Brewer and writer Daniel Tapper explains why, in the early winter months, he cannot get enough of dark barrel-aged beers
Do you have a favourite style of beer you like to drink at this time of year?
In the UK, few seasons are as evocative as early winter. It’s a time of year that smells of frost, burning wood and fruity dank leaves. And with the days increasingly bookended by hours of chilly twilight, we are left craving warmth, richness and conviviality. With this in mind, it’s no wonder I’m intuitively drawn to beers with similar attributes: robust smoky stouts, woody barrel-aged porters and juicy ruby ales—especially those that aren’t afraid to transcend the 6% mark. These beers don’t just taste like winter, they are liquid hugs to be sipped, savoured and talked about—preferably in front of a crackling open fire.
Why do these kinds of drinks work so well right now?
Without wanting to get too scientific, the fusel alcohols found in high percentage stouts, porters and ruby ales have a warming effect on the palate (think: Scotch whisky). These same fusels heighten flavour and aroma, especially the comforting stone fruit-like ‘esters’ associated with ales. High percentage beers also tend to boast a high amount of residual sugar, making the beer corpulent and full-bodied. And if this wasn’t enough, a growing number of brewers are taking their beers to the next level with the help of barrel ageing, a method that can tame and mellow spiky high notes, while simultaneously imbuing the beer with delicious notes of wood, vanilla and fresh tobacco.
What are some of your favourite examples?
There’s never been a better time to sample these winter warmers, simply because there are now so many to choose from. Standout examples include: Mikkeller Big Blend, a coffee oatmeal stout aged in a mixture of bourbon, brandy, cherry wine, cognac, tequila and whisky barrels; Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout, a rich flavourful brew brimming with moreish chocolate flavours; Cascade Sang Royal, a sour ruby-coloured ale that’s matured for six months in port barrels; and Burning Sky Monolith, a sour black beer aged for eight months in chianti infused oak.
And if you had to pick just one?
Founder’s KBS. It’s a 12.5% imperial stout brewed with coffee and chocolate before being matured in bourbon barrels for a year. When I first sampled this beer—in a brandy glass at Borough Market’s The Rake—I genuinely let out an audible sigh of delight; it was the beer I’d been waiting all my life to drink.
Can you recommend any delicious food matches?
The good news is that stouts, porters and ruby ales represent a huge spectrum of flavours, making them super-versatile when it comes to pairing with food. However, at this time of year it would be rude not to turn my attention to Bonfire Night. Try matching both KBS and Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout with a sticky slice of black treacle parkin. Alternatively, pair something with less residual sweetness, such as Cascade Sang Royal or Burning Sky Monolith, with a hunk of slow roasted pork. The sour cherry-like flavours of these beers are adept at cutting though fat, making them a great alternative to a fruit sauce or compote.
All the beers mentioned here are available at Borough Market beer emporium Utobeer