Stuck in the thick of winter doldrums? We’ve got just the cure. As February continues to slowly creep along, leaving most of the country struggling with snow and freezing temperatures, it’s a time of year when only the boldest beers need apply for the role of winter warmer. Here’s a collection of loud wintry flavors, like coffee, apple brandy and pecan expressed via stouts, porters and various barrel-aged treasures. You’ll notice a few noteworthy brews that fall outside those dark categories also made the list; these picks snagged headlines in early 2015 and also provide a healthy hoppy respite from the heavy beers of winter.
1. Oskar Blues Brewery | Pinner Throwback IPA
Nontraditional media got a real kick out of reporting on this new Colorado session beer when they discovered that “pinner” is a reference to a small joint with low marijuana content. Hops and weed have long been considered relative flavor bedfellows, so to name the low-ABV beer after its herbal counterpart makes perfect sense. The good news for potheads, er, hopheads is the brewery announced Throwback will be available in cans and on draught year-round moving forward.
2. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. | §ucaba Barleywine
It wouldn’t be a winter beer list without a barleywine, and Firestone’s award-winning beer-whose-name-I-can’t-pronounce-properly hits all the right notes. At 13.5 percent ABV, this boozy barrel-aged brew has a sumptuous treacle-like toffee and dark chocolate flavor boosted by a thread of tart cherry. The oak elements warm the body like roasted walnuts with a lingering dry finish. This lovely also ages well, so try comparing it to other vintages if you get the chance.
3. Odell Brewing Company | Fernet Aged Porter
For the contingent of drinkers who gracefully straddle the line between craft cocktails and craft beer (like yours truly), this collaboration between Odell and Leopold Bros. distillery stirred up a ton of interest when it first debuted last year. Now back and better than ever, the substantial porter is once again aged in Leopold Fernet barrels (Fernet is a bartending-industry darling, a bitter liqueur spiced with a number of botanicals), which lend a soft, woody component to the dark brew with the slightest hint of mint and herbs. A winner on so many levels.
4. Founders Brewing Co. | Black Rye
Originally introduced in 2006, this cult classic was re-released last month to cater to the rising demand for rye beers. It’s a dark, dry-hopped brew with heaps of rye malt that contribute a gruff, grainy spice, tempered only by a heavy, molasses-like sweetness. Get your hands on a six-pack while you can, as this seasonal will only be around through March.
5. Fullsteam Brewery | Fearrington Winter Coffee Pecan Porter
This is the third year the North Carolina brewery has teamed up with local restaurant Fearrington for a winter collaboration. Cold-pressed coffee from the restaurant and local roasters Counter Culture adds a big caffeinated zap to the beer, which is buffered with a dry, earthy bitterness from the pecans. Recommended for people who like their coffee beers to have a deep, concentrated coffee flavor flush with roasted malts and a hint of sweet cream.
6. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Hop Hunter IPA
Remember when Lagunitas sued Sierra Nevada last month and then quickly rescinded when craft-beer lovers lambasted the brewery for its thin trademark-infringement claim regarding the Hop Hunter label? Yeah, that was embarrassing. Luckily, the hullabaloo didn’t deter Sierra Nevada from releasing the hoppy beast, which is made using new technology that harvests concentrated oils from fresh hops before they leave the field. The result: an extremely aromatic, hoppy brew with a mild bitterness that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re into heady hops.
7. Prairie Artisan Ales | Apple Brandy Noir Imperial Stout
The latest experiment in this Oklahoma brewery’s Noir line of barrel-aged imperial stouts is aged in apple-brandy barrels. Detecting the influence a barrel has on an aged beer can be difficult, but with this boozy stout there’s no ignoring the big punch of fresh apple and vanilla that hits the nose as you dive in. The beer is thick, silky and sticky sweet in the best of ways, making it a great dessert pick.
8. Boulevard Brewing Smokestack Imperial Stout X – Coffee
The venerable Kansas City brewery announced it would join the canned-beer revolution this year, with Heavy Lifting IPA, Ginger Lemon Radler, Unfiltered Wheat Beer and Pop-Up IPA all hitting aluminum in the near future. In the meantime, the first imperial stout in the “X” series is out this month; the non-barrel-aged imperial stout brewed with Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans will be “a marriage of huge, round chocolate and caramel notes from the base beer with smooth layers of sweet citrus and floral flavors and aromas from the coffee,” the brewery says. If it’s anything like the normal Smokestack Imperial Stout that’s out right now, we’re in for a treat.
9. Victory Brewing Company | Helles Lager
Victory has produced this full-bodied German-style lager in Philadelphia since 1996, when it was called Brandywine Valley Lager. As of the end of January, it’s been flung far and wide across the brewery’s 35-state distribution radius. At an uncomplicated 4.8 percent ABV, the golden brew provides a nice, crisp respite from all the heavy flavors of winter.
10. Spiteful Brewing | G.F.Y. Coffee Stout
Availability of this beauty is pretty limited to the Chicago area, but it’s so delightful we figured it warrants a mention. The Mexican beans from Gaslight Coffee don’t overpower the malts in this audacious brew, but rather pack a neat and seamless punch when weaved together. Contrary to what its name might suggest, the beer is delightfully balanced, with a low-to-medium level of residual sugar and a rich texture for its 8 percent ABV.
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