Dark ale… a beer that is dark brown or almost black in colour can intimidate many beer drinkers. However, the distinct characteristics of this brew has made it very popular throughout the centuries and you will find most pubs or breweries will carry at least one dark or black beer.
Some believe that dark ale is dark in colour due to higher alcohol levels, which is not necessarily the case. Others may find darker beers to be more bitter, which generally they can be. The darker colour of dark ale is due to a longer malt roasting during the brewing process. And consequently, the darker the roast, the more bitter the beer.
A lot of us like to wind down our day with a nice, chilled beer, and some may opt for a dark ale from time to time. If you’re interested in trying a couple of dark brews yourself, read on to learn about these delectable beers.
What is Dark Ale?
Generally speaking, a dark ale is richer and more filling, opposed to a lighter beer that is superior at satisfying thirst. Dark ales get their colour and distinct taste from dark malts that are used during brewing, which can range in colour from copper to dark brown. Many find darker beers to have a more complex flavour, with malt certainly being the most dominant. Chocolate, coffee, roasted nuts, caramel, almonds, and fruits (such as currants and raisins) are common flavour and aroma characteristics of dark or black beers too.
What are the Features of Dark Beer?
Dark beers contain a unique and complex blend of ingredients, hence their intense flavour. In comparison to lighter coloured beers, they contain more barley, and as a result, take longer to roast. The longer the grains take to roast, the darker the beer.
Dark beers are created to have intense, robust flavours. Darker beers like stouts often come with chocolatey, nutty, or coffee flavours, offering a lingering palate sensation with every sip.
You would expect dark beer to be, well, dark! But dark ale can come in an array of colours, such as amber, brown, and black. Certain beers have similar colours and flavours – amber beers are found in both dark and light beers.
Many will see a dark ale and believe the darker colour will translate to a higher alcohol content.
However, just because they are darker, doesn’t mean they have more alcohol. Alcohol content is determined by the brewer’s brewing method, not the drink’s colour. The colour of the beer comes down to the ingredients used, in particular, the length of the malt roasting process. In the same breath, a lighter coloured beer doesn’t always translate to a lighter or less alcoholic beer!
Are there Different Types of Dark Beer?
There are many different styles and types of dark and black beer, here are the most common ones.
Dark lagers are created from well roasted barley and hops. This blend adds richness to the final beer and plenty of unique flavours.
Black India Pale Ale uses dark malts and plenty of hops to give the beer its dark colour. As a result, these unique beers have rich, dark, brighter, hoppy notes.
Stout beer has been popular in Europe since the 18th century. Stout is darker, drier, stronger, and richer in comparison to dark ales.
The German style lager, Dunkel, ranges in colour from amber to dark reddish brown. Dunkels are generally a little sweeter and are an easy drinking choice.
Porter is generally lighter in colour and alcohol than stout but still has a similar range of chocolate, caramel, and coffee flavours- just without the burnt, roasted qualities of a stout.
Originating from Germany, Schwarzbier is a much-loved type of dark beer usually black in colour. In addition, this black beer is well-known for its excellent chocolate and coffee flavours.
What Does Dark Beer Taste Like?
Dark beer is delicious! Each style is different and can carry a variety of rich and sweet flavours that offer a vibrant taste. However, the lingering taste varies from rich and deep, to sweet and malty.
While enjoying each sip, take note of the different flavours such as caramel, chocolate, bread, roasted nuts, and dark fruits (like cherries).
What Foods are Best Paired with Dark Beer?
Dark beers are both rich and sweet, making many types of food a suitable pairing. Some that complement the flavour and mouthfeel particularly include pork and steak. Aged cheese, such as gouda or sharp cheddar, pairs well by complementing the sweeter notes of the dark ale.
Much like wine, beer pairings bring out the different flavours of a beer in the most marvellous way. For example, mixing beer with cheese brings out its caramel sweetness, creating a phenomenal flavour on your palate.
On the other hand, when pairing with steak or pork, the light caramel sweetness of dark ale can enhance the meat’s flavourings. However, keep in mind that dark ale can be extremely filling and often feel like a meal by themselves – be careful to not over-do it!
Do Dark Beers Contain High Alcohol Content?
The biggest assumption associated with dark beers is that they have a higher alcohol content than lighter coloured beers. However, this is not always the case. The colour of your beer has little to do with its alcohol percentage.
As previously mentioned, beer colour results from the ingredients used during its processing and the length of the brewing process. Overall, most beers have an alcohol content ranging between 4% – 7%. Some craft breweries, (like us!) will also produce ales that fall in the 8% – 9% range. However, most dark beers, such as Guinness Stout, actually fall in the lower range of around 4.2%. So… that debunks that myth!
Whether it’s a celebration with friends or a nice evening winding down on your couch, dark ales are here for all to try. There are many types of dark beers to choose from for any occasion. We absolutely love dark ale at Prancing Pony and offer a Cascadian Dark Ale year ‘round, a limited-edition Dunkel, seasonal Imperial Stout, and seasonal Double Black IPA.
Explore our range today and give dark ale a try – you won’t regret it!