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Darker beer styles for Autumn and Winter

Maximising hop flavour

To compensate for the lack of hops, sparklers were invented to squeeze all the hop oils into the head of the beer.

So when a Northern drinker took a sniff at their beer, they could still smell the few hops that had been added, and when they drank the beer they would get all the bitterness from the hops with their first gulp compensating for the lack of hops in the actual body of the beer. Like a beer cocktail.

An experiment

To demonstrate the above phenomenon, pour an ale through a sparkler. Take a teaspoon and scoop some of the head from the beer and taste it.

The result

It’s intensely bitter because it contains all the hop oil. Then drink the ale through the head and see how the combination of the head and the beer below it becomes more balanced and drinkable.

Imperial stouts and porters

Imperial stouts and porters turn their respective characteristics up to 11. To the drinker deciding what to choose at the bar the prefix Imperial often indicates a higher ABV and a more intense flavour experience. Imperial Stouts and Porters might also have completed the final leg of their fermentation in wooden barrels which may have previously contained spirits adding to the complexity and depth of flavour of the beer. The mouthfeel can be more viscous and syrupy and, when combined with a higher level of alcohol, Imperial Stouts and Porters can be enjoyed slowly and savoured in thirds or halves. Preferably next to a roaring fire.   

Milk Stouts 

Milk Stouts incorporate milk sugar (lactose) to give a silky and creamy  texture and mouthfeel. The addition of lactose produces a sweeter beer and, in combination with darker malts, is likely to present flavours and aromas you might associate with other wintry treats like puddings and desserts e.g. chocolate, vanilla, honeycomb and caramelised or burnt sugar. Modern experimentation in brewing that combines the high alcohol content of Imperial Stouts and Porters with lactose, spices and other flavouring additives (like chocolate or marshmallows) produces something in between styles and might be referred to as a pudding or a pastry stout.   


Usually dark brown in colour, due to the well-roasted malts although pale milds can be found. Look for a rich malty aroma and flavour, with hints of dark fruit, chocolate, coffee and caramel, with a gentle underpinning of hop bitterness.