Getting enough actual feedback on new beers can be a problem for large brewers like Shipyard.
At big breweries – Shipyard is the 15th largest craft brewer in the United States and 23rd largest overall, according to the latest Brewers Association figures – the brewers are seldom on hand while people actually drink the beer.
Shipyard overcomes that difficulty through Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, the brew pub where Shipyard was born and that still runs a seven-barrel system.
Black IPA, Shipyard’s newest, was created at Federal Jack’s, and it is well worth a try.
“A lot of new products,” Shipyard Vice President Bruce Forsley said in a telephone interview, “started life at Federal Jack’s, developed by Mike Haley. He does his own thing down there. He did this beer for a couple of years, and his customers really liked it. That was the genesis of this product.”
The flavor of Shipyard Black IPA was a surprise to me, but that was my mindset rather than Shipyard’s intent. Because Shipyard had gone really hoppy when it introduced Monkey Fist IPA two years ago and the Black IPA was being marketed as a beer for the pirate in you, I expected it to by highly hopped.
It wasn’t. The flavor is dominated by malt, although there is a hop bite to it as well. It was more like the India pale ales from England, and some in America (think Ballantine India Pale Ale), from the 1980s and earlier, before the IPA abbreviation was common.
“We all know the direction IPAs have gone, driven by the West Coast style,” Forsley said. “They aren’t balanced. Alan Pugsley’s legacy here is to produce balanced beers, so while there is a lot of hops in the Black IPA to satisfy those who like that, at the same time there is enough malt up front to balance that.”
If you care about numbers, the Black IPA comes in at 60 International Bittering Units, at the low end of the IPA range and well below Monkey Fist, in the mid-70s.
Forsley thinks, and I agree, that in a blind tasting of the Black IPA, few people would think it was a dark beer.
Nancy and I both liked this beer when we tasted it last week. It poured with a thick, long-lasting tan head, with a mild malt and hops aroma.
Carbonation was a bit higher than I expected, and it had a good amount of body. It is 6.2 percent alcohol by volume.
The color is definitely black, but clear.
The Black IPA is going to be a winter seasonal, joining Prelude.
I asked Forsley if the different seasonals would be competing with each other.
He said the company’s Pumpkinhead, Applehead, Melonhead and a soon-to-come Gingerhead appeal to a different, mostly younger, less sophisticated audience than its more traditional seasonals – Black IPA, Prelude and Summer Ale, with a new seasonal planned for this fall.
We also discussed the Mint Chocolate Stout, a 9 percent ABV beer in the Pugsley Signature Series that I mentioned in last week’s column.
Forsley said this was a hard beer to brew. The brewers used peppermint first, but that with the hops made it too bitter at the end. They then switched to spearmint, which helped solve the extra bitterness, but turned off people who do not like spearmint.
And he said the licorice I tasted in the beer was from the regular ingredients of the beer, that no licorice was added, but that other people noticed that flavor.
“The Signature Series is designed to be experimental, so we try things, and if they prove popular, we brew them again,” Forsley said. “We sold all of it, but I think next year we will move on to something else.”
To keep up with the Shipyard theme of this week’s column, it should be noted that Peter Austin, Alan Pugsley’s mentor at the Ringwood Brewery in England, died Jan. 1 at the age of 92.
In a tribute on Shipyard’s website, Pugsley says, “He was a great man, a great brewer, a true visionary, and an inspiration to all whom he touched. His legacy will continue on through the many great beers and brewers he inspired around the world.”
Pugsley first came to Maine to help David Geary found Geary’s, then helped start Gritty McDuff’s before he and Fred Forsley opened Federal Jack’s, the birthplace of Shipyard.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: