Halloween is here and the evil beer-marketing demons from Ireland are telling us to embrace the dark side of beer, because dark is scary. I love all 30-plus styles of dark beer, but what scare me are the terrifying myths about the dark beer families.
Let’s drive a big stake through the heart of these sinister lies right now.
Dark beer is stronger: Budweiser is almost transparent and ghostly, but it’s a ghastly five per cent alcohol that might scare some, while the most common of wicked darks, Guinness, terrifies us at 4.1 per cent. Samuel Adams’s Utopias, one of the world’s strongest and most expensive beers, has a brain-numbing effect at 25 per cent, but it’s almost the same colour as Kokanee Gold (five per cent). Now that’s scary.
Dark beer is heavier: What zombie thought this up? Dark roast coffee isn’t heavier than light roast coffee and Coke isn’t heavier than Sprite. Once one understands the way beer is made, colour has nothing to do with how heavy it is. The brain thinks it’s devil’s food cake in a glass because it is dark, so most run away like teenagers in a horror movie, but the truth is that most beers are made of similar ratios of 90 per cent pale malt and 10 per cent character malt. The colour of character malts comes from a kilning process very similar to roasting coffee. The longer malt is kilned, the more the demon seeds’ flavours transform from toasty, to chocolaty, to dark, roasty flavours. This process draws a very strong parallel to the roastiness in all the sinful shades of coffee.
The weight of a beer in your mouth depends on how much unfermented sugars are still in the finished product — what brewers refer to as the degree of attenuation. It’s about how much sugar the gluttonous yeasts eat and secrete before eating themselves to death and exploding. Once again, no matter the colour of the beer, the brewer controls the residual sugar levels. Guinness has 125 calories per 12-ounce serving, versus Bud Light, which has 148. Although shocking, this knowledge is not as blood-curdling as the thought of having to drink either brew.
Dark beers are more bitter: As scary as the eternal hell of the twisted bitter beer face is, this terrible myth holds a pinch of truth. Very dark roasts add some bitterness to the brew, but it’s hops, the devil’s bud, that is the main bittering agent in beer. A beer is only as bitter as the sorcerer makes it, no matter the shade. The magical spell cast on the tongue by any great beer is the wrestling match between good and evil or, in this case, the sweetness and bitterness that one experiences while drinking it.
Since I may have scared some of you this Halloween, I’ll let you in on a little secret: dark beers are scared too — of being served too cold. The warmer these little devils get, the more they expose their souls and cast their dark magic on you. Please ask the warlock or witch at your favourite potion shop about all the dark magic they stock, but remember: Once you go black, you may never go back.