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July 14, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Dark Beers

A surprising number of people have absolutely no idea how beers get a dark colour. Depressingly, the majority seem to think that artificial colour is simply added at some specified point in the brewing process and – hey presto – instant dark beer. Tragically, that is precisely how a couple of breweries do it.

However, the majority do it properly through the judicious use of specialty malts. These are grains of barley which have begun germinating and are then roasted.

This process produces malt which can range in colour from very pale to pitch black. As my steak cooking consistently demonstrates, the longer you cook something, the more colour is imparted right up until it burns. Consequently, dark beers use darker, more roasted malts to impart colour and a range of flavours and aromas.

One of the best examples of a drinkable, balanced dark beer is Invercargill Pitch Black Stout (4.5%). This beer is from the country’s southernmost brewery and combines a depth of flavour and exquisite balance in a beer of modest strength. It showcases notes of coffee, burnt Vogel’s toast and chocolate.

Harrington’s Big John (6.5%) is much stronger. Made by the Official Brewer for Lord of the Rings, Big John is conditioned in oak bourbon barrels for a year where it picks up additional character. It has a nose of burnt toffee and tastes of spice, raisins, vanilla and oak before a long finish. It is a beer to be sipped with respect.

From the same range, Harrington’s Wobbly Boot Porter (5%) is not just a whimsical name. It is a dark, lustrous brew with a soft sweet nose and firm body packed with chocolate and toasted notes. It is increasingly available in large bottles ideal for sharing.

One of the country’s most established winter beers is Emerson’s Old 95 (7%). Brewed in the style of an Old English Ale, it is a tawny, caramel colour in the glass. It throws a sweet nose which has a hint of cooked honey. The beer was once described as ‘tasting like the burnt edge of a Christmas fruit cake.’ I have absolutely no idea whether that it is true but the beer is delicious.

Emerson’s Taieri George (6.8%) only comes out once a year. Generously spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and a secret third spice, the result has been called ‘liquid hot cross buns’. The robust combination of spices and strength won Gold and Best in Class at the 2008 Australian Beer Awards. The last stocks are on the shelves now.

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