Several years ago, I asked a Canadian brewer what the greatest challenges were in getting drinkers of mass-produced pale American lagers to try craft beers.

“The first challenge is to overcome the notion that if it ain’t clear, it ain’t beer,” he told me. So many of the new craft beers were unfiltered and you couldn’t hold up a glass, look through it, and see your beer-drinking buddy on the other side of the table. “Many craft beers are unfiltered and a lot are very dark in color.”

“The second was to explain that bitter isn’t a four-letter word. Many mass-market lagers are very, very mildly hopped and often quite sweet. Craft India Pale Ales are all about hops, which give bitterness to counteract the malt sweetness and add a wonderful variety of subtle flavors.”

“And, finally, I have to tell them: don’t be afraid of the dark. Long ago, all beers were dark — you couldn’t see through them. Pale ales weren’t that pale — only pale in comparison to the other beers. Now, nearly all the mass-market beers are, to use a polite term, almost the color of straw. But craft brewers starting to make some of the old, dark styles.”

I thought of this third challenge last summer when I visited the Houghton taproom of Keweenaw Brewing Company during my field trip doing interviews at UP craft breweries for Yooper Ale Trails: the Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each of the servers wore a black t-shirt with the words “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” on the back. The phrase was a reference to the brewery’s best-selling beer and perhaps the Upper Peninsula’s top-selling craft beer Widow Maker Black Ale.

Widow Maker is the complete opposite of mass-produced pale lagers — it is dark and filled with coffee and molasses flavor along with just enough German hops to offset the sweetness. Clean and light-bodied, it has a crisp finish. “If you can’t finish a Widow Maker,” co-owner Paul Boissevain told me, “you have a problem.”

After I’d finished my travels and was compiling a list of beer styles with UP examples, I included six that could definitely be called dark beers: Schwarzbier (from the German word for black), Dunkel lager (from the German for dark), Cascadian dark ale (aka Black IPA), English Dark Mild, Dunkelweizen (German dark wheat beer), Porter, and, not surprisingly stout (I found 23 different UP examples).

I sampled many of these dark beers and enjoyed nearly all of them. In addition to Widow Maker there were three I particularly enjoyed. Nighthawk Onyx Ale, from ByGeorge Brewing in Munising has been compared to a German schwarzbier and an English stout. Deep brown/black and opaque, it is a toasty beer with a rich flavor. It finishes clean and is fairly light-bodied. “We call it the beer with a dark body and a blonde soul,” brewer George Schultz told me.

One of my favorite all-time dark beer styles is English Dark Mild, a beer that’s rich in flavor, low in alcohol. Cockney Mild from Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette is a 4 percent alcohol by volume ale that’s dark and malty and perfect for evening when the fireplace is glowing and a nippy breeze is shaking the tree limbs outside. If you stop by Cognition Brewing in Ishpeming, see if Graven-Tosk Gravel is on tap. The brewery is noted for its interesting and interestingly named ales, and this one is no exception. It’s named after a “funeral” beer in a European board game and featured both smoked malts and an unusual juniper taste.

In just over three months, I’ll be celebrating the solstice, sitting on the dock of the bay in front of my cabin, sipping Laughing Fish Ale a light-bodied, golden, kolsch-style ale from Upper Hand and watching the sun set at the north end of the lake. But the next night, when I watch the sunset, I’ll be sipping an Upper Peninsula dark beer. That evening, there will be two seconds less daylight.

The dark will be rising.

NOTE: Yooper Ale Trails: Craft Breweries and Brewpubs of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will be published in May 2023 by Modern History Press.