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.

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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.