SanTan Brewing Co. Negro Nitron

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Beer: Negro Nitron
Brewery: SanTan Brewing Co. (8 S. San Marcos Place, 480-917-8700)
Style: Black IPA
ABV: 7.3 percent

The Black IPA is so hot right now.

As in fashion, music and baby names, trends in the craft beer world progress rapidly. Last year, Belgian IPA was the tits, and lately it seems you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a new Black IPA.

This burgeoning style is marked by the hoppiness of an IPA offset by the color and flavor of roasted malt. There is some argument as to what to call it-- semantically, a beer can't be both black and pale, and Black India Pale Ale is an oxymoron -- so different groups have taken it upon themselves to christen the brew. Some call them Cascadian Dark Ales, while others insist on American Black Ale. I, however, refuse to indulge in silly insistence on precise, literal beer monikers. It's black; it's an IPA -- it's a black IPA.

Negro Nitron is San Tan's take on the style and is unique in a few ways. First, it's brewed with a special malt product called Midnight Wheat, which brewers say they chose to eliminate the sharp and acrid characteristics that the husks in barley-based malt sometimes impart in darker beer. It's also dispensed via nitrogen tap, allowing the gas to lend the beer a form a rich, dense head, a softer flavor and a creamier mouthfeel.

Allow the bartenders at SanTan to pour one for you, and sit back for the show. The nitrogen jumps out of the dark burgundy brew in tiny, cascading bubbles that eventually form a crown of the softest, most stationary khaki foam. This head would remain until next Tuesday if left to its own devices. Houses have been built upon less firm foundations.

While it may look stout-like, Negro Nitron's nose is all IPA. Summit hops in the boil and dry-hopping with Cascade have imparted a green, bright aroma, loaded with orange, grapefruit and grass. In the background, the roasted malt conveys an interesting dark chocolate tang, with light touches of coffee beans and toasted bread.

In the mouth -- as is the case with most nitrogenated beers -- this thing's a creamy delight. The snuggly-soft medium body envelopes the tongue like a hug as you explore flavors of sweet tangerine, orange peel and pine. Softly tingly carbonation brings attention to smoky pork, milk chocolate and coffee beans. It's an amazingly smooth blend, with the perfect amount of bitterness and no hint of alcohol.

Balance is key in black IPAs, and SanTan has found it. Negro Nitron is worthy of a trip to Chandler, but go soon -- it's only going to be around for a while longer, unless they decide to can it.

Food Pairing Suggestions: 
If you're at the brewpub, you've got to try Negro Nitron with SanTan's beer can chicken. The darkened malts in the beer link with the caramelized meat and smoky rub while the hops tame some of the dish's savory qualities. For dessert, get something intensely sweet to contrast the beer's bitterness. Triple chocolate fudge cake would work well -- you'd have a link between chocolate notes in the malt and the food, and the zesty hops would juxtapose the cake's sugar.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized expert in beer. 

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