Thursday, 27 October 2011

Autumn & Winter - Time for Dark Beer!

The time of year has arrived where it's pretty much dark when I leave home and dark when I leave work. After the clocks change this weekend then darkness will envelope the vast majority of my waking hours. If possible I will become even more pale and ghostly looking. However, unlike a lot of people I actually enjoy autumn and winter. Spring and summer are great but I always look forward to the changing of the seasons towards the darker, colder part of the year.

There are a number of reasons for this. I enjoy wrapping up in stupid furry hats, making my breath steamy and going from the cold air outside to a cosy indoor space. Above and beyond all this though is the food and drink this time of year brings with it. Rich, filling, stodgy food. Pies, mash, stews, bakes, potato based meals, sausages, all sorts of pastry. (Come on a few stomachs grumbled then.) The excitement I get from putting on some beef and gravy based dish to slow cook for a number of hours is something that only autumn brings.

I enjoyed the summer drinking IPA's, wheat beers and great lager but the time has definitely come for the dark beers to take centre stage. On one of those damp nights England is so adept at providing, a pint of stout or porter can be a marvellous thing. One thing I would say is always drink a porter or stout at around room temperature, you simply lose so much flavour having it chilled. Plenty of people don't realise the complexity of flavour present in these styles of beer. In a good pint you can find chocolate, fruit, coffee, malt and hop flavours all vying for your attention. Depending on the beer these can come sequentially or all at once. It's a wonderfully comforting set of flavours, coffee and chocolate in autumn or winter, it's like a cuddle. Another great thing about these style of beers in the mouth feel. Thick and velvety and smooth, these beers slide down.

One thing that I would like to add is that Guinness, in my opinion, is a fairly poor representative of a stout. It lacks flavour and is all round underwhelming, so try one from a brewery like Sam Smiths. The Americans also do some wonderful stouts. A friend of mine brought me a bottle of Alesmith Speedway Stout from the states last year and it was beautiful. For pure decadence you can't get much better than Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout, big and boozy with a tonne of chocolate flavour, you'll find yourself in mocha heaven. A few weeks ago I made a trip to the Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell and tried some Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast, if you ever see this beer you should try without hesitation. Forget the price for a minute and enjoy a half pint, this beer is incredible. Meantime also do some beautiful dark beers, their London Stout is beautifully rich and their London Porter, resplendent in their awesome 750ml corked bottles is a real treat. Of course there are hundreds, if not thousands of other great dark beers, but I don't see much point in going into an exhaustive list. These are simply a few of my favourites.  

As well as being great, either in a stew or accompanying it, these beers make wonderful dessert accompaniment. Try a coffee porter or rich stout with a cream based dessert, or just with vanilla ice cream, it tastes fantastic. Raspberries and other berries also work surprisingly well. Let's not forget cheese either, I hear they're great with Stilton, but since I hate Stilton I couldn't tell you. I do know they work wonderfully well with a lovely bit of mature cheddar. Chocolate itself can also be wonderfully matched with dark beers. The chocolate notes in beer is really brought out when paired with actual chocolate, this is naughty but it tastes so good. These dark beers are wonderfully diverse in terms of food matching, go experiment.

Dark beers were my first love in terms of good quality beer after my conversion from drinking really bad lager. It was around this time of year a few years back that I first started really trying as many beers as I could get my hands on. First from Bacchanalia Wine Merchant and assorted pubs in Cambridge and later in London at places like Utobeer. I moved onto, and love, all other styles of beer from Belgian to hyper hopped American beers, but at this time of year, these hold a special place for me.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far, and please leave some comments. Let me know what your favourite dark beers are, and what I should be trying. This post has got me really craving some good quality porter. Think I'll pick up some Meantime Porter on the way home!

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