Don't Be Afraid of the Dark...Beer

dark beer

In an effort to debunk some very common misconseptions about darker beer, here are a couple of dark beer myths held true by the majority of beer drinkers (read light golden lager drinkers).

  • Dark beers are stronger in alcohol. Fact: Color has no relation to alcohol. Guinness is black, and has only 4.2% ABV. The color comes from the use of a small amount of highly roasted grains which do not add alcohol. The higher the roast, the darker the beer. Some things that do add alcohol are rice, corn, sugar, and lots of malt. Some lighter coloerd beer can fool you, for example Duvel is a Belgian Golden Strong Ale which has about 8% ABV.
  • Dark beers are thick, stronger tasting and bitter. Fact: As noted above, most beers get their color from a small amount of highly kilned or roasted grain or malt. It doesn't take much to turn a Pilsner into a Schwarzbier ("black beer" in German). Look at some of the dark American lagers for example. Beers such as Michelob Amber Bock. It has lots of color, but not much flavor or body. It's basically a light American lager that has been colored and maybe had a small amount of caramel malt added to distinguish it from the light beer category. It might be a good introduction to dark beers for the uninitiated though. Just don't think that this is the way all dark beer is supposed to taste.

Imagine Michelob Amber Bock on the low end of the scale, and a Russian Imperial Stout on the other. There are hundreds of beers that fall in between these two extremes. There is a darker beer for almost every light beer drinker. You just have to try a few to find it. Here are some examples you might like to try as you work your way up to a Russian Imperial Stout such as Brooklyn Brewing's Black Chocolate Stout:

  • Sam Adams Black Lager - is a good commerical example of a Schwarzbier (black beer in German). It's a lager so it is by definition a clean tasting beer but it has just enough roasted flavor and malt complexity to make it a very interesting beer and a good introduction to dark beers.
  • St. Pauli Girl Special Dark - this beer is very smooth with a light hop character and a rich malty taste. It's available just about everywhere.
  • Shiner Bock - is not really a bock, but a Vienna lager. It is a clean beer with some light sweet malty flavors. Shiner bock is a very drinkable session beer that you should be able to find in most stores as well as on tap in many of the bars and restaurants in your area.
  • Guinness Draught - is a good introduction to stouts. It is lighter than most and features the typical roasted coffee-like flavors found in all stouts. Black coffee drinkers should like this beer.
  • Warsteiner Premium Dunkel -is a dark, very smooth and highly drinkable German dark lager. Try one, it's another beer that is available everywhere.
  • Dixie Blackened Voodoo - is a nice dark American lager, brewed in New Orleans. It has a fair amount of hops to balance the dark flavors. It can be found in quite a few stores here in the South. This is on the more extreme end of the list, but none the less, a good example of an American Dark Lager.
  • Negra Modelo -is another Vienna lager. These beers are soft with an elegant malt complexity and just enough hops to balance the finish. Any of the Mexican dark lagers are an acceptable substitute, such as Bohemia, Dos Equis Dark lager, etc. Just make sure they are in a can or dark brown bottle. Stay away from most beers in green and clear bottles because these are usually "skunked".
  • Oktoberfest - any of the Oktoberfest or Märzen beers in the stores during the fall and winter are easy drinking beers. They are full of rich malt sweetness and finish moderately dry.

There are numerous other beers that are not mentioned. The point is to try several with an open mind. Forget your preconceived notions of what the beer is going to taste like and try one. No learning experience is a wasted effort. You may be pleasantly surprised.


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