Tis the season to be cold! Fa la la la la la… This is the time of year when people reach for bigger, darker beers that have a higher alcohol content to keep them in warmest, jolliest of spirits. But what should fill your glass this season? In this inaugural edition of Style and Substance, we’re going to take a look at some popular and some less common styles to keep your cheeks rosy and your belly full of cheer this season.
(Note: All links go to the BeerAdvocate page for that style. Use them to help you find some winter warmers near you!)
This general, catch-all style is what everyone thinks of when they think ‘winter beer.’ But what type of stout tickles your fancy? We’ve highlighted a few selections for your perusal:
These tend to be more balanced overall with a lower alcohol content (so you can have multiple pints) and a lovely soft mouth-feel from the added oats in the grain bill.
If you like sweeter beers, check out one of these. Just like the name suggests, these beers have lactose sugar added during the brewing process which produces a much sweeter and smooth-bodied beer.
If you are like us and want something traditional yet hefty, try one of these bad boys. This style tends to vary highly between different breweries, but generally will be more highly hopped (for balance rather than bitterness) and can have some pretty high alcohol contents. Expect coffee and chocolate notes as well.
Okay, we’re cheating a little here as these could easily fit in the previous category. However these beasts deserve a little extra love. Brewed originally in England, this opaque, high alcohol style was often exported to Russia and was said to be a favorite of the Imperial court. Today, these beers are popular all over the world. With an alcohol content starting at 8% ABV and going up from there, they feature some of the most complex and layered flavor profiles in the beer world. Using flavors like dark fruit, bitter chocolate, toffee, exotic coffee, Imperial Russian stouts give you a beer you can really chew. These really lend themselves to sipping on a cold night watching the snow fall.
Often known as a ‘quadrupel’, or simply ‘quads,’ this is a style that originated in Belgium’s monastic breweries. Color wise, these are more of ruby-to-light brown than ‘dark’, per se. Quadrupels are seeing an upswing in popularity across America because they are very approachable for both novice beer drinkers and connoisseurs alike, specifically in the flavor profile. Expect lots of red fruit, such as raspberry or dark cherry and some notes of sweetness balanced with a strong malt character (toffee, biscuit) and spice from the yeast. Don’t forget about the booze content either! Quads start around 8% ABV and go up from there with most between 9 and 10% ABV. All of this results in a group of very interesting, and very crowd pleasing beers.
Not everyone agrees that porters are stout enough to keep people toasty warm, but we beg to differ. There is a style called Robust Porter, which is exactly as it sounds, porter’s cooler big brother that drives a convertible and everyone likes. These beers have slightly higher (between 5 and 7% ABV) alcohol content than standard porters (4 and 6% ABV) and they’re typically more highly hopped with a chocolate flavor as opposed to the coffee-bitter taste of other stouts. Really, go find one. They make excellent companions for those long, dark winter nights where anything could happen.
Sometimes nicknamed “wee heavy,” these beers are sort of all over the map style wise so it’s somewhat difficult to know what precisely you’re getting into when trying out new brands. So we’ll focus on generalities rather than absolutes. While lighter-color versions exist, most are going to be a hazy copper-brown, with low perceived bitterness and high alcohol content as many are between 7 and 10% ABV. These big belly warmers get their flavor and character from being highly malty (toffee, bread) and boozy. That spells a perfect evening in while the weather outside is frightful but the beer in your hand is delightful.
Hopefully this guide has given you some new ideas to expand your winter warmer selection or inspires you to revisit an old favorite and remember the ways to keep warm don’t end there! Take a magic malted mystery tour and try out many different styles to find what you really enjoy.
Now toss some deliciousness back (or tastefully sip) in front of a fire with friends and family. We hope that you have a pleasant and warm holiday season and a beer-y celebration!