When the cold front sets in, warm up with a full-bodied brew. Not your average session ale, these big beer styles are high gravity and full flavored, perfect for when you find yourself stuck in with the kids on a snow day or for surviving the holidays. Rich malty backbones and notes ranging from chocolate to peat, these styles are best enjoyed at frigid temperatures.
So bust out those special bombers you’ve been saving for a frosty day. After a glass, you may find yourself wishing winter would last just a little longer with these delightful winter beers.
1. American Barleywine
There is one time of year that barleywines make their way to the table, and that’s in the dead cold of winter. The intensity of a barleywine is no joke. High fruity esters along with spiced, hoppy notes meld with caramel and bread-y malts to produce an alcohol forward beer.
Certainly an acquired taste, the complexity of barleywines are not for a sensitive palate. The overwhelming taste is best when paired with strong flavors. Take your palate for a spin and pair this big boy with some stilton or blue cheese.
- Old Numbskull | Alesmith Brewery, CA
- Bigfoot | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., CA & NC
- Hog Heaven | Avery Brewing Company, CO
2. Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy
On the lower end of the spectrum – that is, if you consider 7-9 percent ABV low – Scotch ales are a winter alternative to all the porters and stouts that hit the shelves. Hints of caramel and a light peat can be detected through the sweet, highly malty scotch ale. When the cold strikes, a nice Scotch ale by a warm fire is in order.
Get the full effect of your Scotch experience and pair it with roasted meats or a hunk of a pungent cheese. You could also put the stove to use and pair it with a strong, warming French onion soup.
- Skull Splitter | Orkney Brewery, Scotland
- 180 Shillings | Odell Brewing Company, CO
- Backwoods Bastard | Founders Brewing Company, MI
3. Belgian-Style Strong Dark Ale
While small batch brews featuring a world of ingredients ranging from hot peppers to oysters is taking over the craft beer scene, one style that has proven to stand up against the trends are Belgian beers. A complex profile defined by the distinct yeasty characteristics are what make Belgians so special.
And the Belgian-style strong dark ales? Well these rich, malty brews were made for winter. A thick mouthful of sweet malts and dark fruity esters of raisin, fig, and plum were meant to be savored on a cold day. Belgian-style strong dark ales pair nicely with roasted meats and sweet deserts.
- St. Bernardus Abt 12 | Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV, Belgium
- Grand Réserve (Blue) | Biéres de Chimay, Belgium
- Judgement Day | The Lost Abbey, CA
4. Baltic Porter
Baltic porters are robust with a higher gravity than the average porter. Similar to a schwarzbier, the Baltic porter is a dark lager. Hints of fruitiness that characterize lagers along with a chocolatey, caramelized roasted malt that can be found in dark ales come together in this single style.
Desserts as well as rich meats compliment this style best. Next time you get the hankering for a pork shoulder, grab a bottle of Baltic porter to go with it.
- Baltic Porter | Smuttynose Brewing Company, NH
- Fear and Trembling | Hill Farmstead Brewery, VT
- Topless Witch | 3 Floyds Brewing Co., IN
5. Winter Warmer
Winter warmers can range in flavor profile and strength, but one thing they all have in common is the holiday like spiced flavor. A high malt profile balanced by winter spices produce a rich mouthful.
These beers were made to taste like the holidays, and to get us through the holidays. If you are roasting meats this holiday season, add a winter warmer to the mix. The complexity of the spices also pair nicely with homemade apple pie.
- Fireside Chat | 21st Amendment Brewery, CA
- Jubelale | Deschutes Brewery, OR
- 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale | Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, OH
6. Russian Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stouts are defined by a rich malt backbone. Burnt malty characteristics with a bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavor along with noticeable hops make up the flavor profile. One sip and a full-bodied mouth full will wash away a winter storm.
If you are up to the challenge, start the smoker and smoke a nice slab of meat to go with it. Or indulge in some creamy cheese, and pair with a rich cheesecake.
- Old Rasputin | North Coast Brewing Co., CA
- Parabola | Firestone Walker Brewing Co., CA
- Dark Lord Imperial Stout | 3 Floyds Brewing Co., IN
7. Imperial Porter
There is something about an imperial porter that just taste better in the winter. Maybe it’s the desert like quality, maybe it’s the high gravity, either way it makes the cold a touch more bearable. Sweet notes of caramel and cocoa are balanced by roasted malts.
Enjoy with a wedge of gouda or salted caramel. Or pair with any desert, as the imperial porter will either enhance rich chocolatey flavors or compliment sweets that lack them.
- Victory at Sea | Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits, CA
- Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter | Left Hand Brewing, CO
- Gonzo | Flying Dog Brewery, MD
8. Barrel-Aged Beers
I absolutely love The Bruery and this was another beast. Smoking Wood – Bourbon Barrel Aged. A huge 13% barrel aged smoked beer. It starts with a big sweet smokey bacon bourbon nose and pours with not much head. In the mouth it's huge and thick with a viscous body. Taste wise it's dark preserved fruits then bacon then berry jam. Absolutely incredible stuff. #thebruery #smokingwood #craftbeer #beergeek #beerlove #beerlover #beerstagram #beerporn #beerinasia #craftnotcrap #drinkbetterbeer #smokedbeer #barrelagedbeer #bourbonsmokingwood
An extra kick to your beer is on the menu when temperatures drop below freezing. Bourbon, tequila, whiskey, wine, pick your poison. If it comes in a barrel, then you can age beer in it. Enhancing the flavor profile, the beer aged in a non-virgin oak barrel will pick up hints of the previous spirit.
Barrel-aged beers can range from a subtle to highly perceived alcohol flavor. With barrel-aged beers encompassing any beer you can put in a barrel, food pairings will vary. It is best to keep in mind the style, and pair with bolder flavors since barrel-aged are big beers. Aged cheeses, rich deserts, and fatty meats work best.
What beer will get you through the winter?