Black IPA – Brewing Tips

Black IPA

Despite being one of my all time favourite beer styles and one I’ve been brewing both at home and commercially for over 10 years, Black IPA’s are one of the toughest beer styles to brew. Below are some pointers and guidelines I’ve picked up and learnt over the years to help you brew a really flavourful representation of this style.


One of the main areas that gets overlooked is the water profile, there are a few rules that help make your water treatment choices a little easier.

  • Carbonates mellow the harshness of some complex Maillard reaction products, therefore there is a positive relationship between carbonates and dark malts.
  • Negative synergism between carbonates and highly hopped beers: biting and crude bitterness.
  • Conversely there is a negative relationship between carbonates and highly bitter beers, they create biting and crude bitterness.
  • Ideally then you need to strike a balance by limiting the sulphates and the contribution to  astringency while having a decent amount of carbonates to mellow the dark malts. An example of how water profile targets differ can be seen in this table.
Ions ppm Ca Mg Na CO3 SO4 Cl HCO3
Black IPA 90 7 45 90 75 100 110
Pale Ale 100-150 20 20-30 0 300-425 30-50
Dry Stout 60-120 10 10-20.0 60-200 35-110 18-30



  • Carafa special III: Use as little as possible, certainly under 5%, I use between 4 and 4.3%. Can be cold mashed, sparged through or added to the main mash. I experimented with different ways but found that if your water is right it doesn’t really matter (imperial black IPA)
  • Caramel malts: important for ‘topping up’ the colour and adding dextrins to the beer to support the rabid amounts of dry hopping you’ll need to do. I use 5%
  • In Black rocks I used a combination of Black and Chocolate and sparged through them and it created an interesting liquorice character.
  • In Raven I used black and chocolate as well for a slightly different more chocolaty character.


  • I use three additions, bittering at the start of the boil, aroma and flavour at the end of the boil and dry hopping in FV. Research has shown that mid boil additions do not achieve the desired results, delicate essential oils are flashed off.
  • Basically work out your grams per litre of end of boil hops, I use between 6.5-7g/L. From that calculate your bitterness based on wort gravity and utilization, should be about 4-5%. Subtract your target bitterness and then work out your bittering addition.
  • I use a BU:GU ratio of approx. 0.91 which is a lot lower than what I would use in a normal IPA, I find that heavy bitterness (BU:GU ratio of 1 or higher) comes through as a more roasted and a biting bitter character and detracts from the effect
  • Dry hop with T90 at a rate approx. 8.5-9g/L at the end of fermentation for no more than three days
  • Varieties: I always use smelly big alpha, big oil varieties such as Citra, Simcoe, Columbus, Sorachi, Southern Cross, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook, Centennial, Summit, Apollo

I like a balance between piney and fruity hop varieties, as the fruit character tends to lift the whole beer slightly, improving drinkability.

If you have any questions or want to know more about any of the ingredients or processes involved in brewing a black IPA comment below and I’ll be on hand to help.

Formerly of Fullers, Thornbridge and Buxton. Now a freelance Black IPA advocate, homebrew geezer and creator of Baby Back Bacon Black IPA™


  • Reply September 4, 2014


    This is the sort of article I could have done with reading before the weekend and my first attempt at a Black IPA!

  • Reply December 1, 2014

    Jamie McQuillan

    Great post. Love the style. By chance I chose to brew my first Black IPA with a similar water profile to the example you gave. It won a silver medal at the national home brew comp here in NZ! One question. You list C03 and HO3 separately. Brewers Friend only uses HCO3. How do they differ in brewing?

  • Reply December 2, 2014


    Hi Jamie,
    Nice one, that’s brilliant!

    I list HCO3 and CO3 only because some water providers and homebrew water calculators will either provide details of one or the other so wanted to be thorough.
    For brewing purposes they can be used interchangeably, for the example you gave if the calculator uses HCO3 but the water provider only gives results in CO3 you just multiply the CO3 figure by 1.22 to give you the appropriate answer and work from there.

    Makes sense?

  • Reply December 2, 2014

    Jamie McQuillan

    Ok, yes, all good.


  • Reply January 19, 2015


    Great Post! I’m a believer in altering water profiles for style, and I’m going to try yours when I brew an upcoming Black IPA. However, I’m always curious how others treat their sparge water. Especially when it comes to batch vs. fly sparging.

    I batch sparge and I’m wondering if you’d recommend that I use the same water profile for both mash and batch sparge water, or if I should treat the sparge water differently since the buffering capacity of the grains will be lessened once I run off the mash.

    How would you approach this?

    Thanks in advance for the advice.

  • Reply January 20, 2015

    James Kemp

    Hi Jason,

    Good question, I think the best way to answer this is to compartmentalise the mash and the sparge.

    The goal of the mash is to hit the correct pH and temperature to activate the appropriate enzymes to convert starch into sugars that yeast can utilise, the usual role of the salt addition is partially to assist this to happen and partially to assist character in the finished beer.

    The role of the sparge, whichever way you do it is to rinse sugar that’s been converted from the grain and into your brewpot without deleterious effects.
    So to give you an example, when I brew a Black IPA with my water (untreated) I get a pH just under 5.2 and my sparge water is under 6, no need to treat the water at all from a mash and sparge pH point of view but I do treat it because I know that the treatment will alter the finished beer character positively. Water treatment should be worked out for the total volume of water used including mash and sparge water but where and when I treat it doesn’t matter too much because my mash and sparge parameters are excellent, I add all my salts into the mash and that raises my pH slightly.

    What I’m trying to say to you in a roundabout way is that treating your mash and sparge water is entirely dependent on your water. If like me your sparge water has a pH below 6 then I wouldn’t treat it, if it’s above 6 then splitting your water treatments per batch may be a good idea so that sparge pH is lowered.

    Feel free to email me if you need further help



  • Reply March 4, 2015

    Allan Bruce

    This is a great read as I am just about to try my first black IPA recipe. Out of interest, why do you only do 3 days dry hopping? Is that in general for all of your brews or is there a reason why black IPA should have less dry hop time? Thanks

    • Reply March 5, 2015

      James Kemp

      Hi Allan,

      In the world of dry hopping, less is in fact more. Peter Wolfe’s thesis on dry hopping showed that full aroma extraction is possible between 4-24 hours depending on method used, extended dry hopping times actual decrease the aroma.
      I suggest having a read of this

      Hope that helps


  • Reply March 5, 2015

    Allan Bruce

    Interesting read, however I really like the pine/grassy properties of Simcoe. I am about to attempt something close to Brewdog Libertine which is a relatively dry black IPA with a huge amount of Simcoe for both bittering and aroma. My tendency is to leave hops in for 10 days to get the most out of the piney/grassy flavours.

  • […] been de-husked to reduce ashy, astringent flavours. I found some useful info and tips on the style here. For the hops I decided to pair Simcoe with Columbus. With both being pungent high alpha varieties […]

  • Reply May 9, 2015


    Hi there – I brewed your Kraken recipe a while back which I really enjoyed – it rivals some of my favourite commercial black IPAs. Stoked to have it on tap at home.

    I have one question about the recipe – why the 30 min mash at 50C? What effect does this have on the final beer?


    • Reply June 16, 2015



  • Reply May 17, 2015



    A very interesting article. It has left me with a couple of questions if I may

    When “sparging through” I assume the grain in question goes on top of the completed mash and gets sparged but without the 90 min soak. How do you estimate the colour you’ll get please? I use BeerSmith to get a reasonable guess at colour but that assumes all grains are mashed.

    Yeast. I tend to use dried yeast for simplicity and consistency (shock horror :)).
    Would you go for a US yeast like US05 or stick with an ale yeast like S04 or something totally different?

    I’m thinking of a black Aussie IPA with heaps of Ella and Summer and a touch of Galaxy.

    Many thanks

  • Reply May 22, 2015

    James Kemp

    Hi Malc,

    I base the colour estimate as if it’s being mashed, it seems to correlate pretty closely in fact I’ve noticed that beer smith ‘under colours’ things because it’s probably only taking the raw data from the malt into consideration and doesn’t add colouring from the copper into consideration.

    Yeast really depends on the attenuation you require and the desired effects, if I was brewing a high gravity beer i’d use SO5 because I know that the alcohol tolerance is high and the attenuation is good but i’d probably use SO4 for a mid range black IPA.

    Pitching rate is really really important though, don’t be fooled by dried yeast manufacturer claims, one sachet is probably not going to be enough.



    • Reply May 23, 2015


      Excellent thanks.

  • Reply May 23, 2015


    Hi JK,

    I have the same question about the 30 minute step at 50C in the Kraken recipe, before ramping up to 68C for 60 minutes. Did you find that this improved the mash?



  • Reply May 26, 2015


    Hi Mark,

    Not particularly no, it’s an option you can take if you wish, but a single infusion mash is sufficient as long as your malt is well enough modified. It’s a fairly big beer so a rest at 50C will thin out the body somewhat but to be honest I prefer mashing straight in at the mid 60’s and then mashing out.



  • Reply November 26, 2015


    Have you used black prinz malt? If so what did you use it instead of? Also when do you add the speciality grains to the mash? This is a really helpful article as I’m about to attempt a black IPA and a dark lager soon.
    Thanks mark

  • Reply October 6, 2016

    Rob Ayres

    this is useful and easy to understand advice cheers. i am attempting my second ever brew at the weekend and its going to be an black IPA. i am using a recipe pack tailored for the braumeister so just need to work out out water alterations. could you offer any advice? it would be most apreciated.- ive detailed the water profile of my shop bought water.

    Calcium 10ppm
    Magnesium 2.5ppm
    Sodium 9ppm
    Sulfate 10ppm
    Chloride 12ppm
    Bicarbonate 9.5ppm

    • Reply October 31, 2016

      Samuel Williams

      Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delayed response. It’s great to hear that you found the advice useful and I hope the Black IPA brew goes well. With your brew – is it a 20 litre brew and do you sparge or not?

      If you know what malts are in your recipe kit and you know the pH of the water you are using, the best way to work out which salt additions to make is by using an online tool such as;

      Firstly you should know your mash pH. You want this as close to 5.2 as possible. If you get your mash pH right you are most of the way there and it’s only after this should you start looking at minor tweaks to water chemistry.

      Your carbonate level is very low. You will want to up this to help with enzyme activity in the mash and ultimately to help mellow the effects of the dark malts you will be using in a Black IPA. I would also increase your calcium levels to assist in enzyme activity and help extract hop bitterness. Without knowing your grain bill, 7 grams of calcium chloride should get you a little closer to the right water profile but don’t forget that calcium will lower the mash pH as will using dark malts.

      I hope this helps, if you have your grain bill feel free to send it through and we’ll give some more detailed recommendations

  • Reply November 19, 2016

    Ben Wright

    What is your definition of ‘end of boil’ ? Is this 10 minutes? 5 minutes? flame out?

    Makes a huge difference when generating my Black IPA recipe in Beersmith as 0 min additions give zero IBU. Not sure if this is true in reality but as you suggest a big addition (6.5-7g/l) end of boil, the timing really makes a difference to the IBU figure and therefore how much bittering hops to add at the start, to give your recommended BU:GU of 0.9

    Many thanks,

    • Reply December 6, 2016

      Samuel Williams

      Hi Ben, you are right to say this makes a difference. When we refer to end of boil here we mean literally as you cut the heat to the boil. At this point the wort is still at 100 degrees so hop alpha acids will still be isomerised but to a lesser extent as the wort cools. Not adding the hops to a vigorous boil also prevents those delicate hop aromas from being driven off so what you get is the best utilisation of hops – huge flavour contribution and a more subtle bitterness.

      For more on this technique please see our previous blog on hop standing;

      When calculating your utilisation from this technique, I normally start at around 3% which seems about right for my setup.

  • Reply January 5, 2017

    Gary Dyke

    Would you retain the suggested water profile even if cold steeping the carafa 3 and adding the extract towards the end of the boil ?

    I ask because in that scenario I would need to add 200g acid malt to the mash to reach a target 5.2.

    Adding the extract from the cold steep would probably mean that the beer would benefit from a bicarb water treatment (in the finished beer) but it seems weird to add alkalinity to the mash to then require acid malt to balance it out ….. plus i don’t know what the cold steep addition is going to do to final beer PH


    • Reply January 10, 2017

      Paul Dodd

      Getting the mash pH right is usually the first step when looking at water adjustments so you’re right thinking there is no reason to add alkalinity to the mash if you aren’t going to be mashing the dark malts. Is it just the Carafa III that you are planning to cold steep? If it is all the dark malts, you may wish to lower the chloride slightly as this is designed to counteract the harsh astringency that can be imparted by dark malts, creating a mellower, sweeter beer.

  • Reply January 11, 2017

    Gary Dyke

    The brew occurred and all was hopefully good. ( My notes :
    Hoppy black IPL with some mouthfeel. Carafa III cold steeped overnight . Full vol mash no sparge. 26 Litres water. 5 kilo grain. 4g Calcium Chloride . 0.5g Epsom. 1g Gypsum. predicted mash ph 5.32. actual 5.22 after 30 mins. 2.5g Baking Soda added into late boil with cold steep extract. pre ferment ph 5.23. (starter needed to be 1.65litres/1.041).
    Finished beer water profile :
    Ca+2 51.9
    Mg+2 2.5
    Na+ 35.3
    Cl- 86.2
    SO4-2 10.0
    HCO 94.8
    Only question remains – should my mash Ph have been 5.2 at 153f rather than the 75f at which the sample was cooled to and subsequently measured? Its hurting my head

    • Reply January 20, 2017

      Samuel Williams

      Beer looks good! I hope it turns out well for you, you’ll have to let us know. pH in brewing, unless otherwise specified, refers to a room temperature pH reading so that optimal pH range that is given is at room temperature. The difference between a room temperature pH and a mash temperature pH is usually about 0.35 (mash pH would be 0.35 higher). So your cooled sample measurement is spot on within the typical range for mash pH.

  • Reply November 20, 2017

    Mark Griffiths

    I’m keen to try cold steeping of dark grains for my next black IPA to minimise flavour contribution. I have read that the extraction of fermentables and colour is less efficient with this method and wondered if you had any recommendations as to how much Special Carafa III to steep for a ~21 litre batch?

    Thank you!

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