A (very) brief history of dark beers

From dunkels to dubbels, porters to stouts, now is the time pop open those dark beers 

Swirl the dark, unctuous liquid around the glass, unleashing the aromas: coffee, chocolate, dried fruits, dark fruits. Inhale. Twist the glass. Sip. Wash the beer around your mouth and tongue. Slowly savouring the complexities, the nuances. Let your mind drift: plum pudding, Christmas cake, dark chocolate, or soft caramel. This is the time for dark beers, bright fires, and slowing down. Winter is approaching, and for that we’re thankful.

Dark beers aren’t just for Christmas, we know that. A black lager on a hot day is a rare treat. Yet we know from buying patterns that many beer lovers at this time naturally lean towards porters and stouts, dunkels and dubbels, brown ales

A (very) brief history of dark beers

From dunkels to dubbels, porters to stouts, now is the time pop open those dark beers 

Swirl the dark, unctuous liquid around the glass, unleashing the aromas: coffee, chocolate, dried fruits, dark fruits. Inhale. Twist the glass. Sip. Wash the beer around your mouth and tongue. Slowly savouring the complexities, the nuances. Let your mind drift: plum pudding, Christmas cake, dark chocolate, or soft caramel. This is the time for dark beers, bright fires, and slowing down. Winter is approaching, and for that we’re thankful.

Dark beers aren’t just for Christmas, we know that. A black lager on a hot day is a rare treat. Yet we know from buying patterns that many beer lovers at this time naturally lean towards porters and stouts, dunkels and dubbels, brown ales and barley wines. So, to celebrate one of our favourite times of year for beer, we’re going to take a brief and not-at-all-comprehensive look at the history of dark beers, especially in Britain. Dangerous. Here goes…

What do we know? Well, we know that it was a London beer that became by far the most popular drink in the city at the end of the 18th century. There may have been a bit of smokiness to it because the malts were wood dried, however since the porter was aged for so long and highly-hopped it wouldn’t have been as smokey as, say, the Rauchbiers from Germany. There’s a good chance that a hint of sourness was present because it was often aged in barrels that weren’t air-tight. With the invention of the malt roaster in 1817 the malts were then dried without use of wood and allowed for the malt to take on a darker colour.

It’s this darkening Maillard reaction – the same process you employ on a great steak – that adds the chocolate and coffee notes in a beer.

Out of porter came stout, a stronger and bolder-flavoured version of the beer. The term ‘stout’ was long applied to any stronger beer, but become particularly associated with porter. In fact, strong porters came to be known as Stout or Extra Stout Porters and were ultimately shortened to just ‘stout’. By the late 1800s, porter’s popularity was wavering, to almost disappear in the coming decades. Stout’s appeal continued of course, thanks to  Guinness.

Stouts weren’t the only beer to have come out of the porter phenomenon. A Baltic porter was a stronger version that was exported to Russian, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, but, influenced by German brewing methods, it was actually made as a lager—and still is to this day. Of the stouts, we also have the milk stout that has the addition of un-fermentable lactose to provide a sweetness, while oatmeal stouts tend to be richer and creamier. The Extra stout, designed for export, also tended to be stronger too. Meanwhile, the strong Imperial stout (7-12% ABV), exported to the Russian aristocracy during the 18th century.

 

SIX TO TRY


Wiper and True / Milkshake / 4.8%

With a passion for tinkering and experimenting, the Milkshake Milk Stout is laced with real vanilla pods to bring about a rich and luscious bottle-conditioned milk stout.

 

Brooklyn Brewery / Black Chocolate Imperial Stout / 10%


The deep black-coloured Russian Imperial Stout has intense aromas and flavours of dark chocolate, brown sugar, molasses and a subtle roasted character.

 

Bad Co. / Dazed and Confused / 5.5%


Rich and full bodied with a smooth texture and soft carbonation, the dark chocolate malts and coffee bitterness linger on the palate long after the glass is empty.

 

Belching Beaver / Peanut Butter Milk Stout / 5.3%


Fans of peanut butter cups will love this beer from California’s Belching Beaver Brewery. This creamy sweet stout’s big roasted peanut and chocolate flavours are just like the sweet.

 

Green Flash / Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter / 8.2%


Where to begin? This is one of the most fascinating beers we've ever tasted. It's a creme brulee and a creamy ristretto in one. They use Belgian candi sugar, lactose for sweetness and cold pressed espresso. Need any more convincing?

 

Harviestoun / Old Engine Oil / 6%


Outrageously smooth this strong dark beer with its chocolaty flavour leaves a bittersweet aftertaste to savour. Silver Medal at the World Beer Awards 2015 in the category United Kingdom - Porter