Great Lakes Brewery’s third in a series of 25th anniversary beers. And it could hardly be more different than the last one. Unlike that light, complex, yeast-driven saison, this ale is all malt and hops. ">

First Draught: Great Lakes Brewery’s Imperial Black IPA


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As dark as Spanish coffee and as powerful as a steam locomotive, the Imperial Black IPA is Great Lakes Brewery’s third in a series of 25th anniversary beers. And it could hardly be more different than the last one. Unlike that light, complex, yeast-driven saison, this ale is all malt and hops. 

Take a hint from the bottle’s size and shape and treat this one (a little bit) like you would a bottle of wine. If you’ve got a tulip glass in your collection, now is the time to pull it down from the shelf, wipe off the dust and call it into service. If not, a small wine glass will do a better job of corralling the aromas and maintaining that desirably foamy cap than your standard straight-sided pint.

Gently pour a couple sips’ worth into your chosen vessel and smell the abundant zesty aromas. Now fill the glass with more gusto so that you get two ample fingers of head, which will keep those volatile compounds where they belong: in the beer. On the first sip, it’s obvious that this is an intense fencing match between the grapefruit pith from the hops and the dark chocolate and roasted coffee of the malt. The sweet, creamy back note from the high alcohol content is there to keep everyone in line. 

Food pairings — from rich beef stew straight through to salty blue cheese and on to chocolate desserts — come naturally to this complex ale, but I’d keep it away from anything spicier than “one chili” hot. The high alcohol content will pick up the capsaicin heat and carry it to every corner of your mouth, and that will erase the subtler roasted notes and leave only a slight metallic tang.

The black, stormy cloud to this silver lining is that no one makes beers like this to celebrate a 26th anniversary, so enjoy this while you can. Unlike the saison, which came with permission to cellar it for a year or so, this one should be consumed fresh.

Imperial Black IPA, $9.95 for a 750 mL bottle. Available at Great Lakes’ retail store and at the LCBO this week

In addition to covering beer, new restaurants and food trucks for Post City, David writes about food and drink for several Toronto publications including Spotlight Toronto and his own site, Food With Legs. For more of his thoughts on food, beer and life in general follow him on Twitter.

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