Ask the common beer drinker to picture the perfect pint or bottle, and they’ll likely envision something ice cold and golden amber on a hot afternoon. But, to many a discriminating craft beer drinker, there is a whole other category of brews… one that can inspire a kind of passion that you just can’t summon with an everyday lager, the dark beer.
I’m referring, of course, to dark beers. Although some of your average beer drinkers might consider #darkbeer to be something close to the dark arts, I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I love ‘em. Lighter beers have their place, and there’s certainly something to be said for an unfiltered Session or a Witbier. But there is a difference between infatuation and love, and the complexity of a dark beer touches my heart in the way that most golden beers can’t.
Judging a Beer by Its Colour
As I’ve noted in a previous article, dark beers aren’t really or necessarily different, per se. They don’t have to feature different ingredients, just a different brewing process.
Generally speaking, most dark beers get their colour from the grains being used, and the degree to which the malt has been roasted. Although some beers can see their colour darkened by food colouring and darker sugar, it’s usually just the same ingredients being used a different way.
Casual beer drinkers don’t often understand this, which is why they automatically assume that a dark beer is going to be heavier. But, you don’t need to look farther than the nearest pint of Guinness to see that such assumptions don’t always hold up. That beer, in particular, is lighter than a lot of lagers. It’s certainly creamy, but that stems more from the nitrogen that’s used in its preparation than the ingredients themselves.
It’s easy to automatically assume that a darker beer is going to have more alcohol, more calories, and a heavier taste, but that’s not always going to be the case, especially when it comes to the diverse styles and flavours found in craft beers.
Confessions of a Dark Beer Lover
While I find the process involved in making craft beers of any kind interesting, I have to admit that the details about malt and sugar don’t really have much to do with my enjoyment of them. In fact, it probably goes the other way around: I love dark craft beers for the way they open my nose and feel on my tongue. When it comes to what I truly love about them, however, it’s all about the taste. To help you understand why they are so special to me, here are my confessions…
1. I do make assumptions about darker craft beers
Although I just finished making the point that you shouldn’t assume anything about a dark beer based on its colour, I do so all the time. When I see a dark beer, I usually expect (and want) something that’s going to be rich and intense. Thankfully, craft beer makers realize that we hold these biases, and usually indulge us by producing dark beers that live up to their appearance. So, even though to assumes can make an ass-out-of-you-and-me, there’s a good chance that the dark beer you’re about to drink has a strong flavour profile.
2. Darker beers lend themselves to more ingredients
While most beers are based on wheat, malt, and hops, darker beers can be made using oats and other more robust ingredients. This lends itself to a bigger variety of styles and ideas. Where is most craft brewers are limited to the same basic ingredients, adjusted and modified for different batches, dark beer brewers have a larger palate to work with. That means more variety, and the chance to find something that’s “just right” at the moment.
3. The stronger flavours found in dark craft beers fill me with joy
It might sound like blasphemy to beer purists, but I love the fact that dark beers can be infused with coffee, chocolate, pumpkin, and an endless number of spices. The result is a more complex beer that doesn’t just refresh, but dances on your tongue. Dark beers can be sweet, spicy, and wonderfully bitter. They move into a range of flavours where lighter beers can’t tread, and that’s a wonderful thing.
4. I sometimes like dark beer with (or as) dessert
Because darker beers can feature richer flavours, they can more easily be paired with richer foods. In fact, the right dark beer can be the perfect accompaniment – or replacement – for your dessert. Not only can a darker beer cleanse the palate, some studies suggest they can even reduce muscle soreness. If you haven’t tried a dark beer AS an after-dinner snack, or as a treat at the end of a long day, you just don’t know what you’re missing.
5. When I’m in the right mood, only a dark beer will do
When it comes down to it, dark beers aren’t just about another colour, but an entirely different category. Once you start craving one, you just can’t be satisfied with the fun but simple taste of your average beer. When the mood is right, only a dark brew will do.
So, time to share your confessions… what is your favourite dark beer? Is it a #craft or a #macro? Is it an Oyster or a Chocolate, or something as exotic as kale?
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