Up and at ‘em, my beautiful beer-faces! You feel fine, trust me. Tryptophan’s a myth, and hangovers are the exact opposite: unavoidable facts of life hardly worth mentioning — certainly not license to laze around beerless in bed all day. There are precisely zero good excuses to waste one of the finest drinking days of the year. All right, maybe there are a few. Don’t drink if you’re in charge of a bus or a fetus or a college football game, I guess. But otherwise, it’s time to brush your teeth and floss your hair and get ready to celebrate Black Friday.
But not the Black Friday you’re thinking of. We’re not talking about retail holiday shopping here. Not that I have anything against people who wait in line for Best Buy to open; it would be mightily hypocritical for any serious craft beer fan to look down on anyone else’s shopping, waiting, or hoarding peccadilloes. Standing around a strip mall parking lot for the chance to save $30 on the newest-fangled housework robot (do they fly yet? Aren’t we at least getting close to personal laundry drones?) makes at least as much sense as doing the same for a shot at blowing a day’s pay on a bottle of rare beer.
So although we think the traditional holiday shopping version of Black Friday is perfectly reasonable, we’re not observing it in these parts. But neither are we advocating participation in its beer world analog of camping out overnight to buy Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. This is more a matter of principle than a commentary on the beer itself. BCBS remains one of the handful of finest barrel-aged imperial stouts in anything approaching wide release, last year’s recall notwithstanding. I enjoyed around six or eight bottles last year without incident, and I intend to do the same, as long as my local beer store is as curiously overstocked as it’s been recently (tip to whale-hunters: Supreme Liquors in Cambridge, Mass., has had BCBS deep into winter, and maybe even early spring, the last two years).
But just because I’ve lucked into easy access to BCBS (bottle-openers crossed) doesn’t mean you have, which is why we’re presenting these eight black-beer alternatives so you can join along in the celebration of Turkey Boxing Day.
Surly Damien; Brooklyn Center, MN; 6.5% ABV
They call this one Child of Darkness because it’s brewed from the not-quite-spent grains used in production of Surly’s winter headliner, the Russian imperial stout Darkness. It’s dry-hopped to add some bright bitterness along with the roasted malt and dark chocolate flavors that carry over from its ancestral brew.
Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger; Framingham, MA; 5.8% ABV
The lager monsters at Jack’s Abby join the party with this lightly smoked schwarzbier. Smoke & Dagger is roasty and smoky, kinda meaty, and simultaneously rich and chuggable. For a special treat, drop by the brewery Sunday afternoon and join me (and my sister!) for a pull of the onsite-only Numb Swagger, a barrel-aged version of Smoke & Dagger smartened up with Szechuan peppercorns.
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack; Paso Robles, CA; 8.3% ABV
It’s a shame there aren’t more imperial black rye IPAs, because then you’d be even more impressed when I told you that Wookey Jack is far and away the best I’ve tried. It’s going on hiatus soon — maybe for good — so catch it while you can to appreciate what Citra and Amarillo dry-hopping can do for malted rye.
Stoneface Porter; Newington, NH; 5.5% ABV
New Hampshire is flanked on either side by more charming neighbors, which could be part of the reason the (crooked!) beer press devotes so much more attention to Vermont and Maine. Also, those states have more good breweries. But there is some great beer in New Hampshire, including this dead-on black beauty from Stoneface, which tastes like a good version of a good porter. Those of you scoring at home will note this makes it double-good. So drink up!
Berkshire Brewing Drayman’s Porter; S. Deerfield, MA; 6.3% ABV
My wife, Emily, and I drink this multi-dimensional porter every year on the day after Thanksgiving in front of the fireplace at the Hotel Northampton in western Massachusetts. If you join us, you’ll appreciate the dark fruit, caramel, light pine, and coffee flavors.
Left Hand Wake Up Dead; Longmont, CO; 10.2% ABV
I’m not a huge advocate of milk stouts or nitro beers, and Colorado IPAs are almost always way faded by the time they hit New England shelves, which means I don’t pay as much attention as I should to Left Hand. Lucky for me, this great imperial stout can withstand the indignities of cross-country shipping, as it always arrives in my glass full of excellent dark chocolate, toffee, licorice, leather, and cinnamon flavors.
Maui Coconut Hiwa Porter; Maui, HI; 6% ABV
Coconut porter may be an acquired taste, but the good folks at Maui Brewing Company can help you acquire it within the first few sips. Roasted coconut flakes lend sweetness and depth to the mocha, semi-dark chocolate, and faint but welcome citrus notes.
Lagunitas NightTime; Petaluma, CA; 8% ABV
I know what you’re thinking: “Sounds good, but hoppy black ales are a bit played out these days. I mean, not even Firestone Walker Wookey Jack could stay in rotation. I’m afraid my insecurity demands that I drink something a little, you know, cooler.” That’s a reasonable point, until you peep at the label on this roasted-pine delight. That’s right, pal, it’s a dog in sunglasses. NOW WHO’S COOL?
OK, there’s two-thirds of a dozen great dark beers to get your black ball rolling. Just in case this party continues past tea time, what’s up next?