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Belt’s Beer Garden: The Dark Night

Two dark beers - Sun King’s When the Lights Go Out & 4204 Main Street’s AsSALTed Caramel Pecan Ale

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After months and months of trying IPAs and the many variations of that hoppy beer, I decided to give them a break for a week and focus on some more winter-oriented brews as the snow continues to pile on the Midwest.

To start this week, a Indiana staple - Sun King.

Sun King just might be Indianapolis’ biggest/most well-known brewery…but they were also the first since the craft beer boom began.

Founded nine years ago, they were the first brewery in the city in more than 60 years! Indianapolis Brewing Co. closed way back in 1948 and Indy didn’t see another full-scale production brewery until Sun King came around in July of 2009. Today they have three locations and are available throughout Indiana and, more recently, have expanded to Chicagoland and the Louisville area.

Sun King offers five core beers plus a few seasonals and specialty brews. And today, I have one of those seasonal beers – When the Lights Go Out.

When the Lights Go Out is a coffee porter made with locally roasted coffee. A six pack runs the typical $10 and each can packs a modest 5.7% ABV and 23 IBU.

As you might expect from a coffee porter named When the Lights Go Out…the beer poured an opaque black that cut out every drop of light, even when held up to a bright light source. A small line of tan head topped the beer but before long all that was left was a razor thin line around the edge of the glass.

The coffee was incredibly prominent in this brew, filling the air with a coffee bean aroma that was matched by a sweeter molasses-like scent with some malty notes following all that.

My initial sip began with a small rush of carbonation that quickly fizzled out and was replaced by the huge a coffee flavor up front. Initially it seemed to have a semi-watery mouthfeel to it.

That initial burst was like that of drinking an espresso – roasted beans and some bitterness (not a hoppy bitterness but a different type of bitter bite) – but it was quickly calmed by some sweet toffee and caramel flavors derived from the malt.

Towards the middle the beer turns from that light, watery feel to a slightly creamier one that also imparts some subtle vanilla and molasses flavors and sticks to your taste buds throughout the remainder of the tasting.

As the beer ends, it does so somewhat cleanly. The malts finish off the taste with another burst of sweetness that calms the bitterness from the coffee without taking out any of the java flavoring. The only thing left lingering was that sticky molasses and some dryness that made it necessary to take a swig of water every few sips.

When the Lights Go Out only has a 5.7% ABV and hides that alcohol really, really well. The minimal head from the beginning does nothing to the glass as the beer is drank…in fact, my glass somehow looks even cleaner now than it did to start with.

Truth be told, I’m not big into coffee beers…or porters (we all know by now that I have an affinity for hops). But, I must say, this one blends the two really well.

Before I knew it, there was very little beer remaining in my glass. A rare occurrence when I drink dark brews. For the style this was quite the tasty beer.

Next up, from near St. Louis, 4024 Main Street.

4204 Main Street Brewing Co. opened up back in May of 2014 in Bellville, Illinois – a suburb of St. Louis just on the other side of the Mississippi River in southern Illinois. Since then, they have grown to two locations around the city and distribute to southern Illinois, the St. Louis area, and now Chicagoland too.

They offer about a dozen beers throughout the year and I grabbed their winter seasonal – AsSALTed Caramel Pecan Ale. They took their staple pecan brown ale and paired with a massive amount of salted caramel. A six-pack runs the usual $10 and each can has a very manageable 5.5% ABV and 20 IBU.

This brown ale poured, as the name of the beer would imply, a dark brownish amber color with minimal head. Just a razor thin layer of tan head ran around the edge of the glass with a solitary cloud sitting in the middle.

Wafting from the beer was quite the sweet aroma. There were huge sticky sweet caramel notes with a hefty backing of salt cutting into the sweetness. Both toffee and coffee notes also hid behind the briny caramel notes.

It smelled exactly like someone had melted one of these caramels down into a liquid, tossed some salt on top, and handed me a glass. I was excited to try it.

My first sip started with a moderate rush of carbonation. Then, initially, it was the brown ale aspect of the brew that started it all off – coffee notes, a slightly watery mouthfeel, and a dash of bitterness.

But then, midway through it all, a plethora of flavors rose up and hit my taste buds. First there was the sweet caramel and some buttery toffee notes which was followed immediately by a nutty flavor form the pecans and then, finally, the salt came in and brought a dash of bitterness with it.

The sip ends mostly clean but, before it does, there is a final burst of sugary sweet caramel flavoring that quickly fades leaving just that late bitter bite lingering on after everything else.

At just 5.5%, there is no strong boozy taste and, in fact, the alcohol content is completely hidden behind the salted caramel and pecan flavors.

Brown ales are not my favorite. To me they’re too malty and lack the hoppy, citrusy goodness that IPAs bring. However, AsSALTed Caramel Pecan Ale might be one of the better brown ales I’ve ever had. It was sweet, salty, and easy to drink.

The only drawbacks are the lingering bitterness at the end and the fact that this is just a seasonal brew. But, if you’re in Illinois or around St. Louis, this a solid winter brew to try!