THEY TALK about dark nights of the soul. But on these cold nights, I prefer to think about dark beers for the soul. Beers that just make you smile and that give your heart a hug.

I’ve trawled my memory bank, Untappd, awards results, taken recommendations from the Hoppiness team and come up with 10 proven beers that have earned their place by the fireside this winter.

8 Wired iStout

A definitive legend in the New Zealand beer scene. The ABV has bumped over the years from 8.5 per cent to it’s now pitch-perfect 10 per cent. This shines like black opal in the glass and delivers layers of chocolate, dates, leather, licorice and sweet coffee. In earning a place in the New World Beer & Ciders Top-30 this year, the judges described as “chocolate liquer”.

Liberty Prohibition Porter

Liberty Brewing have turned this into a cult-like beer in a short time. A whopper at 12 per cent, it’s easily the most difficult beer that Liberty make — just describing the brew day could take an hour. Aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and designed to last 20 years it’s a must-try.

Three Boys Oyster Stout

What is winter if not the time to drink this iconic beer. Every year Three Boys load up their kettle with fresh Bluffies to create this salted chocolate delights of a legendary offering. It’s worth repeating that beer guru Michael Jackson is on the record as saying Oyster Stout was invented in New Zealand so this is like a birthright beer.

Boneface The Darkness

The hoppy stout (a different beast to Black IPA I reckon) done well is a Möbius loop of flavour. This is that. It starts out chocolately and sweet, slides into a hoppy grapefruit and blackberry earthiness and ends with a gripping, just-ashy coffee roastiness that leads back to the sweet chocolate.

Boneface Darkness India Stout

McLeod’s Smuggler’s Bay Quad

Travel writer Brett Atkinson nominated this gentle beast (10.3 per cent) of a beer that’s aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. There’s vanilla and toffee, caramelized pears on bread-and-butter pudding. Obligatory to have in front of the fire, pipe and slippers optional.

Panhead Black Sabbath

A few years ago, I wrote a home brew book that had recipes in it from pro brewers who had started out as home brewers. Mike Neilson’s recipe for Panhead Black Sabbath almost overpowered my brew system as there was so much grain. But it was also the most delicious beer I ever brewed.

Kereru Amberine

I could also add here Kereru Night Spirit (NZ whisky barrel-aged stout) and Paloma (whisky barrel-aged Barleywine) both of which are rare yet still available on Kereru’s website. But we have to go with whisky barrel-aged quadrupel — champion Barrel & Wood Aged beer from last year’s Brewers Guild Awards.  Burnt sugar, vanilla, toasted coconut, butterscotch and stewed fruit with a lick of cola and some tannic bite.

Burkes Unforgiven Porter

When you’ve been voted New Zealand’s champion beer and you’re a humble porter, it has to be very, very, very, very good porter. I love reviewer Tim Newman’s description of this beer: Full bodied but effortlessly nimble, classic and yet mysterious … a masterpiece in black.”

Renaissance Stonecutter

Back in the early days of New Zealand craft, malty beers were far more prominent than they are today. With the hoppy-hazy-fruited sour axis in full force, finding and old fashion malt-driven beer is increasingly difficult. Thankfully Renaissance have kept this Scotch Ale alive. Lush and embracing, a gentle smokiness from peated malt wafts through the sweeter malts that deliver dried fruit, candied orange, just-burnt toffee and banana bread.

Renaissance Stonecutter

North End Iron Sands

Maybe it’s because North End are so well-known for their Belgian-style beers you forget offerings like this. Softness from oats, some rye spice and creamy chocolate wheat combine with judicious hopping and an expressive yeast to deliver a total package of goodness.

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When Omicron started its sweep of the country, the Bootleg Sessions were born: music gigs at the brewery’s Matangi base limited to 100 people with all the proceeds going to the musicians.

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Bootleg T-Straight Burnout Stout 

Bootleg T Straight Burnout Smokey Stout is tremendous winter drinking, and a superb match for rich and savoury comfort food. 

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