The best beer to drink during winter is as dark as they come

Generally speaking, I am no fan of winter. But it's possibly my favourite season on the brewing calendar.

Hop-forward beers such as pale ales and IPAs reign supreme in this country, but the cooler months bring another of beer's staple ingredients to the fore.

June heralds the arrival of beers championing malt, most commonly dark beers – stouts and porters, in their many different guises.

"We notice a massive uptick in sales of dark beers during the cooler months," says Richard Watkins of Canberra's Bentspoke Brewing Company.

"In summer it's really hard to sell a dark beer."

Za Zdarovje!

Bentspoke has just turned five, and Watkins brews a Russian Imperial Stout every year to mark the anniversary.

This year he has upped the ante by ageing it in bourbon barrels, and releasing it in cans as the debut in a new limited edition range dubbed the Bending Spoke Series.

"I've never done a beer in bourbon casks before, and I thought it's probably a good time to start," he says.

Hot rocks

Dark beers may be more incongruous for brewers in warmer parts of Australia, but that doesn't stop them getting in on the fun.

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Another hotly-anticipated winter release is the Stone Beer from Stone & Wood in Byron Bay, which reprises the ancient technique of heating stones on an open fire before adding them to the brewing kettle.

"We don't have anything fully malt-driven in our permanent range, but we also love celebrating malts and the wonderful depth of flavours you can get from them," says Stone & Wood head brewer Caolan Vaughan.

"This year's Stone Beer is a real showcase of some amazing Australian malts and great international malts as well."

An interesting brew

Dark beers needn't follow tradition or convention, however. This year brings an experimental collaboration between Melbourne's Mountain Goat Beer and speciality tea producer Chai Addict, along with New Zealand brewery Garage Project.

The result is Horn Please, a chai-infused imperial milk stout, with habanero and ghost chilies thrown in for an extra kick.

This array of ingredients could have been disastrous in the wrong hands, but they've been deftly combined into one of the most complex and beguiling specialty beers I've tried in some time.

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.

Click the gallery above for a selection of some of the hottest seasonal dark beers available now.

Got a favourite dark brew? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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