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July 9, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Dark Beer

Just like an emo’s poetry, beers tend to get darker in winter.

However, unlike those self-obsessed scribblings, dark beers can be deep, rich and satisfying.

After a hot day in the summer sun, virtually any beer can taste absolutely stunning just by virtue of being cold. That all changes when the rain is cascading through the roof of the overbridge and your umbrella was last seen heading for Picton. When the cold air is turning the local monkeys to brass, a thin, watery lager loses much of its appeal.

This column celebrates beers for when the sun don’t shine.

Sometimes criminally dismissed as the beer your dad used to drink, Black Mac (5 %) is a fine dark lager. It pours near-black with an espresso head. The dominant flavours and aromas are of chocolate, coffee and toast but the finish is nicely bitter. Smooth, creamy and pleasant, there is nothing in Black Mac to scare your average fizz drinker and much to savor. Brewed in Blenheim, the magnificent Renaissance range of ales has until recently been conveniently available virtually nowhere. Now appearing in bottles so pretty they should have been born a little girl, the Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale (7 %) is an ebony ale with a nose of stonefruit and molasses. Stonecutter has a firm body of caramel, chocolate, liquorice and smoke. While the high hopping rate would give a Scottish accountant nightmares, it also produces a deceptively (even dangerously) drinkable beer. Once common, oatmeal in beer is today as rare as vitamin C in Ribena. One of the few verified recent sightings is in the classic Emerson’s Oatmeal Stout (4.8 %).

The use of oatmeal imparts a distinctive silky mouthfeel. This dark mahogany beer has a creamy head with a toasty, nutty, toffee body. Finishing relatively sweet, the popularity of this delightful drop with female drinkers may surprise the unenlightened. When Young’s brewery in London first made a beer with dark chocolate in 1997 it was described as “a totally indulgent oddity.” Combining beer and chocolate seems to have worked as the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (5.2 %) continues to live the impossible dream.

This deep mahogany beer has a fluffy tan head and a moussey nose of chocolate and fudge. Somewhat reminiscent of a frothy chocolate milkshake, the beer is a veritable smorgasbord of velvety chocolate, Milo, vanilla and coffee with a deftly crisp finish. If the chill is proving a little harder to shake, the ultimate winter beer is perhaps the unsurpassed Chimay Blue (9%). This bona fide world classic is brewed by an order of semi-silent Trappist monks in Belgium.

Chimay Blue is a decadent beer with an aromatic and lively nose of yeast, flowers, honey, malt and spices. In the mouth, fruit (redcurrant) and spices (thyme, pepper, nutmeg) dance along the fine lively bubbles.

By foregoing two cups of insipid coffee, you can afford a bottle of proper winter ale. You will thank me the next time the rain is lashing down and you are comfortably tucked up inside enjoying good company, a goblet of liquid warmth and a slice of strong cheese by the fire.

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