These are dark days, indeed

OPINION: It's a common phrase down at the pub, the old "I don't like dark beers".

One of those blanket sentences trotted out by the general population ever since they had their first and only sip of Speight's old dark, you would swear some people had been asked to drink molasses when offered a glass.

Before I get carried away I should be honest -  it's a phrase I myself employed for most of my early twenties.

A friend of mine was a big fan of dark beer, and to my discredit I would make fun and laugh whenever he ordered something out of the ordinary.

Thankfully I got over that stage and I'm immensely glad I did as dark beer opens up a whole new world of tastes and flavours.

It's a similar thing to what happened with me and wine. I used to stoically refuse everything grape-related, until I moved to Queenstown and discovered Central Otago pinot.

But even then I declined all white wine, stubbornly believing it the devil.

I gradually came round by trying different varietals. Some I still hate - I can't stand chardonnay. But I've found I enjoy a good sweet riesling and can even handle a bit of pinot gris and sauv blanc if the mood takes me.

Similarly, once I started trying a few more darker beers, that were served properly at the right temperature (8 to 9 degrees is usually about right), I became slightly obsessed.

I've raved before about my love of San Diego brewery Ballast Point's Victory at Sea, a coffee vanilla porter that's so delicious you could easily put a dollop of cream on top and serve it for dessert.

New Zealand breweries make some fine darker brews themselves, including Moa Imperial Stout and Mike's Whisky Porter, which I had the pleasure of trying at the Society of Beer Advocates Winter Ale Festival last Saturday.

Blenheim brewery Renaissance's Elemental Chocolate Porter is back this winter tasting fantastic after a dud last year while at the supermarket Tuatara Porter is a good go to.

Dark beer can be the perfect gateway to a more fulfilling beer experience, and if you missed the Winter Ale Festival then there's another chance to sample a great selection under one roof..

Starting this Friday The Malthouse will host its annual two-day Darkest Days event.

A celebration of dark beers, some of the highlights include Epic's biennial  stout, this year named Imperium, the always-amazing Three Boys Oyster Stout and another San Diego offering - Stone 2013 Espresso Russian Imperial Stout.

No, you won't like them all but if you're a dark beer virgin this is the place to start. And for the record, nothing wrong with a bit of Speight's Old Dark.

What's your favourite dark beer? Or do you hate the stuff so much you won't go near it?

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