Black Is the New Pale When It Comes to Ale; BEER RICHARD FLETCHER

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD FLETCHER

WHEN a beer is both a lovely drink and also challenges preconceptions about its style, it's got to be worth a try; and if you haven't grabbed a pint of Piccolo Black, I'd recommend you do before this probable one-off disappears.

Tyne Bank Brewery's latest creation is made with coffee from Piccolo Coffee in Newcastle''s Grainger Market. First mentioned in The Journal back in December, the beer has since undergone development and launched at the Free Trade Inn, Ouseburn, last week. The brew plays on the use of the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee bean which, instead of providing the usual roasted flavours normally associated with most coffee beers, finds something else - a lime flavour when cold to complement the hops - that the bean can give to the brew.

But if the coffee provides the ingenuity, it is the choice of malt which is the key to this new beer. Picking the right style and malt combination are not simply a matter of choice; they are essential if the coffee is to be allowed to perform its magic.

While virtually all beers will employ pale malt in the grain bill, the black and roasted malts which give stouts and porters their characteristic colour (although Durham Brewery's White Stout might have something to say about this) also impart a bitter flavour. If Piccolo Black was to allow the lime flavours of the Yirgacheffe bean to shine, the Tyne Bank team needed to find a different way around the choice of malts. The clever answer was to create a black pale ale instead.

The important addition for this is dehusked carafa malt. Husks on highly roasted barley can carry a burnt flavour, but when maltsters remove about 60% of the husks (the remaining 40% protects the grains), it gives a smoother finish to the beer - the perfect background to showcase the coffee's lime flavours.

Black pale ales have attracted controversy - perhaps not on the scale of the increasingly outdated cask versus keg debate, but certainly enough to irk a few people who not only question the contradictory name but also dispute the wisdom of giving a beer with the heavy flavours of a stout the thin body of a light beer. …