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By Fork & Brewer Fri 19 Jun 2015
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Black Star Rating Black IPA Launch

American Black Ales, Cascadian Dark Ales - call them what you will, but Mother Nature's current seasonal oeuvre of still, dark days with dash of wild weather on the side calls for a Black IPA which reflects the diverse elements of a Wellington winter.

Ours goes by the name of Black Star Rating in a nod to the capital's own adrenaline-inducing aerodome, which sees its notoriety ascend thanks to some cavalier weather. Lots of hops, subtle yet noticeable malt, and with an ABV of 6.2%, it's only slightly less dangerous than flying into our own Black Star Rated airport.

(Coincidentally, as this piece is being tapped out, Kelly and Colin are currently on a north-bound flight for a brewing mission, and have just taken off in considerably temperamental, white-knuckled conditions.)

Black Star Rating is filling a wee (black?) hole in Fork's current line up. It also helps to keeps the brewer content, as Kelly happily professes to being particularly fond of brewing dark beers. ("A lot more fun to brew," he says - more on this later.)

"We've got a bunch of paler beers - lager, pilsner, wheat - but I've only brewed a couple of darks since I've been here. I kind of thought if I'm gonna do a dark beer, I might as well do a hoppy dark beer to keep the craft pundits in their happy place," says Kelly.

"Some people get a bit perplexed with the term Black IPA: 'How can something be both black and pale?' But it's still my favourite style descriptor as I think it sums up the whole premise of the beer."

The Black IPA is an American reinvention of the dark ale, developed on the West Coast of the United States, which has evolved into more of a hoppy beer in the last 20 years. Its popularity has escalated such in the last 10-12 years, that it's now deserving of its very own category on the international awards stage (filed under 'American Black Ales').

Hops are key in this style. Kelly says he went for a generous addition of US Crystal hops early in the brew for flavour.

"These always surprise me with their combination of Sandalwood and Mandarin. So punchy for such a low alpha acid variety. These are followed in aroma and whirlpool additions with Centennial, Amarillo and Chinook to bring the classic combination of floral, piney and stone fruit notes into the brew."

Playing around with malt is where we hark back to Kelly's comments re: dark beers and fun times.

"I personally like to brew dark beers - porters, stouts, because it’s not all about the hops. You can get really good flavours in them, and it's more about getting a really good balance with the malt.

"I guess if you're a baker making a really awesome cake, and you're wicked with the icing, the icing would be the hops. But if you're not a good baker, the actual cake mix is not going to be that great. So the cake mixture - aka the malt mix - has to be awesome, because not even the most incredible icing (hops) is going to hide that."

Still with us? (Yup - still talking brewing here.)

Kelly was particularly chuffed to put to use a German dehusked roasted malt, in this case Weyermann Carafa Special II, along with a sprinkling of Light Chocolate malt to give the IPA its 'black'.

"This German dehusked malt gives the beer a debittered, smoother finish. In terms of flavours and aromas, I associate these with very subtle, lightly roasted coffee beans and the faintest wisp of cocoa powder."

But it's the dry hop which brings this beer together.

"A hint of Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra and a solid whack of the incredible Centennial. The beer was dry hopped over two days at ambient prior to cooling and dumping the hop slurry so as to reduce any associated astringency from any hop polyphenols."

With such astute balance between the malt and hops, one could call Black Star Rating an exercise in diplomacy.

"You get people who say they prefer dark beers, and not so much IPAs - and vice versa - but if you can introduce someone to something new by hooking them in on something they’re already familiar with, then this is the type of beer you can do that with," says Kelly.

Our Black IPA will be ready for take-off next week. So buckle up, get ready for take off, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Food Pairings - Kel recommends...

"With Black Star Rating you've got elements of bitterness and carbonation that act as palate cleansers and cut through fatty foods, along with a little hint of roasty, coffee, chariness that'll pair well with blackened or grilled meat like jerk chicken or beef.

"When I think of IPAs, I generally think burgers, so my suggestion off the Fork menu is our Classic Beef burger, which has nice bit of cheese in there and a bit of fat content that Black Star Rating will cut right through.

"For the more culinary adventurous, you may want to try the Highlander Pizza with haggis and pineapple. Don't turn your nose up - Colin Mallon says 'it justifies its place on the menu'."

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