Cascadian Dark Ale


A dark, hoppy ale.

As I discussed in a previous article, there are some relatively darkish, IPA-like thingys being brewed these days that are fairly popular. Some people call them black IPAs. Other people call them Cascadian dark ales. Still other people think they are two separate kinds of beers — either separate beer styles or substyles — and use both terms. And then of course, there are people who ask, “Why don’t you just call it a porter?”

In a separate article, I described how to brew an IPA-based beer with just enough debittered black malt to turn it dark, but not enough to give the beer a prominent roasted malt flavor. (The roasted flavor could vary from undetectable to faint.) I called those beers black IPAs simply because that’s what a lot of people are calling them. 

Today I’m going to describe a similar IPA-like brew, this time with enough roasted grains to add a small amount of roasted malt flavor to the beer along with the color. For the sake of having a label, I’ll call them Cascadian dark ales. I’m not using the term to indicate that I think it’s a good name. (I don’t.) It’s just that making up a whole new name for the sake of the article is an even worse choice. What I’ll focus on is the fact that you can make a dark, lightly roasty beer with a lot of hops and have it turn out tasty. Also, if you want to, you can do a few things to distinguish it from a hoppy brown ale, porter, or stout and emphasize the IPA-esque aspects of the beer.


Potential Differences from Other Hoppy Dark Ales

If we’re going to distinguish Cascadian dark ales (or whatever you choose to call them) from other strong dark ales, the first place I would look is at the body of the beer. American-style IPAs are meant to be fairly dry, to force the hop character to be the focus of the beer. As such, the caramel or crystal malt component is usually held to 5% or less of the grain bill, with lower colored crystal malts (30 °L or under) being most common.

In contrast, most dark ales — especially ones on the strong end of the alcoholic spectrum — tend to be fuller-bodied, frequently with some caramel sweetness to complement the roast character. The caramel sweetness frequently comes from medium or darker crystal malts (40 °L or higher). So, if you want to brew a hoppy dark ale and distinguish it from most other types of dark ale, aim for a relatively dry beer. (Relative dryness is how double IPAs are distinguished from hoppy American barleywines.)

Secondly, the intensity of the roasted malt character shouldn’t rival that of a stout or porter. As with black IPAs, the use of debittered back malt will give you lots of color, but less roasted character because the aroma from black malt is very subdued.

And finally, if you want to put the “Cascadia” into your Cascadian dark ale, use hops grown in the US Pacific Northwest. Otherwise, I guess you could call your beer a Montana melanoidin ale — Montana grows the most 2-row malting barley of any US state. (North Dakota grows more barley overall, but the majority of it is 6-row malting barley.)


Putting Together a Recipe

One way to assemble a recipe for this kind of beer would be to start with an established IPA recipe, then swap in elements from an established dark ale recipe you enjoy. Choose a stout, or better yet a porter that is brewed with a fair amount of black malt. As an example, I’ll use my IPA recipe, Roswell IPA, and blend in aspects of my porter, Colby House Porter. An alternate approach, of course, would be to find a clone recipe of a beer you like and start with it. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you want to build your own recipe from scratch.

My Roswell IPA uses Warrior, Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo hops, all grown in the US Pacific Northwest, so let’s leave that aspect of the recipe alone. The grain bill is just base malt (a blend of US 2-row and a bit of Vienna malt) with around 2.5% crystal malt (30 °L). The grain bill for the porter is base malts (English 2-row pale ale malt and a little Munich), 9% crystal malt (40 °L) and the dark grains. (I occasionally use a blend of 40 °L and 60 °L crystal malt.) The dark grains are chocolate malt, black malt and roasted barley, that together comprise 9% of the grain bill.

For the base malts, let’s retain the US 2-row for the base malt, as we want the beer to retain as much American-style IPA character as possible. Let’s also keep either a little Munich or Vienna at roughly the same percentage as in the IPA recipe. (The IPA recipe was around 6% Vienna and the porter was 18% Munich, so let’s kind of split the difference and go with the more darkly kilned Munich, but at only 6%.)

The general rule for IPAs is to keep crystal malts at or below 5% (and Roswell IPA is at 2.5%). In many porters, they comprise about 10% of the grain bill (and my porter is at 9%). So let’s set the percentage at 5%, but go with either crystal malt (40 °L) or a blend of mostly crystal malt (40 °L), with a smaller percentage of crystal malt (60 °L). At 5% of the grain bill, the beer will still be relatively dry; however, with a darker crystal malt, there will be a bit of caramel flavor to support the roasted malt character of the beer. We could perhaps go a little bit higher in terms of crystal malt percentage, but if so, we should keep it below typical porter levels.

Finally, let’s look at the dark grain contribution. We want a bit of roasted malt character in the beer, but not enough to rival a porter or stout. As with a black IPA, debittered black malt is going to be our friend. If we lowered the percentage of dark grains in the porter recipe by around 10%, and changed the blend of dark grains to predominantly debittered black malt, we’d likely be in the right ballpark. We can retain a little chocolate malt and/or roasted barley to round out the flavor and supply some aroma, but their amounts should be small relative to the amount of debittered black malt. [Note that Weyermann makes dehusked versions of both their Carafa II and Carafa III and either or both could be used, depending on how dark and roasty you want the beer. Carafa Special II (the dehusked version of Carafa II) is lighter in color (averaging around 430 °L) than Carafa Special III (at around 530 °L).]

If I take this plan and type it into my recipe calculator, I get this grain bill for a 5-gallon (19-L) batch with an OG of 1.065 (same as my IPA) at 70% extract efficiency:

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 5.57.59 PM

This recipe, in BeerTools.

11.5 lbs. (5.2 kg) 2-row pale malt

12 oz. (340 g) Munich malt (10 °L)

12 oz. (340 g) crystal malt (40 °L)

5.0 oz. (140 g) debittered black malt (500 °L)

1.5 oz. (43 g) chocolate malt

0.75 oz. (21 g) roasted barley (500 °L)



Brew the beer as you would any IPA. If you’d like, you could withhold the dark grains until late in the mash, then stir them into the upper layers of the grain bed. Or you could mash everything together. (You may need to adjust your water chemistry a bit if you do the latter.) After brewing it once, taste the beer critically — perhaps comparing it to commercial examples you enjoy — and tweak the recipe as needed. (Note: I haven’t brewed a beer with the grain bill above.)


Dark at the End of the Tunnel

If you take two established recipes and meld them as above — keeping in mind to keep ingredients that add body down to IPA levels, and keeping the levels of roasted malt aroma and flavor below that of a stout or a porter — you should end up with a tasty Cascadian dark ale, er I mean Montana melanoidin ale, no wait, I mean relatively dark, IPA-like thingy.  Whatever you call it, it’ll be good if you brew it well.


Related articles

Roswell IPA

Roswell IPA (Countertop Partial Mash)

Colby House Porter

American Hoppy Ales


  1. You made a typo. It’s only 140g not kg.

Speak Your Mind