglas City Brewing Co. that operated at the turn of the last century (1899-1907). That beer today is known as Alaskan Amber and deserves a taste or two as well.

These fine folks have developed a well-deserved reputation of brewing quality beers for many years and are perennial winners at World Beer Cup competition and Great American Beer Festival. They have won numerous awards for their Alaskan Smoked Porter which lands in my top five beers of all-time. They use alder wood to smoke choice malts in a commercial smoker in small batches and the flavors this tedious process creates is nothing short of amazing.

FINAL WORD: Search the Alaskan Black Imperial India Pale Ale out and enjoy in moderation. And while you’re out, pick up a bomber of their amazing Smoked Porter too. It ages really well so maybe add a few for your cellar. Make an Alaskan night out of it. Prosit!

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