This is a pretty bonkers beer. Its packaging is eccentric. The blurb on the label is wilful. The taste is full-on.
I bought this one the other day from a craft beer shop, drawn by the label and the name: B Space Invader. How could I not? I was a child of the late 70s and 80s. Everything conspired for kids (especially boys) born around 1970 to become science fiction obsessives: Star Wars arrived in 1977, when we were totally susceptible to Lucas’s films’ hokey recycled charms and stupendous special effects. The germ of SF geekdom was consolidated by the first flowering of videogaming, with Space Invaders (1978) cabinets arriving in our local ice rink when I was about 10. Then we encountered more grownup fare, like Blade Runner (1982), and things were set. The makers of B Space Invader at Toccalmatto brewery in Emilia-Romagna clearly have a similar frame of reference. As well as the actual name of this beer, the label even includes this quote: “E ho visto i raggi B balenare nel buio vincino alle porte di Tannhause…” Tweaked slightly, but here’s the original – from Blade Runner of course.
So yes, how could I resist. Perhaps you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s certainly fun to buy beers on the strength of their labels. Well, that and actually picking up the bottle and reading how it’s described. The label here calls it an “Intergalactic Black Cascadian Incredible Pale Ale / Birra Scura Estremamente Luppolata”. The latter part means “Extremely hoppy dark beer”. Which I find slightly confusing – a dark (v dark) pale ale? But yes, I should stop being so literal as this is a style of beer that’s become popular among craft brewers and fans the past few years.
Here’s a discussion of this style of beer, which evolved on the North American west coast, written by Matt Van Wyk of Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon, USA. He says this beer “is known by three different names: Black IPA, India Black Ale (IBA), or Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA)”. Here’s his definition of the style: “It’s dark in color of course, with a prominent ‘Northwest’ hop aroma – citrusy, piney and resinous. The body has some sweet malt flavors, with hints of roastiness and toasted malt. The flavors should strike a beautiful balance between citrusy-resinous Northwest hops and, to a lesser degree, roasted, chocolate malt or caramel notes. The finish should be semi-dry, not heavy like a porter or stout. Hop aromas and flavors should be prominent, but the malt balance should not be lost in an onslaught of hops. In other words, when closing your eyes, it should not simply taste like a typical American IPA.”
The Guardian’s Tony Naylor offers a more succinct definition, saying this style of beer offers: “a great upfront wallop of tropically fruity and acutely bitter hop flavours underpinned by the smokier, roasted malt character of a stout”.
Like the Italian APAs I’ve been enjoying, an Italian BIPA/IBA/CDA will also be something subtly different to its North American forebears, but broadly B Space Invader conforms to Naylor’s description, though perhaps less so to Van Wyk’s. The aroma is more blackberry, blackcurrant and prune than piney or citrussy. The flavour – once you’ve got past the thick, creamy head – is big and intense. A lot of hops, a lot of roasted malts, though not with the coffee or chocolate flavours you can get with porters. Nor is its body creamy like a porter; it’s crisp and medium carbonated.
Van Wyk also says the American BIPA/IBA/CDA flavour is defined by the use of Pacific northwest hop varieties. B Space Invader is apparently made with Simcoe and Amarillo hops, varieties from Washington State, so that conforms. But it also apparently contains Australian Galaxy hops, shifting it well away from that North American West Coast context.
BIPA/IBA/CDA has also been subject of a debate about whether it’s genuinely a new style of beer. Certainly it reminds me of older black beers, things like Black Mac from Mac’s Brewery in New Zealand. Black Mac played a major role in my path to enjoyment of decent beers. After spending my 1980s adolescence drinking the vile lagers that were popular in the UK then – and, worse, snakebite; even thinking about it makes my head hurt – I gave up booze for several years. It was only while living on a small farm in NZ, aged 24, that I realised beer could be pleasant and interesting. Gosh. Flagons of Black Mac opened my eyes. (This was around 1994, back when Mac’s was the pre-eminent NZ craft brewery. In fact Terry McCashin, the founder, kicked off the microbrewery scene in NZ, much like Teo Musso of Baladin has in Italy.) Black Mac was one of my principle gateway beers, and although B Space Invader is a helluva lot bigger, stronger (6.3%) and more intense than Black Mac (4.8%), the similarities are there: notably in the balance of hoppiness and toasted malts. And yet Black Mac is defined as a dark ale or a Schwarzbier, styles of beer that have been around for since the Middle Ages.
So although B Space Invader is top fermented, unlike Schwarzbier, which is a dark lager and bottom fermented, flavour-wise the boundaries between BIPA/IBA/CDA and some older styles can be minimal. I’m not quite sure what B Space Invader has to do with Space Invaders or Blade Runner, or SF in general – though it made me buy it.
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