The 10 Best Dark Beers: Taste Tested & Reviewed

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When I first got into beer, one of my most remarkable revelations was that the flavors I recognized in dark beers were not added as a separate ingredient.

The milk chocolate flavor I marveled at in a robust porter was not put there by the addition of a Hershey’s candy bar. Nor was the coffee character I noticed in a dry stout. The toasted bready crusts I experienced in a Munich Dunkel were not from a loaf of bread.

Each of these formative beer-drinking experiences was created solely by the roasted malts that helped craft the beer.

There’s no doubt that beer preferences have skewed lighter for centuries. Ever since the advancement in malting capabilities in the 19th Century, beer menus have been dominated by pale beers, particularly pale lagers.

But beer lovers should not fear the dark. Dark beers, both lagers and ales, offer an extended variety of beer flavors and experiences that provide a much fuller picture of beer.

Beers that utilize dark, roasted malts not only break up the monotony of light beers, but the flavor dark malt provides ranges from toasted bread, chocolate, caramel, and espresso.

Brewers of dark beers expertly craft beers with roasted malt to impart flavors without the need for anything else. Now, it is true that dark beers get their fair share of adjuncts added to them today.

It is much more common to find an imperial stout with vanilla, coffee, and cocoa nibs added to the beer. However, a dark beer can offer these flavors without the additions; all the brewer needs to do is design the beer appropriately.

Alas, beer making is big business these days and the effort it takes to coax beautiful flavors from roast malt takes time.

It’s a shame; nothing was more satisfying for me than making the connection of flavors to roasted malt. I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness for new beer drinkers who might be getting robbed of this revelation.

Are you afraid of the dark? We’ve compiled 10 of the best dark beers you can find. All of which are bursting with flavors of dark malts. Only a few have additional ingredients. Don’t be scared; you’re in for a wild ride!

1. Deschutes Black Butte Porter | Deschutes Brewery

Type: American Porter | ABV: 5.5% | Calories: 165

Dark, roasty, and delicious. Black Butte Porter has been introducing dark beers to many American beer drinkers for decades. Black Butte repeatedly proves that dark beers can be just as approachable as any light beer, with an added layer of dark, mysterious, complex flavor notes. Look for dark chocolate, caramel, and a bit of roast when giving this epic dark ale a go.

2. Alaskan Smoked Porter | Alaskan Brewing

Type: Dark Porter | ABV: 6.5% | Calories: 195

Chances are, all beer had a tinge of smoke in it way back when. Before malting advancements around the Industrial Revolution, maltsters had little way to control the degree to which heat and smoke interacted with malt. Today, smoked malt is an acquired taste; TBH, it isn’t always done well. One exception is Alaskan smoked porter. The use of alder wood smoke to season the malts of this dark porter creates a unique flavor and smooth finish.

3. Bell’s Expedition Stout | Bell’s Brewery

Type: Imperial Stout | ABV: 10.5% | Calories: 300

The first time I tried Expedition Stout was in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature outside was 113 F.I did not care.One of the early examples of Russian imperial stouts in the US, Bell’s Expedition stout, is still one of the country’s top examples. As Bell’s explains, “A huge malt body is matched with a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruit, and other aromas. The flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages in your cellar.”

4. ABRAXAS Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout | Perennial

Type: Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout | ABV: varies by year | Calories: varies

Charred wood barrels add an even higher level of complexity to the darkest beers, Imperial Stout. Through barrel-aging, a beer will pick up additional roast and wood character, as well as trace flavors of the spirits the barrel initially held. Abraxis is a perfect beer for wood; its high octane intensity meets the barrel character head-on, creating a sum that is greater than the individual parts.

5. Schwarzbier | Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei

Type: Black Lager | ABV: 4.8% | Calories: 152

Köstritzer is the archetypal example of the style. Medium-bodied and malt-accented, this dark beer is what makes beer so crucial to our lives. It’s unfortunate more breweries don’t brew this style. I’m sure more people would like it, but you can at least find this one on Drizly.

6. Guinness Extra Stout | Guinness (James’s Gate Brewery)

Type: Extra Stout | ABV: 5.6% | Calories: 155

Extra is the original recipe for Guinness. It is more intensely flavored with a darker malt character. This version has a crisp, balanced body with bitter, sweet, roasted notes and a dry finish. Look for the flavors of strong coffee and dark chocolates in each sip. Don’t be confused by Draught; seek this gem of a stout out for yourself!

7. Munich Dunkel | Chuckanut Brewery

Type: Dark Lager | ABV: 4.8% | Calories: 145

In German, Dunkel means dark. It is dark but not the darkest of beers compared to a pilsner. Dunkel is malt forward with a lot of toasted bread crust flavor from Munich malt. This lager lacks the roasted character of other beers. Nevertheless, it is a classic dark lager, perfect with various food pairings. Stateside, look no further to Bellingham, Washington’s Chuckanut Brewery.

8. Oatis Oatmeal Stout | Ninkasi

Type: Oatmeal Stout | ABV: 7.0% | Calories: 185

Using oats in the brewing process creates a smooth, creamy texture that plays well off the otherwise bold beer style. One of the best dark beers you can find is Ninkasi’s Oatis, which is complemented by its luxuriously creamy mouthfeel.

From the brewery: “Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout is not just a beer; it’s a journey through the lush landscapes of Eugene, Oregon. Boasting a decadent 7.0% alcohol by volume, each sip envelops your palate with a luxurious, velvety texture, a testament to its oat-rich blend. Dive deep into a symphony of roasted malts, where seductive dark chocolate dances with subtle hints of aromatic coffee. Every gulp is a rich tapestry of flavors, masterfully woven to balance sweetness with a touch of bitterness. This is more than a stout; it’s an indulgence, beckoning true aficionados to savor its complexity and depth. Dive in and let it captivate your senses.”

9. Face Down Brown Ale | Telluride Brewing

Type: Brown Ale | ABV: 5.7% | Calories: 145

Face Down is an aggressive American-style brown ale with plenty of hop flavor and bitterness balanced by toasted malts. Face Down Brown bagged gold medals in the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup in its first year of existence.

10. Nitro Milk Stout | Left Hand Brewing

Type: Milk/Cream Stout | ABV: 6.0% | Calories: 150

Left Hand Milk Stout is a legendary US beer with a notable addition of nitrogen included in the cans and bottles. Milk stouts have a slight sweetness from the addition of lactose. Nitrogen lends a smooth finish to beers it is incorporated into.

What is a Dark Beer?

A dark beer is an ale or lager with a hue ranging from copper to dark black. These beers get their color from the use of roasted malts. Despite the singular category, dark beers range pretty drastically in terms of aroma, flavor, body, and alcohol content. Before the creation of malt, advancements yielded a much more controlled malting process, resulting in malts like pilsner malt, all beer likely had a dark beer color.

What are the Main Dark Beer Styles?Dark Ale

Dark ale is a catch-all category for any top-fermenting beer with a dark color from roasted malt.

Dark Lager

Dark lager is a catch-all category for any bottom-fermenting beer with a dark color from roasted malt.

Stout

A dark ale brewed with the use of roasted barley. Roasted barley lends an intensely dark black color and intense roasted flavors similar to espresso or charcoal.

Porter

A precursor style to the stout, which was very popular in England before and during the Industrial Revolution, Porter is similar to stout but generally lacks the roasted barley character, which would create the roast intensity typical in stouts. Instead, most porter showcases flavors of chocolate and caramel.

Dunkel

A classic lager style from the German city of Munich. Dunkel is brewed with a dark malt called Munich malt (naturally), which is known for its intense flavors of bread crust.

Schwarzbier

Schwarzbier is a dark lager with subtle roast and brilliant crispness. It is an excellent beer for first-timers to take a walk on the dark side.

What are Good Foods to Have With Dark Beer?

Dark beers are tremendous beers for food pairings. The roasted qualities complement the flavors of roasted meats and vegetables. They are excellent beers to have with BBQ. But don’t limit your choices to simply burgers or pulled pork. A smooth stout is divine alongside chocolate cake, artisan truffles, or simply a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Like an imperial stout, high-ABV dark beers can stand up to some of the most decadently rich flavors, such as foie gras or short ribs.

Does Dark Beer Have A Higher ABV?

A beer’s color has no bearing on its strength. Dark beers range from very low, say 2-3 percent abv, to more than 12 percent. Most dark beers remain around the average beer strength of 5.5 percent alcohol.

Do Dark Beers Have More Calories?

As a general rule, the calorie content in beer will increase with alcohol in the beer. Color is not a significant factor in contributing to beer’s calorie content. For instance, Guinness is touted as a relatively low calorie for such a dark beer, with about 200 calories per pint.

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Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for CraftBeer.com. Andy is the lead writer for The Beer Babe and lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his family. As beer enthusiast and experienced beer judge, he loves sharing his experiences with The Beer Babe's dedicated audience of beer enthusiasts.