If you’re a fan of the darker side of beer, you have come across some of the most amazing and interesting beer being produced right now.  Goose Island’s Bourbon County Coffee Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout, Anchor Porter, or an assortment of others are available around the country.  Dark beers are ridiculously popular on the craft beer scene, as well as with homebrewers.  In fact, Beer Advocate’s Top 250 Beers list has only two styles in the top 10- the black as night Imperial Stout, and Imperial IPA.  Imperial Stout currently outnumbers Imperial IPA 6 to 4.

As the leaves turn, and the weather cools, it comes time for dark beer to show up on the ever rotating seasonal taps at your brewpub or brewery.  Homebrewer’s kitchens are blanketed in the smell of chocolate and coffee as the boil turns to black.  Oatmeal Stouts, Black IPAs, Porters, Nut Browns and other hearty, dark styles start to find space in fermentors and fridges.

So, with all the great offerings, what will make your recipe stand out this year?  There’s a way to make that old or new recipe stand out this year.  Depth of flavor- specifically the malt, an important aspect of any dark beer.  Although we consider stouts and black beers to be rich, and full of flavor, it’s quite common for a dark style to fall flat, or become one dimensional when it lacks balance against the black roasted malt in the recipe.  A dark beer isn’t the most difficult style to brew, small mistakes will be masked, but it also may be one of the more difficult styles to perfect, creating a multi-dimensional, subtly nuanced pint.

Maybe you’ve got an old recipe that could be better. Go ahead and pull out your brewing log and find a stout, porter or other dark recipe you weren’t completely satisfied with, that you thought left room for improvement.  Now, look at your grain bill, and focus closely on the 25 to 75 lovibond range.  Did you add any specialty malt in this range?  This is an often neglected area in these styles of beer, and this color range offers some of the most dynamic specialty grains on the market.

A favorite, and one that’s known to add a good amount of depth to beer is Briess’ Special Roast; a 40 lovibond, toasted, roasted sourdough secret weapon of the dark beer brewer’s world.

The kiln roasted Special Roast malt is unlike the caramel malts in that mid-color range.  Instead of toffee and caramel, it’s a potent dry kilned flavor of biscuit and raisin bran that elevates the flavors of roast and toast in certain beer styles to new levels.  Just a dash can do it, and dark beers will reward you greatly for the addition.  It’s hard to heighten the “middle-flavors,” the delicate caramels and biscuits in a dark beer, as the roasted malts will mask most- but special roast stands tall by being more assertive, and adding greater dynamic to the espresso and bread dough characteristics already imparted by other grains.

So what does Special Roast work best in?

Try in your Brown ales, Stouts, Porters, Amber & Red ales, as well as IPAs and ESBs when you’d like to find a balance between malt and hop.

How much should you use?

 It only takes between 5% and 10% in your grain bill to be effective.  I typically add 8 to 12 ounces to a 5 gallon batch of typical gravity beer.  High gravity recipes may require a pound or more (per 5 gallons) to heighten the depth in a bigger malt bill.

Two styles I’ve found that can go from okay to amazing with some Special Roast are Black IPA and Oatmeal Stout.  Below are links to two of my recipes that showcase Special Roast working along side dark roasted malt, bringing the entire recipe up a notch-

Back in Black IPA Recipe (All Grain, 5 Gallon Batch)

Darkside of the Malt Oatmeal Stout Recipe (Extract & Grain, 5 Gallon Batch)