So after my Bashah experience a short while ago, I’d say me and Imperial dark ales got off on the wrong foot. One of the most difficult things about reviewing beer is not having any preconceived notions about a new brew, regardless of style or brewery. But can I really blame myself for being a bit skeptical when I poured my second Imperial India Black Ale or IBA (or whatever style this is) in as many weeks? My first go around left something to be desired.

Thankfully, though, with beer it’s all about the delivery of the liquid in the bottle, not the labels and breweries and styles and everything else. And Southern Tier’s Iniquity kicked most of the notions I had out the window.

True to its name, Iniquity is about as black it gets. In degrees of darkness, “None more black” is as good a descriptor as I can come up with on short notice (many thanks to Nigel Tufnel). It didn’t really fit with my lunch of yogurt and potato chips, but that all kind of gets drowned out in a beer like this one. Just stick your nose in the glass and you’re immediately hit with coffee, chocolate, dark fruits, some faint vanilla and caramel, and a slight spicy/citrusy bite from the hops. There’s an almost syrupy character to it as well … honestly one of the best smelling brews I’ve had in a while (check out Taylor’s review of Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron for another glorious noseful). I’m glad this one lived up to its smell.

The taste is of dark coffee and caramel, with a subtle fruitiness. The hops add what I’d call a spiciness to the mixture and certainly make their presence known, but the burnt malts thankfully aren’t taking a back seat here. As Southern Tier describes it, “This beer is contrary to what one may expect from an IPA.” So do they mean it’s NOT well hopped … or that it’s just black? I don’t know, but it’s actually incredibly well balanced, and what I love most about the hefty malt presence is the slight sweetness it gives to the aftertaste. It makes Iniquity go down smooth and easy, regardless of the heavier mouthfeel and sturdy 8.9% ABV. And in my personal opinion, this subtle sweetness compliments the unique bitterness profile of the “IBA” style extremely well. The carbonation is mild, leaving lots of subtle lacing on the glass. I don’t know; you just feel important drinking this stuff. Disappointment set in … I had no one around to share in my Iniquity. Oh, the iniquity!

As a stand-alone style, I doubt the IBA will ever supplant the IPA in my book. I’m still not sold on the idea of a highly-hopped stout – which is basically what it amounts to. But that doesn’t mean Southern Tier hasn’t created a great beer here. If anything, it’s an excellent starting point for those curious about the style.

ABV: 8.9%

Grade: A-