Ten of the finest dark beers – mainly milds, stouts, and porters

At this time of writing we are in the midst of Black Friday, an American import which marks the first shopping day after Thanksgiving Day. Thanks inevitably to the internet it has become an international phenomenon. In these parts, it is associated with people fighting over 62″ screen television sets at knockdown prices.

This year, the media seems to have focused on plush toy carrots instead of flatscreen televisions. I suppose it makes a nice change from Brexit, where our attempts at trying to leave the EU could drive us to drink.

This reminded me of Guinness’ Black Friday ad, stating that every Friday is a Black Friday. Pure genius. As dark beers go, Guinness isn’t the only one on the market; our latest Not So Perfect Ten looks at another ten great dark beers. Which have been sampled by yours truly over the last two decades. Let’s tap and vent our ten barrels.

Our ten delectable dark beers

  1. Sweetheart Stout (2%), Younger of Alloa (Tennant Caledonian/C&C Group, Glasgow);
  2. Black Cat Mild (3.4%), Moorhouse’s Brewery, Burnley;
  3. Black Bear Mild (5%), Beartown Brewery, Congleton;
  4. Millstone Stout (4.5%), Millstone Brewery, Mossley;
  5. Javanilla Coffee and Vanilla Stout (5.3%), Donkeystone Brewing Company, Boarshurst;
  6. 1872 Porter (6.5%), Elland Brewery, Elland;
  7. Mouse-low Mild (3.4%), Mouselow Farm Brewery, Padfield;
  8. Peaky Blinder Black IPA (4.4%), Sadler’s Brewery, Lye;
  9. Pitch Porter (5%), Rossendale Brewery, Haslingden;
  10. Oatmeal Stout (5%), Peerless Brewery Company, Birkenhead.

1. Sweetheart Stout (2%)

For our first one, we may be courting controversy a little by choosing a canned stout. Unless we know different, Sweetheart Stout is available in 1960s style cans. It is a sweet, slightly carbonated stout which is fine for a quick drink. If you need to go to work the following morning, two or three cans wouldn’t give you a hangover.

I first came across Younger of Alloa’s Sweetheart Stout in a pub in Dornoch. This was a few years after reading about in a Michael Jackson book on beer (another Michael Jackson who was well known in real ale circles – Ed). It was strong enough for a quick drink prior to boarding my coach back to Strathpeffer. The cans look pretty cool, and I am glad they didn’t Brewdogise the cans to appeal to the craft beer cognoscenti.

2. Black Cat Mild (3.4%)

Moorhouse’s tend to be in my Champions League of Real Ale Breweries. Their strike rate is superb without a single duff beer to their name. Which is why The Ash Tree can afford to sell Blond Witch at £1.99 a pint.

The best all-rounder for me is Black Cat Mild. Moorhouse’s best known dark mild. It is slightly sweet without the cloying nature, which makes it conducive to session drinking. Three of them wouldn’t give you a king size headache either. There are hints of chocolate and mocha.

As for food and drink matching, Moorhouse’s recommend traditional Lancastrian fare like black pudding, smoked kippers and Black Forest Gateau.

3. Black Bear Mild (5%)

After a spell in the wilderness, it gives us great pleasure to see the return of Beartown Brewery’s premium dark mild. I first tried it at The Navigation in Heaton Norris, as part of CAMRA’s Mild Challenge in 2002. The first thing that hit me was its slight sweetness and treacly nature. Easy drinking, most of that mild’s 5% doesn’t hit you till the last sip.

Sixteen years later I rediscovered the mild at The Ashton Tap (which if you go to Ashton-under-Lyne Indoor Market is well worth a visit). It had the same consistency as my quick half did in 2002, though slightly less of the sweetness. And it was still 5%.

Yes, 5% for a dark mild. It has to be supped to be believed.

4. Millstone Stout (4.5%)

Thanks in no small part to Lord Timothy Martin of Brexitopia, his J.D. Wetherspoon empire has done a hell of a lot of good to advance the real ale cause. Apart from Guinness, Beamish, Murphy’s and Mackeson stouts, I didn’t know of any other stouts. Then I discovered O’Hanlon’s Stout at The Thomas Oastler in Brighouse. A few years down the line, I started seeing Millstone Stout in Tameside’s three (now two) constituents of Tim’s empire. Smitten? Too right I was.

Millstone Stout was the first stout I had ever seen from a Greater Manchester brewery. Lacking the tartness of Guinness, it is a well bodied yet dry stout with hints of treacle in its aroma. For a while, it was my favourite dark beer from a Tameside-based brewery, and remains so. It is sometimes seen in The Ash Tree and The Society Rooms ‘Spoons houses, and a semi-regular guest ale in and around Mossley.

5. Javanilla (5.3%)

A short way from Mossley along the 350 bus route are Greenfield’s two microbreweries. One is the older Greenfield Brewery, situated in part of what was Robert Fletcher’s Paper Mill (yes, they also had a great social club too). The other is Donkeystone Brewing Company, on the other side of Chew Valley Road in Boarshurst Industrial Estate with its own brewery tap. Alongside their Bad Ass Blonde and Cotton Clouds ales is Javanilla.

At 5.3%, this is no stout for lesser mortals. It is brewed with coffee beans and vanilla pods, making for complex flavours. Javanilla is a portmanteau of Java and Vanilla. The coffee beans were sourced from the Java coffee shop on High Street, Uppermill (which is now Caffé Grande Abaco). Due to the slightly cloying nature of this stout, it is best enjoyed in halves rather than pints.

6. 1872 Porter (6.5%)

I blame that man again (you know who I mean, the affable Brexiteer). For the best part of two years, The Ash Tree in Ashton-under-Lyne has introduced me to the wonderful world of Elland Brewery. As well as having one of the finest brass bands in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the small town is home to my Number One Strong Ale. Yes, the mighty 1872 Porter.

At 6.5%, this is definitely not a session ale (yet there has been some days where I have had two pints of the stuff). Its rich flavour is based on a recipe dating from 1872 with a hint of coffee and plain chocolate. Due to its lofty position with East of the M60’s Top Beer, we are hardly surprised to find its has picked up six awards. In 2013 it was CAMRA’s Supreme Champion Beer of Britain and National Winter Ales Champion Beer.

7. Mouse-low Mild (3.4%)

Almost as good as Elland Brewery’s effort (and more affable for session drinking) is Mouselow Farm Brewery’s dark mild. At 3.4%, Mouse-low Mild has similar characteristics to 1872 Porter. Each Sunday afternoon at the Glossop Old Bandroom, it never fails to sell out.

There are two reasons behind its success in the Derby Street establishment. Firstly, it is affordably priced at £2.50 per pint; overheads are cut drastically as founder and brewer Frank Wood sends the beer from his base at Mouselow Farm to the band club. You cannot get much more locally sourced than three miles away from brewery to club!

Secondly, Glossop Old Bandroom used to sell Tetley’s Dark Mild which was a popular choice among brass banders and its concertgoers. The one-time Leeds-based brewery was noted for its dark mild which inspired Frank’s brew. Well worth trying; if you see it on at your local pub or Glossop Old Bandroom, miss this one at your peril.

8. Peaky Blinder Black IPA (4.4%)

One of the great joys of Britain’s real ale scene is its diversity of beers from light ales to imperial stouts. In recent times, Black IPAs have entered the fray. One of our favourite Black IPAs is Sadler’s Brewery’s Peaky Blinder.

Cashing in on the successful BBC TV series [Peaky Blinders], it is a dark India Pale Ale with a Black Country accent. It feels at home with traditional style West Midlands beers and goes well with a variety of dishes. On the website it recommends creamy pasta dishes, burgers, and smoky barbecue ribs. A good one for Steak Club.

Behind its slightly sweet interior, it is quite an easy drinking beer. In our view it goes well with J.D. Wetherspoon’s BBQ chicken with Jack Daniels glaze meal. Plus their Lasagne.

9. Pitch Porter (5%)

Watching The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic can be a thankless task. Where you may lose through not getting the rub of the green, you may well gain from Stalybridge’s finest hostelries. The ‘Bridge/Hyde Derby is always a ‘must-see’ event. One joy of going to (or avoiding) Ewen Fields in the away leg is The Sportsman public house on Mottram Road.

Among its joys is the plethora of Rossendale Brewery ales. A firm favourite of ours is Pitch Porter. The Haslingden-based brewery’s 5% porter is akin to drinking a pint of Laphroaig. Yes, the porter’s smoky taste is reminiscent of the famed Islay single malt whisky.

Its smoky taste makes for a good winter beer. Just the thing after sitting down or standing up for two hours.

10. Peerless Oatmeal Stout (5%)

For our final dark beer of the Top Beer Not So Perfect Ten, we look at Peerless Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Stout. At 5%, our friends from Birkenhead pride themselves in producing a well bodied stout. There is a slight toffee taste and sweet aftertaste.

As with the Javanilla stout, this one is best enjoyed in halves. Why, may you ask is this best enjoyed in halves? It can be too easy drinking.

Honourable Mentions

Some that didn’t quite make the cut or no longer available:

  • Kitty Wilkinson Chocolate Stout: at one time my favourite chocolate stout, sadly no longer available due to the demise of its brewers Liverpool Organic Brewery;
  • Young’s Chocolate Stout: how chocolatey is that stout? Young’s Chocolate Stout is akin to drinking a melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. If the London-based brewery did nip bottles, one for the cellar;
  • Chesters Dark Mild: the first dark mild I remember drinking properly – albeit in keg form some time after the demise of Chesters Brewery (and well after the Threlfalls-Chesters merger in 1965);
  • Thomas McGuinness’ Featherplucker’s Mild: my first ever legal drink; a half of the mild enjoyed at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. McGuinness’ beers were brewed at The Cask and Feather in Rochdale. By 2013, the brewery moved to The Harewood Arms in Broadbottom as the Green Mill Brewery.

Your Round

Fancy adding to the list or wish to elaborate on our selection? Feel free to comment.

S.V., 23 November 2018.

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