Fill the void of those long, lonely winter nights with a dark beer – there’s one out there for you, we promise.
There’s no denying that these are dark times, friends – both symbolically and literally. Yes, the world has gone to hell in a handcart, but more pressingly, it’s winter. It’s cold. Even the usually tropical paradise of Ponsonby plummeted to 6°C the other morning.
My point being, now is not a time for bright and breezy pilsners, golden goses or sunny saisons. It is a time to stay home and hide in a corner with a dark beer – a beer that will make you feel like everything is going to be OK.
“Oh, but I don’t like dark beers,” I hear some of you whining. Rubbish. There are myriad styles available, many of which have little in common other than their deep, dark, delightfully depressing hue, so there’s sure to be one worth a try.
You’ll likely be familiar with stouts – the most famous of which is Guinness – and porters. These days, the difference between the two is negligible, but originally stouts were stronger versions of porters. Today, stouts tend to be darker and more roasty-tasting than their smoother porter siblings.
Within the stout and porter categories are multiple sub-categories, such as oatmeal stout, where oats are added during the brewing process to create a smooth, full-bodied beer. Panhead’s Blacktop Oat Stout, which the Dietary Requirements crew enjoyed during the recording of our inaugural podcast, is a fine example of this style.
Another sub-category is the imperial stout, allegedly so named because back in the 18th century, English brewers exported this beer to the court of the Empress of Russia, Catherine II. What you need to know about imperial stouts is they are strong – usually with an ABV in excess of 9% – so go easy, you hear? The 8 Wired iStout is a classic Kiwi rendition.
Closely related to the imperial stout is the Baltic porter, basically the result of brewers in the Baltic regions trying their hand at recreating the imperial stout and using lager yeast instead of ale yeast. These days, they are generally less roasty-tasting than imperial stouts, but still strong AF. Garage Project and Sawmill do good Kiwi versions.
Milk stouts are brewed with lactose, a sugar derived from milk, which makes them a touch on the sweet side. Many brewers accentuate this by adding chocolate, coffee and the like, such as in Behemoth’s Triple Chocolate Milk Stout (the tagline is “just like a chocolate milkshake only beery”) and 8 Wired’s Flat White Coffee Milk Stout. Or, if you’re Garage Project, cornflakes – their Cereal Milk Stout tastes like the “sweet remnants of the breakfast bowl”. Delicious.
Luke White, director of beer subscription service Beer Jerk, says for the uninitiated, these dessert-style beers can be a great introduction to the dark side. Kererū’s Imperial Nibs Porter, made with cacao nibs, vanilla and coconut toasted over mānuka wood and bark, is another tasty (and dangerously drinkable for 8.5%) example.
There are many, many more variations on the porter and stout styles that don’t fit neatly into the aforementioned sub-categories, but one of the aims of this story is to prove there are dark beers beyond them, so carry on we must.
Which brings me to schwarzbier, a German style of black lager that’s a very approachable introduction to dark beers. “It’s a perfect balance when you want something refreshing but also full of flavour and not too heavy,” says White. He’s particularly fond of Black Monk by Hawke’s Bay brewery Zeelandt, and Night Caller from Colab Brewing.
The black IPA is another non-stouty style that’s a personal favourite of mine. It may sound like an oxymoron — the P in IPA, of course, stands for pale – and boringly literal types have taken issue with the name, so in the States they’re often known as American black ales or Cascadian dark ales (something to do with the Cascade Mountains in western North America, apparently).
But despite perhaps not technically making sense, it totally does – these beers combine the resiny, fruity flavours of the hop-forward IPAs we know and love with a base of malty roastiness and a deep, dark hue.
Basically they’re hoppy, but they’re black. Brilliant, right?
Despite their deliciousness, the apparent demise of the black IPA was reported by American magazine All About Beer last year and, perhaps tellingly, not too many New Zealand breweries have them in their core ranges. But Croucher makes Moonride, Lakeman the Badonkadonk and Wanaka-based B.Effect has the C-Bomb, and through Beer Jerk I was recently introduced to the Cascade Chaos, a very nice black IPA by a small Wellington brewery called JuiceHead. 8 Wired does the slightly funky brettanomyces-fermented Wireless black IPA, and I look forward to trying the newly released Mr. Wow!, a black Belgium IPA from Dunedin brewery New New New.
There’s also the now-legendary-in-beer-circles Pot Kettle Black by Yeastie Boys, which, despite being called a South Pacific porter on its label, shares many characteristics with the black IPA. This hoppy number “balances the delectable dark malt flavours of a traditional porter with the fruity hop characteristics usually associated with modern craft pale ales”, says White. “It’s an excellent introduction to dark beers for anyone who’s still a bit unsure. A gateway porter, if you will.”
But before you charge on through that gateway to the dark side, here’s a final tip. New Zealanders tend to like their beers icy cold, but try to resist the urge, particularly with dark beers. Aim for between 7°C and 12°C (your fridge is probably somewhere between 2°C and 5°C), or even warmer for stronger beers.
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