Reviewing winter 2018 beers – stouts, porters and dark ales

Winter time is my favourite beer drinking time of the year. A cool crisp night is perfect for enjoying a full-flavoured thick-bodied beer, and there’s been some absolute cracker winter seasonals to indulge in this year too.

Here’s a look at some of the winter beers I’ve sampled so far this season, sorted by style.

Sweet stouts

I see a lot of beer drinkers who are a bit ‘colorist’ and get scared off by a dark-coloured beer. It’s a real shame because I think some dark beers can be really approachable, especially sweet stouts which are not too bitter and offer lots of chocolate and other flavours to indulge in.

Nomad Wattella

The concept captures the Australian and Italian heritage of the brewery based in Sydney’s Northern Beaches with its nod to Nutella and use of Wattle Seeds to approximate the nutty flavour. Sweet rich and chocolate-y, it doesn’t replicate the spread but is a nice nod and a well balanced enjoyable beer.

Brouhaha Milk Stout

Lots of lactose in this one to give it that extra sweet kick before coming to a dry roasty finish. Head dissipated quickly and the body was a bit thin for me but the taste was full of chocolate. This is one of my favourite styles and this Sunshine Coast brewery almost nailed it.

Sailors Grave Breakfast Stout

A brewery from Victoria’s eastern-most regions that is doing beers a little bit different and this one is no exception. With additions of coffee, cinnamon and vanilla beans and a bit of whiskey barrel-ageing for good measure, it’s intriguing but also a really approachable beer that coffee lovers like me in particular would enjoy.

Robust porters

A porter will tend to have a bit more caramel malt sweetness and less roast and bitterness than a stout. These robust porters I enjoyed weren’t lacking in flavour, quite the opposite in fact.

Modus Operandi Silent Knight Porter

This beer stood out amongst all of the dark beers I enjoyed for being the most tasty, fulfilling and generally awesome. There was lots of chocolate, lots of hops, and it all hung together. Their Vanilla Mocha Stout launched earlier this year as part of Good Beer Week was also a terrific winter warmer. I’m not sure there’s a brewer out there who consistently nails their beers and produces at such a high quality as Modus Operandi do. They are killing it.

Deep Creek Nero Robust Porter

Previous beers I’ve enjoyed from the 2018 AIBA small international brewery champions, were of the hop-forward pale variety, but it seems that these guys are no one-trick pony. This beer was a part of their dark beer series Nero, and it was on point. Nothing crazy in it but delivered on the robust label with lots of chocolate, coffee and bitter notes.

Dry stouts

The classic style of stout with the Irish Dry Stout of the likes of Guinness, the most commonly found example of the style across the globe, and the stronger Foreign Export stout from Coopers, Australia’s most widely available option. But while these beers may be the most well-known, there are other options out there too.

Fortitude Stout

A dry stout that’s only 4.2% abv, but unlike its more famous Irish brethren, this beer isn’t watery or lacking in flavour. It’s full-bodied and creamy with coffee and chocolate aromas and a dry finish. I drank this on tap from the beautiful brewery location in Mount Tamborine, which may have contributed to this beer going down a treat.

Little Creatures Fuggle is Real

I was a huge fan of their Dreadnought Export Stout they did a few winters back and wanted to see what the fuss was all about with this one. This beer didn’t have the big chocolate, coffee, roasty and creamy parts that I love in a stout. But it is a tasty beer in its own way, more of a session or gateway stout, with a thinner body and more hoppy and refreshing.

4 Hearts Coal Miners Stout

This stout is a mix between sweet and dry and is really flavoursome with plenty of chocolate, some coffee and also a hint of smoke. It is my kind of stout. Tastes bigger than its alcohol suggests, with a malt profile and body more like an export stout. Found it on tap at the source in their Ipswich venue.

Imperial stouts

The imperial stout is a favourite of beer geeks but it is a difficult style to do right and is not suitable for every occasion with its higher alcohol levels. But when it is done right, this style of beer can make quite the rich decadent treat.

Black Hops FIENS (French Imperial Eggnog Stout)

I was pretty excited about this one having loved the original Eggnog Stout. The French yeast in this one led to a much dryer finish, so the spices and barrel-ageing characteristics took more of a back seat. This was still really pleasant and nice to drink for such a big beer.

Slipstream Anniversary Ale

I was pleasantly surprised at just how easy drinking this was. The challenge of brewing imperial stouts is that they tend to be a bit too bitter or boozy or sweet. This one nailed the balance with nothing sticking out too much. This was a good way to celebrate the one year anniversary of their brewery, just south of Brisbane.

Moo Brew Stout (aka Velvet Sledgehammer)

Big enough to get in the imperial category at 8% abv and packing a huge amount of flavour. On the can it reads, “some call it the Velvet Sledgehammer”, which was the name of this Tassie brewery’s popular seasonal in years past. It’s a big beer, viscous and with some liquorice aromas to boot, but has some sweetness and balance too, which make the nickname, a perfectly apt descriptor.

Holgate Empress

I was stoked to try this again and revive the fond memories from the very first unofficial GABS where it was the standout beer, a souped-up version of their classic Temptress porter, but my enthusiasm was dulled upon opening the beer, as there was something not quite right with it and the beer was barely drinkable, always a disappointing result for an expensive beer. Others report having enjoyed the beer so maybe I just had some bad luck.

Hoppy dark ales

Just because it’s winter time it doesn’t mean you need to forego your lupulin cravings. Hops and dark beers don’t always make the best bedfellows but when they work together, magic can happen.

Ballistic India Brown Ale

This beer was dangerous for me because I just wanted to keep drinking it. I just loved the creamy mouthfeel, chocolate malt taste and the assertive American hops on the finish. I’m a fiend for this style when done well, which showcases malt and hops so beautifully.

Green Beacon Barbary Coast Black IPA

It’s a tough style to nail is the Cascadian Dark / India Black Ale style, the marriage of hops and roasted malts is a complicated one. I feel like Green Beacon did a reasonable job of it here too. They captured the two sides of this style without one side overpowering the other, nor without them fighting each other too much, which is a triumph for the Brisbane brewer.

Black Hops Get Railed Brown Ale

This American Brown Ale had a thinner body, reminding me of Black IPAs that use midnight wheat to add colour but not body, and was a nicely hoppy and aromatic ale, with lots of fruit on the nose, a bit of caramel sweetness and a dash of chocolate too. Really interested to try the Gold Coast AIBA champion brewer’s latest release too – Beetlejuice, a Black NEIPA.

So many good dark beers out there and so little time before winter runs out!



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