The winter solstice. Not typically a beer holiday, if any day can truly be said to NOT be a beer holiday. The darkest day of the year. If we’re going to make it a holiday, we shall make it a holiday where you drink the darkest beer you can find. The most common, at least in America, way to measure beer color is SRM. Standard Reference Method is officially calculated by shining light through beer, though most breweries are using approximations based on ingredients. It’s maybe not the best way to measure color or really describe a beer, but it’s a fine measure to talk about the DARKEST BEER.
Official style guides, even for the darkest stouts and porters, don’t go beyond about 39-40, but if you add more color-adding malts, you’ll raise the SRM. Officially there’s a top bounds–once light stops penetrating, you can’t measure it anymore. That doesn’t stop breweries from listing it though.
Uinta used to make a big black ale called Labyrinth, that was listed at 184 SRM. The Dutch brewery De Molen make a few really dark imperial stouts, Hel & Verdoemenis, and Hemel & Aarde that come in at ~150 and ~174 respectively. These beers translate to Hell and Damnation, and Heaven and Earth–great names. The bottles say ‘Enjoy within 25 years’ which is longer than most US breweries have even existed. I’d love to try them one day. I did spent two and a half days in Amsterdam back in 2012, but De Molen wasn’t one of the places I hit.
Carton Brewing in New Jersey seems to aim for 42 as the SRM on their dark beers. A nice Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy nod is always appreciated. Perhaps the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything is ‘How many beers are you going to have tonight?”
De Molen went all hellfire and damnation with their naming schema, and certainly extremely dark beers lend themselves to some fun and creative names. I appreciate a good hop pun as much as the next guy, but you can’t beat the imagery some of these dark beer names describe.
Brooklyn Brewery absolutely doesn’t make a beer called Black Ops, which is definitely not a bourbon barrel aged stout. There is no intel on this, especially not SRM, as it doesn’t officially exist. Shh. This is actually one I’ve had before, and definitely enjoyed immensely. It’s in a bomber, and is somewhat expensive, but I can’t help but notice that a bomber seems to be the perfect size for a christmas stocking. Someone forward this to my wife Santa Claus.
Gun Hill Brewery in the Bronx makes a beer with the name, Void of Light, which is practically an SRM measurement right there in the name.
Kane Brewery in New Jersey has a seasonal release, with many variants, called A Night To End All Dawns. This might be my favorite beer name ever and my only regret is this is extremely hard to get. I’ve had a few of them on tap at events around this time of year, and was really digging a cocoa variant I had a few years ago. To double down on the awesome name, they make a small beer from the second runnings of ANTEAD called Civil Twilight. You can think of second runnings much like running a second cup of coffee through the coffee grinds, if you used an extreme amount of coffee grinds for the first cup. Civil Twilight comes in at a respectable 37 SRM, which certainly suggests the original is much, much darker.
There’s Great Lakes Blackout Stout.
“Turn off the lights and turn on the flavor, because Blackout Stout is back and as dark as ever”
Inspired by the big 2003 blackout in the Northeast, this is a really solid stout year after year. Nothing fancy, just rich dark and roasty malts. I just purchased one of these myself, though I didn’t experience much of that blackout myself. Oddly enough, I was in Amish Country in Pennsylvania, a place not particularly known for electricity. It wasn’t until we started driving home that night that we crossed into cell range and got all the messages from family telling us to extend our vacation, which we did. We stayed in a hotel in Allentown, PA just outside the edge of the blackout, played mini golf, and went to bed with the air conditioning blasting.
Those Dutch beers are probably the darkest beers in the world, but to the human eye there’s probably not a perceivable difference between any of these black as night beers we so enjoy this time of year. It’s the darkest day of the year, crack open a beer to match.