The North’s blustery months demand the malty, textural anesthetic of black brews. Bitter hops take a back seat as we turn to stouts, porters and black ales, which take their flavor cues from roasted malt and its universe of dark flavors like coffee, chocolate, burnt sugar and dried fruit. Stouts brewed with oatmeal or lactose sugar take on a supple creaminess, while rye malt imparts a spicy edge to lighter black ales. Local brewers dabbling in the dark arts have harnessed the essences of chocolate, espresso, smoke and even marshmallow to add layers of dimension to their winter beers. When setting out on a black beer bender, be mindful of ABV as brawny Imperial Stouts can easily track north of 8 percent alcohol. Dense Michigan dark beers are perfect for stand-alone sipping in front of a roaring hearth, but don’t be afraid to pair them with hearty winter stews, umami-rich mushroom dishes, spicy moles or chocolate desserts. (We recommend this beef stew with stout and chocolate bourbon pecan pie.)

Beards Brewery | Serendipity Porter
Smooth and teasingly sweet with chocolate notes upfront and smoky black cherry hints sewn in the finish. Drink two just to be sure.

Jamesport Brewing Company | Black Rye IPA
With loads of rye in the grain bill, Jamesport’s Black Rye IPA marries the roasty overtones of a dark beer with the medium-bodied verve and hop spank of a serious India pale ale.

Jolly Pumpkin | Bam Noire
A dark farmhouse-style ale with overtones of dried fruit, cocoa and coffee bean. Bam noire finishes with a slight but refreshing sourness.

Lake Ann Brewing Company | Doc Shilliday’s Cream Stout
Brewer Matt Therrien crafts an eminently quaffable American cream stout dosed with milk sugar for a silky mouthfeel to complement abundant cocoa notes.

Right Brain Brewing | CEO Stout
CEO stands for chocolate, espresso and oatmeal, the three main flavor drivers accompanying the dark malt in Right Brain’s staple stout. Inky and thick but eminently drinkable with layers of dark chocolate and coffee.

Short’s Brewing | S’more Stout
Leave it to Joe Short to deliver the classic campfire confection in liquid form. S’more Stout is brewed with graham cracker, milk chocolate, marshmallow, and smoked malt and it tastes exactly like, well, you know.

The Filling Station | Kettle Black Rye Kolsch
This Kolsch-style black beer is bright and refreshing with moderate hop tones, dry German pilsner malt and a soupçon of rye-driven spice.

Traverse Magazine Food and Drinks Editor, Tim Tebeau, writes from Petoskey. Email him at

This article is featured in the January 2017 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Subscribe for more locally-made, creative craft brews.

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Photo(s) by Dave Weidner