Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Making Beer Dark

Beer snobs will often sneer at neophytes who claim that they don't like dark beers. They correctly point out that the color of a beer does not necessarily indicate that it will be bitter, or strong, or even particularly flavorful. Blindfolded, many of those who eschew dark beers would certainly choose a near-black New Belgium 1554 over a golden India Pale Ale.

Darkness of beer is simply a function of what grains are used. A beer made with loads of pale malt will be much stronger, and may (or may not, depending on the brewer) hold much more bitterness from hops, than a beer made with a handful of blackened malt added to a modest amount of pale grains. Darkness has little to do with the amount of alcohol; a glass of Guinness is much lighter in alcohol than a glass of Stella Artois.

All that said, there's a grain of truth in what the neophytes say. Darker beers tend to be made with darker roasted grains, and dark roasted grains tend to have more of a "bite" to them. It's kind of like the difference between toast and burnt toast, or a golden marshmallow and one that has served as a short-lived tiki torch. While a dark beer does not necessarily have a strong roasted flavor, it usually has at least some of that roasted malt bitterness.

I recently brewed a Schwarzbier, which is a dark German lager. I wanted something very dark, but I didn't include quite enough roasted malts in the recipe, so it came out a good deal closer to brown than black. That's not necessarily a problem for the style guidelines, but it wasn't what I was shooting for.

Fortunately, Sinamar is a special malt extract that functions like a black food coloring for beer. Because it is made from malt, it actually complies with the Reinheitsgebot - the German beer purity law requiring that beer be made only from water, hops and malt (yeast had not yet been discovered). It should bump up the color without adding much flavor at all, leaving me with a smooth dark lager that will surprise those expecting that a dark beer is a harsh, bitter beer.

If you are one of those who thinks that dark beer is too intense or heavy, you should try something other than stout, like Samuel Adams Black Lager or the schwarzbier served at Gordon Biersch. As mentioned above, 1554 from New Belgium brewery is a very drinkable dark beer. A few such experiments could broaden your palate.



Blogger les said...

Another good try for the dark-leery is Left Hand Brewery's Milk Stout; not quite so sweet as 1554, but very smooth and loads o' flavor. Not bitter--creamy, in fact.

6/02/2009 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McKesson Stout is also a good intro beer for those who are "afraid of the dark." It's still a respectable stout, but it doesn't have the "rip the soft palate out of your mouth" bitterness that Guinness is (rightly or wrongly) reputed to have.

6/02/2009 11:21 AM  
Blogger a beer sort of girl said...

Excellent soap-boxing. :) And I am fascinated by Sinamar. Take a pic!

6/04/2009 12:39 PM  

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