Unnecessary Fear of Dark Beer

Sprecher Pub Brown Ale

I hear it all too often – a strange and unnecessary fear of dark beer. Many folks have come to the conclusion that dark beer=bitter, heavy motor oil, unworthy of sipping on a sunny day. I’m going to flat out say, NOT TRUE. Not in all instances at least. You just have to know what you are drinking because dark beer can be heavy, hearty and bitter. But it can also be surprisingly sweet, mild and malty. Stouts, Porters and Brown Ales are becoming increasingly common in the islands, of all places, as a thirst quenching refreshing afternoon beverage. Are you surprised? Sands Brewing Company out of Freeport, Bahamas recently released Strongback Stout and it’s popularity has kept it flying off the shelves. Previously the only beer you could find in most establishments in the Bahamas was light styled Kalik Lager and Sands Lager, Guinness and Heineken. Although try choking on the price tag of a case of beer in the Bahamas, a staggering $50!

Many are under the impression that all dark beer tastes like Guinness, because they tried Guinness, decided the didn’t like it and stopped there. Personally I am not a huge fan of Guinness, although I love dark beer. How does that work? Well there are actually several types of Stout styles with a range of flavors from mild and malty to strong and bitter. Guinness is a Dry Irish Stout, meaning it has more hop or bittering characteristics than other types of Stouts and carries a toasted, coffee flavor. A sweeter style Stout is the Oatmeal Stout and Milk Stout. A Milk Stout is made with lactose, which does not contribute to fermentation, so it adds a creamy, sweetness and silky body. It was traditionally given to nursing mothers because it was thought to be nutritious.  An Oatmeal Stout is made with oatmeal as part of its grain contribution. While Oatmeal Stouts do not actually taste like your breakfast cereal, it does add a smoothness because of the oat’s high protein and lipid content. The stronger, higher in alcohol Imperial Stout boasts a kick, but is still milder in hops than the dry Irish Stout. British brewing company, Young’s, also makes a fantastic Double Chocolate Stout. Try that and tell me you don’t like dark beer!

Then we look at Porters. Porters and Stouts were essentially the same beer back in the London 1700’s, their name combined, referred to as Stout Porters. They developed their own characteristics and tiered sub-styles over time. Porters tend to be smokier and stronger than Stouts, not necessarily hoppier or more bitter. Most Porters are aged longer than other ales, giving it a higher concentration of roasted malt flavors, often they are aged in oak or bourbon barrels, giving them a distinct flavor. Smoked Portershave increased in popularity recently as well, pairing nicely with appetizers. Porters have a stronger flavor for a dark beer, so if you are hesitant of dark beers, start with something a little more friendly such as a Brown Ale and work your way into Porters from there.

Old Slug Porter $5.25

A delicious traditional porter with a full bodied taste of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and black cherry with a good aroma. A near black color with a good white head when served through a tight sparkler.

A surprisingly mild lighter dark beer is the Brown Ale. Brown Ales are mild, sweet, low in hop flavor and low alcohol content. There is a variance of Brown Ale styles as well. I would suggest starting with an English style Brown Ale as they are milder than North American Brown Ales. If you want to break it down even further, Northern England styles are stronger, malty and nutty (think Newcastle) and those from Southern England are darker, sweeter and lower in alcohol (Manns Original Brown Ale). The English Brown Ale is the perfect gateway beer to dark beers. North American Brown Ales are usually drier and slightly hoppier than English Brown Ales due to American hop varieties.

Sprecher’s Pub Brown Ale $2

Seven varieties of malted barley are combined to give this English-style ale its complex flavor and deep, brown color. A select British yeast culture adds a subtle fruitiness and a blend of choice hops gives this non-bitter ale a soft finish.

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale $2

Old Brown Dog has been cited as a classic example of the “American Brown Ale” style of beer. Compared to a typical English Brown Ale, Old Brown Dog is fuller-bodied and more strongly hopped.

If you want to try something different, and surprisingly smooth and mild, try this Brazilian Black Lager. Pronounced “shin-goo” this beer is from heart of the Amazon rainforest, named after the Xingu River. The recipe is inspired from the ancient Indian beers.

Xingu Black Lager $1.75

Don’t be deceived by the dark color, this beer has a surprisingly mild flavor and body. With caramel and chocolate overtones, this beer refreshes and revitalizes on a sultry, humid day.

Posted on April 20, 2010, in Beer and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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