Calling a beer ‘dark’ is a convenient catch-all, but when you start peering deeper into the darkness there is a huge array of styles which contribute to such a label.
From traditional stouts and porters through to dark lagers, amber ales and deep reds; not to mention brown ales and even the misnomer that is the black India Pale Ale, darkness in beer is actually a kaleidoscope: not of colour, but flavour; roast and fruit characters of coffee; bitterness of hops and cocoa, malty, caramel sweetness - and plenty more. Australians justifiably love their refreshing and often fruity pale lagers and ales - the climate is generally so conducive to them - but every beer drinker should take a little time, especially during these cooler months, to be tempted toward the dark side of beer.
4 Pines - Stout
There are two sides to 4 Pines. On one hand you have the little brewpub in Manly - their original brewery and still arguably the heart, soul and face of the business - where they serve up plenty of fun times and small batch brews based on some very interesting ideas. On the other hand, up the road in Brookvale, you’ll find the production brewery which puts out the core range of beers enjoyed elsewhere across the country and helped them take the title of Champion Large Australian Brewery at the 2015 Australian International Beer Awards. Perhaps best encapsulating both sides of 4 Pines is their stout, a seriously good beer that’s somewhat akin to eating a chocolate brownie and drinking a coffee at the same time. Its balance of roast, sweetness and creaminess create something fulfilling yet light enough that it demands repeated drinking. And when you look on the label you’ll see the words ‘Space Beer’. Prompted by a local aeronautical engineer who frequented the Manly brewpub, 4 Pines stout has genuinely been prepped and tested to become the first beer in space.
James Squire - Porter
The James Squire stable of beers has swelled over recent years as craft beer has come back in fashion and now takes in nine different styles. But while the paler beers like 150 Lashes pale ale and The Chancer golden ale command much of the advertising budget and the Hop Thief, with its ever-changing hop recipe, probably captures more of the imagination of the beer community, it’s the Jack of Spades that arguably gets the least attention but deserves the most. Squires’ English style porter is full of the flavours you might expect from the style, such as chocolate, coffee and caramel, though they stop short of giving it a big punchy finish. If you’re a fan of bigger stouts and porter you might feel that you want a touch more fullness here, but this isn’t a beer designed to be robust. Instead, Jack of Spades is one of those genuine easy-drinking crowd-pleasers that hits all the right notes and will just as easily keep the everyday beer drinker happy as it will your average beer geek.
Moo Brew - Dark Ale
Tasmania’s Moo Brew produce a refined range of beers, beautifully presented in their sleek squat bottles adorned with eye-catching artwork (an extension of the brewer’s connection with the MONA gallery). In many ways, Moo is an ideal brew to pair with food - and not just because it happens to look good on the table and provides a talking point. Between the pilsner, hefeweizen, belgo, pale ale and dark ale, theirs is a range that offers plenty of flavour in their respective styles but which don’t overstep the mark, leaving them open to exploring and matching flavours further. For its part, the dark ale - an American brown ale at heart - is a beer that’s hoppy but not aggressive, roasted but not burnt, sweet but not sickly, full but eminently drinkable. This is a beer you can quite comfortably enjoy it on its own, but try it with a chocolate or coffee or caramel-based dessert (or some combination of all three) to get the full effect.
Coopers - Best Extra Stout
With over 150 years of brewing history, by any measure the Cooper family have been in the beer game a long time. Yet, amongst all the ups and downs and changes in the industry, it’s somewhat refreshing to reflect that Coopers’ brewing success has been built largely on their traditional beers. And of those their Best Extra Stout is, as its name helpfully suggests, one of their best. Black as night, it’s got a soft and fluffy head that gives way to a robust roast, a slightly bitter bite and carries enough oomph to ensure its flavour will linger. It may be strong enough to let you know you’ve had it, but it’s also welcoming enough to leave you wanting more. If you’re a regular pale or sparkling ale drinker, it’s worth branching out every now and then to be reminded of what else the Coopers crew can do. And if you can resist opening a bottle immediately, the Best Extra Stout should stand up well to a short period of careful cellaring.
Nail - Clout Stout
Nail is one of the finest breweries in Australia when it comes to malt-dominant beers, and Clout Stout is the beer which garners the most attention. Packaged in a champagne-style bottle and weighing in at more than 10% abv, Clout Stout is as imposing in the bottle as it is in the glass. It’s also one of Australia’s most expensive beers and, if you ask most beer lovers, is worth every cent. Characters like dark fruits, rich roast, coffee, chocolate, molasses and even vegemite are all descriptors you could throw Clout’s way, but none quite do it justice. The true pleasure of Clout Stout is enjoying it as it warms, the many layers revealing the beer to be ever more complex. Produced annually, Clout is only released when it’s deemed ready to drink. That said, as with any good Russian Imperial Stout, it will continue to develop over several years if stored properly. If you’re in the mood to splash out and share something special with friends, you won’t go wrong with this.