Dark beers have a long history, so it can be hard to know which is the best if you’re new to drinking them. Perhaps you’ve just gotten a taste for richer flavors, or maybe you’ve never tried dark beer before and want to know what would be the best and least overpowering to start with.
This is a complete guide to the best dark beers on the market right now. Each beer listed will be explored and explained in terms of flavor, intensity, and origin. We’ve also included a short buyers guide and FAQ to give extra guidance in choosing a beer.
What Makes A Dark Beer?
Dark beer has its origins in Germany - it’s made with roasted grains and tends to have a dark coloring and rich flavors. The color of beer comes out of the kind of malt used in making it, and the malt gets its color from its temperature and how long it is dried, a process called kilning.
But these days there is some debate as to what constitutes a dark beer. Generally, it is accepted that anything from copper to dark brown, to black, can be comfortably called dark beer. Darker beers are more likely to have notes of caramel, nuts, chocolate, molasses and licorice.
In recent years there have been more inventive blends of flavor, and there is always a new brewery out there trying their hand at creating a unique dark beer that stands apart from the more traditional flavors.
OUR TOP PICK
OUR TOP PICK
This is a great brown ale that is on the lighter side of our list - it’s still dark enough to give you some rich flavor, but not so dark that it might be overpowering. It has hints of roasted creamy toffee and originates from Whitechapel in London.
It’s also only 2.8%, so if you’re looking for something that isn’t going to leave you light-headed after a few bottles, this might be the dark beer for you!
Established in 1988, Deschutes has a history of making dark and delicious beers. This is a high alcohol percentage, distinctly flavored beer which has been growing in popularity in recent years.
Black Porter Butte has notes of chocolate and coffee, and comes in smaller-sized bottles of 12 Fluid Oz, which lets you have one at a time without committing to too much beer!
This one is certainly on the lighter side of the dark beers listed, but we had to include it because Fullers London Pride is delicious and iconic. If you’re looking for something distinctly British then this is the beer for you!
London Pride has a rich, deep taste with notes of crystal malt and pine. London Pride boasts being matured in a tank for seven days to produce its rich flavor!
No dark beer list would be complete without Guinness making an appearance. Guinness is so well known that it might have been the first thing that came to mind when you read the words ‘dark beer.’ There’s a reason for this, Guinness is one of a kind and delicious!
Guinness is technically an Irish dry stout that has its origins in Dublin in 1759. For generations, it has been the nation’s favorite, as well as a favorite and the taste of Ireland across the world.
Guinness is beloved for its unique tangy taste, creamy head, and very dark coloring. If you’ve never had dark beer before, Guinness proves to be an illuminating experience, and if you’re a veteran, then it’s going to be that same taste you’ve savored many times before.
Looking for something dark and authentically german? This brew from Krombacher is certainly one of the darker ales on this list. Made with dark roast malt, this is a beer that carries notes of licorice, giving a powerful and rich flavor that will stay with you.
This is a beer for connoisseurs, not recommended if you’re new to the world of dark beer. That said, if you’re up for a deep, rich experience, Kromacher have you covered!
Maybe you’ve scoffed at all the beers on this list. Maybe you already know dark beers and you’re used to the rich flavors, maybe you’re searching for something that will really hit you both in alcohol content and deep flavor?
Fremont Dark Star is a high percentage is a deeply rich stout with chocolate tones and smoothness ‘as dark as night.’
Originating from their small brewery in Washington, Fremont began their brewery in 2009 and has been creating craft beers ever since. Dark Star is their darkest creation with chocolate malts, flaked oats, and Magnum and Willamette hops.
It’s deep black in color and it’s won several awards since 2015. This is the black coffee of beer.
At 8% ABV it’s strong in terms of alcohol content, so take care with this one!
Here is a dark beer from Colorado which is all about sweeter tastes. This beer is heavy on notes of chocolate and vanilla, with real vanilla beans from Madagascar beside caramel and Munich malts, this is a beer that has sweet flavors but is dark in color.
We’d recommend this beer to somebody who has a sweet tooth or perhaps is looking to pair a beer with a dessert.
Schell’s is a brewery from Minnesota! Schell’s Dark might be a little calmer than some of the other flavors on this list, but it still packs a punch without excessive bitterness.
Schell’s describe this beer as having ‘excellent drinkability,’ and you can tell by its amber coloring and smooth taste. This would be a great beer to try if you’re new to the dark side!
Bravus is a company set on making non-alcoholic beers that don’t taste or make you feel like you’re missing out. High alcohol content isn’t for everyone, maybe you don’t like it, or maybe you’re the designated driver, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out!
Bravus non-alcoholic Oatmeal stout is a smooth dark beer with notes of chocolate, caramel, and roasted coffee. The look of the can is also exquisite and we recommend it highly!
Because there is such a huge variety when it comes to dark beer, it’s best to research a little and consider when selecting your perfect stout, ale, IPA, or lager. Here are some things you should keep in mind when exploring the world of dark beer.
When reading descriptions of different beers, you’ll keep seeing the word ‘notes’ written. Notes just mean small tastes that you can detect in any particular beer. Common notes of dark beer include caramel, chocolate, coffee, raisins, currants, licorice, and roasted nuts.
All of these words not only give you an indication of what the beer might taste like, but also whether or not it's a dark beer. Pale Ales tend to have much lighter notes and ingredients, whilst dark beers are almost always created with deep, rich flavors in mind.
Types Of Dark Beer
When browsing for dark beers, sometimes the terminology can be overwhelming. What is a stout? What is a porter? What is the difference between an ale and a lager? Don’t worry, this section is here to help you through this!
Stouts are usually made from unmalted roasted barley, which tends to create a more coffee-like flavor. Porters use malted barley. Beer can qualify as either a lager or ale depending on how it’s been fermented.
Ales are made through a process called top fermentation, which is where fermented yeast settles at the top of the beer, whereas lagers are made through a process called bottom fermentation at colder temperatures where the yeast settles at the bottom.
This is one of the processes that cause a difference in color and taste between beer and lager.
The brewery is an important factor to consider when selecting your ultimate dark beer. Firstly it’s good to consider where the brewery is located.
Traditionally, German breweries are more likely to have more of a rich history of creating dark beers and some of them go back two centuries in age.
That’s not to say you can’t find great breweries that are newer - some of the more innovative flavors are coming out of modern breweries - but it’s important to work out if you’re looking for something more traditional, or newer and groundbreaking.
The age and location of the brewery can tell you a lot about this!
ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume, and it’s important to consider the percentage of alcohol in whatever dark beer you’re looking at before you commit to buying it.
For example, if you’re not overly used to alcohol, then purchasing an 8% dark beer could be overpowering and leave you spinning. Alternatively, you can go for something with a smaller alcohol percentage and drink several without feeling too drunk.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind Of Beer Is A Dark Beer?
Dark beer is a famous kind of beer worldwide, traditionally german. Its dark color typically comes from roasted grains which allow it to have a much deeper flavor. Dark beers are well known for their darker flavors and notes of caramel, chocolate, licorice, etc.
It’s important to note that dark beer does not necessarily mean a higher ABV, and refers mostly to its color and flavor.
Are Dark Beers Better For You?
There have been some studies that have linked dark beer to health benefits, including antioxidants which have been linked to the prevention of blood clots because they contain something called Flavonoids.
Whether or not dark beer is truly better for you than pale or light beers is still debated and more research is needed, but it’s good to know that they may indeed have positive health effects!
Is An IPA A Dark Beer?
The simplest answer to this question is that IPA’s can be classified as dark beer, but aren’t that often. As IPA beers have risen in popularity over the last ten years, they have branched and now cover a variety of different colors.
IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale, but recently there are much darker versions of IPA including Black IPA. So generally - whilst IPA is not classified as dark beer, there are versions of IPA that are so dark they could be. It’s a tricky question!