Remember Flava Flav? Yeah, me neither. But this entry is about diving into the dark unknown, or darker beers. The biggest concern with most non crafty drinkers is the fear of flavor, the assumption that it's going to be too heavy, too dark, too everything that isn't little Bud Light. Which is fine, it's completely an acquired taste that requires research to find your favorite style. It's like getting into new music, so much work right? I settled with listened to Jewel for the rest of my life in 1994 and never looked back. Beer, is another story. The more you learn and respect beer, the more you will love it.
This heaviness I refer to in beer, is also referred to as "mouth feel" or "body" of the beer. When a beer is light in body, it's considered a nice session beer, easy drinkin', goes down smooth. A full bodied beer has a nice thick mouth feel and a powerful aroma and taste that lingers. We can measure the "body" of a liquid by measuring the specific gravity of a beer, or the sugar content. The higher the specific gravity, the fuller the body, and vice versa. I took it upon myself a year or so ago to test the specific gravity of a Coca Cola and a Barleywine style beer (one of the heaviest, full bodied beers around) as research for a Craft Beer speech I made. The specific gravity of the Coca Cola was 1.06, which is high and typical for a soda. The specific gravity of the Barleywine was only 1.02. In fact, it's rare for a beer to ever exceed 1.03. What does this all mean? It means that soda has a fuller mouth feel and is heavier than almost all beers around the world. If you fear beer because it's too filling, too heavy and has too much flavor, then by golly you're wrong! And let's not forget that beers contain proteins, and B Vitamins which are not found in soda. So if you can handle a soda, you can handle any beer.
Whatever your growing palette may be, here are some dark beers that are light in body and easy to drink. These are great beers to try if you're just starting to get into craft beer. And if you're already a crafty champion, could funnel 15 seconds.
The Salopian Brewing Company's Entire Butt English Porter (4.8% ABV) Historically, the "Entire Butt" is a term that describes a Porter that is comprised of a variety of ales. And unlike some beers, the name Entire Butt is not a indicator of this beers taste. The aroma is thick, like smelling melted chocolate and sugar. This Porter uses 14 different types of malts that help your palette balance between sweet chocolate and oats. There is a minimal amount of hop flavor, but the malt is the headline show. When sipping on this beer, one word keeps coming to mind; creamy. This Porter goes down so smooth, with flavors of roasty milk chocolate, sweet licorice and hints of fruity hops. A slight astringency helps to clean it up and get you ready for the next sip. A ridiculously easy drinking Porter that may change the way you drink forever.
Bell's Brewing Co. Oatmeal Stout (5.7% ABV) This beer has been referred to as a full bodied beer, but you'd never know it since it's so smooth. Consider drinking hot chocolate, who would want a watery hot chocolate? Same goes for an Oatmeal Stout. You want malt, chocolate, a little roast and you want to be able to enjoy another after the first. Oatmeal Stout's are known for being nutty and chocolaty smooth on the palette with little to no alcohol flavor. Bell's Oatmeal Stout does a great job of living up to that reputation. Aromas of milk chocolate, espresso and fruity earth leave me wanting to submerge my whole face into my glass. Bell's uses flaked oats that help lend to the flavors of oatmeal that come through first, which balance with the roasted coffee and milk chocolate flavors from the malt. It has a texture that is silky thin, yet creamy, which is the easy drinkin' factor for this brew. If you're ever in Kalamazoo Michigan, make sure to stop by Bell's Eccentric Café, where this Oatmeal Stout if an old time favorite.
Otter Creek Alpine Black IPA (6% ABV) Otter Creek made this Black IPA on their pilot system (a small batch brewing system) for the Vermont Brewers Festival in Burlington, Vermont. They expected it to be a one time creation, but turned into a consumer favorite. Everyone who tasted it, wanted more. They decided to make it their new Winter Seasonal to share with the world, did you have it this winter? If not, I bet you can still find it on the shelves somewhere. This beer caters to the preferences of hop lovers as well as malt lovers, giving a nice balance of both worlds. Otter Creek uses Apollo, Centennial, and Citra hops that add bitterness to the caramel malts and roasted barley. All of this may not sound like an easy slugger, but when ingredients are in such balance (like sweet malts and bitter hops) your palette perceives it to be very smooth and drinkable. This brew has a floral aroma of pine, citrus as well as chocolate, roast and caramel. The mouth feel is light, picking up on roasted flavors from the malt and finishing dry and bitter from the hops. A very unoffensive beer that can get you into not only dark beers, but hoppy dark ones. And apparently Black IPA's are the new rage, so you better catch up.
Four years ago (at this second perhaps) I was throwing a small orange ball into a plastic cup of Keystone Light. Since then, my palette has not only changed, but my whole life as been turned around towards exploring and supporting new beer options. Craft beer sales may seem like they are sky rocketing, but sales are still only moderating growing. Only 5% of the beer consumed in the USA each year is craft beer, meaning that 95% of beer purchased and consumed is coming from only two companies, InBev and Miller Coors. Craft brewers are concerned with producing a product they love, commercial breweries are concerned with market share. When you're consuming, what are you concerned about?