Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Dark

Here at the dark end of the spectrum, life can sometimes feel a little more tricky. For all the pale lager I drink, and I do drink a fair old whack of the stuff, it is the darker beers that I spend more time thinking about. There is something comforting about dark beers, especially in the depths of winter, which is also my favourite time of year, I just love dark nights and cold air.


  • Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Schwarzbier - Port City Brewing
  • Protocol Porter - Alewerks Brewing
So far this year I have done a couple of tastings of schwarzbiers, a style that I seem to have found more of this year than in the previous 11 in the US. I am hoping this is the beginning of a lasting trend as I am big fan of dark lagers in general. In both of the tastings, Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier was my favourite example of the style. It is a beer that I drink pretty regularly and in my opinion is one of DB's best regularly available brews. As part of their Lager Series, Port City have a regular rotation of lager styles, and for some reason I missed the Schwarzbier last year. This year I made sure to rectify that fact and I was very glad that I did, it is pretty much nailed on. Talking about mass tastings of dark beer, earlier in the year I had planned to do such a tasting with porters available in Virginia. It never materialised, other than one combination of Protocol Porter from Williamsburg's Alewerks, a gloriously luxuriant, rich, sipper that makes for wonderful drinking, especially at cellar temperature. Of the three, Protocol Porter is my Virginia Dark Beer of 2021 - I know you are shocked that a top fermented beer beat out a couple of dark lagers, but heck who am I to be predictable?

Rest of the USA
  • Loonar Eclipse - Utepils Brewing, MN
  • Modernism - Schilling Beer Company, NH
  • Trösten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Landbier Dunkel - Schilling Beer Company, NH; Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Steinbier - Bierkeller Columbia, SC.

Oooo....shock, horror, bottom fermented beers walk it for the best dark beers in the rest of the USA. It is perhaps truly shocking that two of the three are Czech style dark lagers (sorry I can't do the whole pluraling of tmavé by just adding an "s"), shocking in the sense that finally the American craft beer world is waking up to the reality that tmavé is distinct from dunkel and schwarzbier. Both Loonar Eclipse and Modernism are excellent examples of the category - style is not really an accurate term to describe the tmavé family. If either of those were served in Czechia, they would be very, very well regarded. Trösten is something of a rarity when it comes to rauchbiers in the US, it is actually nicely smoky rather than just having a "hint" of smoke, "hints of smoke" rauchbiers just do nothing for me. On draft, this offering from Von Trapp Brewing in Vermont is a delight, again especially when you let it warm a little to unlock all the complexity of the beer. The winner of the best Dark Beer in the Rest of the USA for 2021 is one of my favourite types of beer, from a brewery that is new to me, and everything I have had from them has been fantastic...Utepils Loonar Eclipse it is!

Rest of the World
  • O'Hara's Irish Stout - Carlow Brewing, IE
  • Foreign Extra Stout - Guinness, IE
  • London Porter - Fullers, UK
Honorable mentions: Köstritzer Schwarzbier - Köstritzer, DE; Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock - Brauerei Heller-Trum, DE.

A final three entirely devoid of lager? Whom am I? What have I done to myself? Fullers London Porter is for many the archetype of what a porter should be, and while I don't really drink it often, it is always a delight. There is something alluring about the classic range of porter flavours, you know all that coffee and chocolate stuff, coupled with the signature Fullers yeast marmelade thing, it just works. Both the O'Hara's and Guinness are tied to one of my favourite drinking sessions of the year. Back in October I went up to Rhode Island for my best mate's birthday weekend. On the Sunday morning we were sat in an Irish pub for brunch, and they had O'Hara's on tap. The pints were going down very well, when I noticed the pub had bottles of FES...such a classic beer that makes me wish that regular Guinness was available without the abomination of nitro. The winner though is the Fullers London Pride, an old friend that never disappoints.

Two porters and a tmavé to choose from for the 2021 Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year, but in the immortal words of Connor McLeod, there can be only one...and that one is from the dark north of Minnesota. I wish Utepils were available in Virginia in general as I would love to try the rest of their selection given how impressed I was with both the Receptional Oktoberfest and Loonar Eclipse. Any beer that reminds me of a beer I loved back in Czechia has to be good, especially when those memories are of the Autumn Dark Special from Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, that should tell you just how good Loonar Eclipse is.

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