So you’ve spent the summer drinking pale ale and you want to try something new. Have you thought about dark beer? Stop making that face. Dark beers don’t all taste like a loaf of bread, we promise.
Dark beers come in varying shades, each with distinct flavours to explore, from sweet amber ales to the chocolate-y notes of porters. Need another reason to come on board? Coffee.
“You’re getting very similar flavours to coffee in dark beer,” says Chris Menichelli, owner of craft-beer retailer Slowbeer in Richmond. “Many people have a preconceived idea that beer is a summer drink and should be as close to water as possible, but dark beer goes down nicely in the colder months.”
A common misconception about dark beer is that it contains more alcohol than its lighter-coloured counterparts, but colour has nothing to do with alcohol content. Menichelli says – just like with any other beer – you can get dark beers in a range of ABV (alcohol-by-volume).
Another misconception is that dark beers are all horribly bitter. Not the case. “Amber or red ales can taste like caramelised or burnt toffee. Darker stouts have a coffee or dark-chocolate flavour,” Menichelli says. “Belgian dark ales on the other hand, taste like fruit and spice.”
Here are some dark styles Menichelli recommends to get you started.
Killer Sprocket, Amber Ale
This American-style amber ale is made in Victoria and pours a deep ruby-copper colour. There’s a fruitiness from the hops, a sweetness from the burnt toffee flavour, and a slightly bitter finish to balance it out.
Six String, Dark Red IPA
It looks pretty dark, but there’s a reddish hue there. The head (frothy part of the beer) has a creamy mouthfeel. The flavour is a malty caramel. At 6.6 per cent, you might want to go easy on this one.
Hop Nation, The Buzz
Brewed in Mornington, this red ale uses American hops for a robust, fruity and nutty body. Some people taste tropical fruit such as grapefruit and mango, while others get a whiff of apricot. In a word? Lush.
James Squire, Nine Tales
This amber ale pours a clear copper colour, and has a toffee-caramel sweetness with a mild fruity tang. We can verify it also tastes exactly as it smells. It’s low in bitterness, and a good starter in your progression from light to dark.
Nail Brewing, Huge Dunn Imperial Brown Ale
Imperial ales are called such because back in the 1700s, English-brewed extra-strong stouts had to last the journey to the Russian imperial court. In the world of 21st-century beer, “Imperial” has come to signify anything stronger than 7 per cent ABV. Be mindful: this brown ale stands at 8 per cent. It’s also strong on flavour – with a rich caramel, chocolate and nutty character.
Feral, Karma Citra
Don’t be fooled – this one might look as dark as a porter or stout, but because of a special roasting technique, it’s not especially bitter. It’s got the fruitiness and bitterness of an IPA (India Pale Ale), but carries the dark-beer taste in its slight burnt-coffee and dark-chocolate flavours.
8 Wired, C4 Double Coffee Brown Ale
Here’s that coffee fix we promised. This New Zealand brown ale literally incorporates coffee beans into the brewing process. The result is a nutty malt, with added oomph from the beans, leaving a dry bitter-sweet taste on the tongue.
This article is part of Broadsheet’s Craft Beer Quarterly, produced in partnership with James Squire.