This Week in Craft Beer

Illuminating the Darkness

As if with the flip of a switch, cooler weather has finally descended on Tucson, changing everything from the way we dress and the schedules we keep to the food we eat and the beverages we drink.

Similarly in flux is the world of craft beer, which, with winter's arrival, favors big, complex and robust brews intended to warm the body and soul through the dark winter months (though for some beer lovers, there is no end to dark beer season). Let's take a moment to explore the often misunderstood world of dark beer and touch on some examples worthy of your taste buds' affection this season.

Among the most ambiguous descriptors in the beer world, "dark" encompasses so many different beer styles it's virtually meaningless as anything but a measurement of a beer's color. Misconceptions often suggest darkness indicates higher alcohol strength and more calories, but Guinness Draught—perhaps the most recognizable dark beer on the planet—weighs in at just 4.2 percent and a scant 125 calories, placing it below most lagers in both respects. Conversely, one of the strongest beer styles, the Belgian Tripel, is distinguished from its burly Belgian brethren in part by its comparably light deep yellow or golden appearance.

While we won't delve into the expansive world of beer color this week, here's a selection of darker brews to seek out and pair with your next hearty meal or night by the fire.

Bell's Cherry Stout (American Stout) – 7%

If chocolate-covered cherries find favor with your palate, seek this beer out at all costs! Tart Montmorency cherries combine with silky dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavors for a seductive flavor experience that dances on the line between sweet and sour.

Avery Old Jubilation (Old Ale) – 8.3%

The perfect companion for what a Tucsonan might imagine it's like to be snowed in, Old Jubilation offers a warming flavor profile touching on toffee, hazelnuts, dried fruit, and caramel latte. Hints of boozy heat lead into an earthy hop finish, which, combined with this Old Ale's welcoming mahogany color, make it an ideal beer for gatherings and heavy food pairings.

Founders Dark Penance (Imperial Black IPA) – 8.9%

The full spectrum of hop aromas takes center stage in this imperial black IPA. The first new beer in Founders' lineup since 2012, Dark Penance is what serious hopheads drink to blend in with stout devotees in the depths of winter. With a sweet malt foundation, aggressive bitterness and a tinge of alcoholic heat, this is anything but an entry-level beer, so drink wisely!

Epic Big Bad Baptist (American Imperial Stout) – 11-12+% (varies by batch)

Within this massive imperial stout, cacao nibs, dark roasted coffee and the boozy, oaky hallmarks of whiskey barrel aging unite to create what certain Tucson beertenders agree is an unrivaled big beer experience. Each batch contains different coffee and garners varying flavors from the barrels, making each release the beer equivalent of unwrapping a present. Coffee and whiskey lovers, this one's for you.

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