Do you know where Campbellford is? Chances are that unless you live in that area of rural Ontario, you don’t. But you may want to visit. Its the home of the Church-Key Brewery, one of Ontario’s most innovative craft breweries, but also one of the lesser known ones. Their beers rarely make it into the LCBO, and pub distribution is relatively limited. Their regular lineup of beers is great, but its their seasonal beers that I love. The first Church-Key I ever had must have been the Holy Smoke, a peat-smoked scotch ale, and it is still among my favorites.
This though is one of Ontario’s first attempts at the Black IPA, or Cascadian Dark Ale – however you want to classify it. And really, I couldn’t be happier with it. Not only is this a great example of a Black IPA from Canada, but I think it better suits the style than most of the American versions I have had! The Black IPA is supposed to be exactly that, a dark, roasty IPA. So it should still have hoppy fresh flavors, but exhibit roast, toast, dark malt and nut or cocoa flavors. Most of the American black IPAs are a Black American Pale Ales – very hop focused, black, but medium to soft on the roast, with almost no creamy nut flavors. This though strikes a better balance in my mind, and should set the precedent for the style.
However you want to classify this beer, it is nonetheless based on a Pale Ale. It should still be richly hopped, and ripe in bitter and savory flavors and aromas. As such you should open it cool around 8C (45F). This Black IPA though is unlike the majority of them. It has smoother, creamy flavors of cocoa and nuts that I fell in love with. In hindsight this beer should be a touch warmer for best enjoyment, but only up to 10 or 12C.
I poured the Black IPA into a stemmed beer glass gently and watched a black as night beer melt into the bottom of the glass. The pour was very silky with a slight oil like consistency. What formed was a deep black beer that let no traces of light though, but did glow a dark brown towards the edges. A richly dense 2 inch head was built that was a dark mocha brown leaning towards a creamy almond shade. It was frothy and pillowy, but really was superbly dense.
The nose right away shocked me. I was waiting for a rush of cascade hops and west coast IPA aromas. But rather than citrus and pine, I felt smooth cocoa, vanilla, roast, and bitter chocolate right away. Gently in behind was floral hops with an earthy, and herbal fresh scent – but it was all very soothing and satisfying. Definitely not the pungent burst I expect from this style of beer.
I excitedly leaned in for a big sip of this back, and creamy brown beer. Right off the bat all the aromas make they way in in a smooth and wide sensation of flavors. Smooth bitter chocolate washes over your tongue sharing its place with soft bitter hops. Roast and toast come in softly also right down the middle and show hints of bitter herbs, fresh hops, and dried cocoa. A creamy flavor of soft nut washed over my cheeks and kept this beer ultimately soothing and elegant. I was happily surprised by the presence of cocoa here, because as mentioned, I was expecting a hop blast, not a smooth wave. Hops here there, but resin and earth showed a balancing act in the background, rather than a circus act in the front.
Malts begins to widen here and bring oily and lush flavors of bittersweet roasted chocolate, cocoa beans, a good amount of fresh wood, and hints of molasses. Actually, the most I think about it, wood played a big role here in this beer. It brought with it both earthy sweet tones, hints of oak, char and toast. It really rounded out this beer and showed great complexity and smooth sensations. Still evolving too was hints of caramel, biscuit, licorice, and even some fruit. This beer is very wide and smoothly complex.
Bitter hops are more a support mechanism in this beer rather than the primary target. Maybe this should be considered a Canadian Black IPA rather than just a Black IPA (which originated in the US). So it’s hard to distinguish where this beer belongs, but overall I prefer it to the hop-centric American versions that I have had. Even more than the Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA, one of my most favorite beers.
The Church-Key version finished smoothly with gentle roast, a clean bitter finish, and a soft hint of cocoa. It was hugely satisfying, nicely quenching, and truly unique. They really should be marketing this beer to the LCBO – this is a game changing beer that you need to enjoy.