According to the Farmers’ Almanac, this winter’s looking like a déjà vu of last year’s for those who experienced epic snowfall and record lows. Here to help, we have a selection of robust barrel-aged beers with generous alcohol by volume to help warm you on colder nights (hopefully by a roaring fire). These eight choices exemplify the more decadent side of brewing.
Black Note Stout
Bell’s Brewery’s (Kalamazoo, Mich.) Black Note Stout was formerly un-recommendable, because of its impossibly limited production (and a resulting “white whale” status in the beer-nerd world). Luckily, for the past few years production has scaled up somewhat, and this special bourbon barrel-aged blend of their Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout is now more accessibly packaged in 12-ounce four-packs. Roasty chocolate and coffee notes are underpinned by a fluffy mouthfeel.
Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
Central Waters’ (Amherst, Wis.) Bourbon Barrel Barleywine is one of the more reliably stellar examples of the style. Plus, it’s a gem that flies under the radar of obsessives, which means it manages to remain on shelves long after its annual release. You’ll taste caramel and vanilla, and experience a drying, oak-laden finish.
Firestone Walker’s (Paso Robles, Calif.) §ucaba—the beer formerly known as Abacus—is at this point an institution in the realm of bourbon barrel-aged barleywines. While it’s not particularly easy to find when released, if you manage to score a bomber it’s an ideal candidate to split with someone close. Sweet candied fruits and molasses heartily merge in this bourbon-heavy delight.
Founders Brewing’s (Grand Rapids, Mich.) Backwoods Bastard is what happens when the brand dumps its Dirty Bastard Scotch ale into bourbon barrels for a yearlong slumber. Happily for us, the extremely delicious result goes relatively unnoticed compared with Founders’ barrel-aged stouts, which tend to steal the spotlight. Dark fruit and earth mingle with a sweet, malty backdrop here.
Fremont Brewing’s (Seattle) B-Bomb is something of an enigma in the landscape of barrel-aged beer. The brewery’s winter-warmer Abominable (which is a forgettable genre) is aged in carefully selected bourbon barrels, which turns the beverage into a transcendent beast of its own, defying any categorization. Fudge, leather, and spice dominate, and the whole thing is sharpened by a warming alcoholic edge.
Bourbon County Brand Stout
Goose Island’s (Chicago) Bourbon County Brand Stout is a true cult favorite, and since the brand was taken over by Anheuser-Busch InBev, it’s become easier and easier to find annually. While novel variants are released each year with different adjuncts and/or barrel treatments, the standard release itself is always a treat. Smoke, tobacco, and wood dance on a ≈15 percent ABV platform.
Barrel-Aged Double Negative
Grimm Artisanal Ales’ (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Barrel-Aged Double Negative is a terrifically well-executed stout from a gypsy brewing duo best known for hoppy and sour recipes. While the base beer alone is a very competent offering, the barrel-aging brings it into a different category of flavor. Woody char and espresso notes are expressed with a slick, oily mouthfeel.
OEC Brewing’s (Oxford, Conn.) Phantasma XXX Sour Double Barrel Singularis is the erudite brewery’s latest effort to reinterpret an extinct German porter (brewed with oats, molasses, wheat, and licorice root). These guys love their barrels, and this time the team has used a mix of barrels that formerly housed zinfandel, whiskey, pinot noir, and Pedro Ximénez sherry to age the base Phantasma porter. Then they double-matured the liquid in a former Burgundy barrel. Richly tannic with a velvety sourness, it’s a bold oddity. [Note: This is a brewery-only release, taking place on Tuesday, Nov. 24th at 4 p.m.—visit www.oecbrewing.com for more details.]