If you have ever asked a craft beer fanatic what his or her favorite beer is, chances are you received an answer like this: “It depends on a lot of things.”
They will then go on to list a litany of things such as food, mood, and, of course, the season. Summer is typically viewed as the time of year when we partake in lighter beers and winter is just the opposite, when many transition into darker and heavier beers such as stouts and porters.
Winter is now fully underway and the long and cold nights have taken hold, meaning it’s time to switch to heavier beers to warm us by the fireside. For some the transition is instant, while for others a slower transition is needed, maybe starting off by drinking brown ales before moving on to porters and finally ending with stouts before the weather swings back to the lighter, warmer side of things.
Brown Ales are the perfect jumping-off point to darker beers with their toasty, nutty and slightly caramel flavors up front before giving way to a crisp clean finish. Some Brown Ales, typically Americanized versions, are a bit more hop forward, but are still just as fantastic. Standout examples of this style are Indian Brown Ale by Dogfish Head, Brooklyn Brown Ale by Brooklyn Brewery, Nut Brown Ale by Samuel Smith, Reunion Ale by Terrapin, and Turbodog by Abita.
The next step closer to the dark side is moving into the Porter category. This style has been in existence for a very long time; unfortunately we don’t know how long, but we do know it has been brewed since at least the early 1700s. The Porter style is richer than the Brown Ale with its roasted malts, creamy mouthfeel, and, like Brown Ale, some versions are hoppier than others. Standout examples of the Porter style are Taddy Porter by Samuel Smith, Black Butte Porter by Deschutes, Edmund Fitzgerld Porter by Great Lakes, Anchor Porter by Anchor Brewing Company, and Stone Smoked Porter by Stone Brewing Co., which is also available with fresh vanilla bean added.
The final stage in the transition into the dark side is Stouts. This is another style that has been in existence for a long time and has become popularized by Guinness. The style features very roasty malts with slight hints of caramel as well, with other variations that can occur depending on the brewer’s choice. Standout examples of the stout style are Love Stout by Yards Brewing Company, Chocolate Stout by Rogue, Kalamazoo Stout by Bell’s, Old King Coal Stout by Breaker Brewing Company, and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout by Anderson Valley.
If this final stage is still not enough for you and you want to go deeper, darker, and richer, then the imperial variants of both Porters and Stouts are just what you need. The differences between Imperial Porters and Stouts are very subtle and often debated on, but for this we can agree that these are all fantastic and enjoyable beers. Victory at Sea by Ballast Point is a must-have, along with Speedway Stout by AleSmith, Imperial Stout by Samuel Smith, Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing Co., and Turbo Diesel by the local Nimble Hill Brewing Company.
The lack of daylight can cause some feelings of gloom and doom for some, but if we can learn to embrace the dark side then we can learn to enjoy this time of year. Drinking stouts and porters is just another way to enjoy the ever-changing seasons that we have here in Northeast Pennsylvania.