Winter Beer: A Quick Guide To Dark Beer

Just as summer ales quench your thirst on a hot day, dark ales warm you up from the inside out. They’re the perfect brew to lead us through these long nights and short days as we head into the heart of winter.

But before you dive into a thick-headed snifter of stout, here’s a quick guide to dark beer so you can get a better understanding of the stuff. A good place to start is figuring out what makes them so dark in the first place…

Why are dark beers dark?

You may remember from our IPA guide, those beers were all about the hops; malt played second fiddle. In dark beers, it’s the opposite. Here, malt is the guest of honour, giving dark beer its flavour, its aroma, and most importantly, its dark colour.

Malt is simply barley that’s germinated and kilned. Germination unlocks the sugars that barley stores as starch so yeast can turn those sugars into alcohol. Kilning stops the barley from fully sprouting, and depending on how hot and in what way the barley is kilned, different malts are made.

Base malts like pale and pilsen malts, are kilned slow and long and, like their names suggest, they form the base for most beers. What’s known as specialty malts are kilned hotter, some to the point of roasting. There are also crystal malts which are stewed to caramelize the sugars.

Malts like Munich, Vienna, brown, chocolate and black patent malts make for dark beers with roasty flavours, sweet flavours, coffee flavours, even burnt toast flavours. The ratio of these malts to base malts make for a staggering range of different types and flavours of beer.

Dark beers can range from surprisingly light bodied to rich and creamy. They can be as sweet as milk chocolate, or as bitter as burnt coffee. Here’s a quick tour of the most popular styles.

What are the different types of dark beers?

A couple hundred years ago, dark beer was the biggest beer around. And while it fell out of favour just before the twentieth century (save for Guinness, which steadfastly retained its popularity), craft brew has brought these roasty, creamy, rich beers back in a big way and what quick guide to dark beer would be complete  without mentioning them?

Porter
The grandfather of the modern dark beer, the porter got its name from the dock workers in early 18th century London who favoured the dark, heavy, usually aged beer. Generally a bit lighter in colour and lacking the stronger roasted bitterness of a stout, porters offer flavours that include toffee, caramel, and chocolate.

Stout
The term “stout” once simply referred to a beer that was stronger. Strong porters were called stout porters, then just “stouts.” In addition to more alcohol, stouts are usually a bit drier and roastier than porters.

Dry/Irish Stout
Possibly the most popular of any stout, Irish stout is the category Guinness falls under. Lighter in body, with a dryness from unmalted roasted barley, dry stouts can be a touch bitter and are usually lighter in alcohol content.

Milk Stout
Also known as a “sweet stout” milk stouts have the milk sugar lactose added to the fermentation. Yeast can’t digest lactose and what remains gives the beer a hint of sweetness and an extremely silky mouthfeel.

Oatmeal Stout
Not surprisingly, oats are added to the grain bill of an oatmeal stout. Oats impart a creaminess and rounder mouthfeel, similar to milk stouts, but tend to offer a bit less sweetness.

Imperial Stout
Originally brewed by British brewers for Russia’s Catherine the Great, imperial stouts are big, boozy, mildly bitter beers that lend themselves to nicely to ageing — especially in wood barrels once used for whisky or bourbon, giving the stout oakey, vanilla flavours.

Black IPA
Black IPA is an IPA that uses a bit of dark specialty malts to turn the beer inky black. These are generally nicely balanced beers — with the strong, bright hops offsetting the rich and toasted notes from the malt.

Now that you know a little about the darker side of beer, all that remains is trying some for yourself. Here’s what we recommend:

A quick guide to dark beer –  THESE DARK BEERS WILL KEEP YOU WARM THIS WINTER

  • Garage Project Snug Nitro Irish Stout
  • Dainton Choctail Espresso Mocha Stout
  • Stone & Wood Vintage Release 2022 Stone Beer Porter
  • Sauce Whisky Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Sauce Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Sauce Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Six String Gothic Imperial Stout
  • Bridge Road Robust Porter

    Bridge Road Robust Porter

    $6.95
    Single
    $6.25
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  • Moon Dog Creme Brulee Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Deeds Infernal Agreement Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Deeds Brewing Conductor's Special Reserve Smokey Baltic Porter
  • Dainton Chipmunk Choc Hazelnut Porter
  • All Inn Brewing Seasonal Nitro Milk Stout
  • New England Grandad Brown

    $5.50
    Single
    $4.95
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  • Dainton Cherrywood Barrel Aged Smoked Rye Baltic Porter
  • Shapeshifter Porter

    Shapeshifter Porter

    $11.25
    Single
    $10.12
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  • Boatrocker Oakey Dokey Stout

    $11.95
    Single
    $10.75
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  • White Bay Porter

    $7.75
    Single
    $6.97
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  • Pioneer Breakfast Stout

    $5.80
    Single
    $5.22
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  • Pioneer Pandemic Porter

    $5.80
    Single
    $5.22
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  • Slipstream Mocha Stout

    $8.10
    Single
    $7.29
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  • Bondi Brewing Coffee Porter

    $8.15
    Single
    $7.33
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  • Batch Brewing Elsie the Milk Stout 375ml
  • Hope Elite Pack

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Holgate Double Stout

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Sydney Brewery Smooth Talker Porter

    $4.95 $3.50
    Single
    $3.50
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  • Batch Coffee Milk Stout

    $7.75
    Single
    $6.97
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  • The Big Boss Pack

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Hope F/A-18% Rhino IIIIIPA

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Hope F-11.1% Jet Black IIIPA

    Hope F-11.1% Jet Black IIIPA

    $12.95
    Single
    $11.65
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  • Hope F18 Black Rhino Stout

    $21.25
    Single
    $19.12
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  • Hope F111 Jet Red IPA

    Hope F111 Jet Red IIIPA

    $12.75
    Single
    $11.47
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  • Hope Chocolate Milk Porter

    Hope Chocolate Milk Porter

    $7.40
    Single
    $6.66
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  • Hope Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

    $12.75
    Single
    $11.47
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  • Young Henry's Motorcycle Oil
  • Hope Imperial Russian Stout

    $12.75
    Single
    $11.47
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  • Dark Mixed Pack

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Hope Extra Shot Porter

    $8.35
    Single
    $7.51
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  • Hope White Choc Porter

    $0.00
    Single
    $0.00
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  • Bridge Road B2 Bomber Mach 10

    $44.95
    Single
    $40.45
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  • Deep Creek Velvet Stout

    $12.15
    Single
    $10.93
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  • Big Shed Golden Stout Time Can
  • Hawkers Stout Can

    $6.50
    Single
    $5.85
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  • Modus Silent Knight Porter

    $23.50 $12.00
    4 Pack
    $12.00
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