These High-Alcohol Beers Are the Perfect Way to Deal With Fall
Sadly the time for low-alcohol summer beers, the ones that you can pound all day in the sun, is over. With cold-weather months ahead in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s appropriate to head to the other end of the alcohol-by-volume spectrum—to beers with warming, double-digit ABV contents. These are ideal for cozy sipping indoors, or when you want to warm your belly at a tailgate or bonfire. We asked four American beer experts for their picks of what to stock up on now.
Christopher Quinn, Owner of the Beer Temple (Chicago)
De Dolle - Stille Nacht, 12% ABV (Belgium)
This is a beer I make sure to have on hand at all times in the event I want to sip something special. It's one of the most versatile beers I've ever had. While widely considered to be one of the best aging beers in the world—easily for a decade or more—it's still completely wonderful when fresh. The combination of honeyed malts, yeasty flavors of pear and apple, and hefty booze makes this beer more than complex enough to enjoy on its own, while also being an almost impossibly versatile beer with food. With dishes as light as salads, it’s the perfect foil to crisp bitter greens. For fattier foods such as cheese, burgers, and desserts, the aggressive carbonation helps to cleanse the palate between bites.
AleSmith - Speedway Stout, 12% ABV (California)
The processes used to roast malts and coffee are very similar, creating many of the same flavors, which make them perfect when used together. Plus, there’s just something about coffee stouts when the weather turns cold. Ironically, one of the best comes from sunny San Diego. AleSmith’s Speedway Stout is one of the original coffee-infused imperial stouts, and easily remains one of the best. Like pouring motor oil into a glass, Speedway is as inky and viscous as they come, bursting with flavors of baker’s chocolate, toasted caramel, and dark roast coffee.
Marco Silva, Beverage Director at Villains (Chicago)
Prairie Artisan Ales - Bomb!, 13% ABV (Oklahoma)
This is one of the most perfect beers any time of the year, but especially in the winter. I love to serve it at 50-55F and enjoy the layers of flavor as it gets closer to room temperature. The aroma is chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and alcohol. The flavor is a smooth, powerful dose of coffee and chocolate that lingers and gives way to a touch of ancho chile peppers and alcohol on the finish. An ideal sipper for freezing weather, when you come in from the cold looking for a hot chocolate or coffee to warm you up. You can enjoy this beer on a cold winter morning or night with pajamas and slippers on.
Cascade - The Vine, 10.1% ABV (Oregon)
This winter sipper is going in a different direction than most. You don’t think of reaching for a sour ale when your face and feet are frozen until you try the Vine. It’s a blend of sour wheat and blond ales aged in chardonnay barrels for 8-10 months, blended with Gewürztraminer grape must and aged for an additional six months before a finishing blend with nonfruited sour blond ales. The aroma is white wine and roses: fruity with a hint of spice. The flavor is white grapes, green apple, and honey with a bubbly dry finish. Lots of complex flavors and a 10.1 percent ABV that warms you up inside! Let it snow!
Matthew Pene, Beer Director at Eleven Madison Park (Manhattan)
Birrificio del Ducato - Krampus, ABV varies (Italy)
Krampus! This beer was made for the holiday feast, ageworthy and bottled in a larger format to share on Dec. 5. This beer has everything from candied fruits, star anise, cinnamon, and balsamic vinegar in the nose and palate, and will be sure to turn heads. Party on!
Schloss Eggenberg - Samichlaus, 14% ABV (Austria)
The quintessential Christmas beer, brewed only one day a year on Dec. 6 (St. Nicholas’ Day), then aged for six months. This yuletide doppelbock was made for fireside sipping. Split a bottle with a loved one and pour into a snifter on a chilly nondenominational holiday to fall in love with its raisinated, brandy-soaked fruits and syrupy malt flavors. Cellar the rest of the pack for years to come and save the dishes for tomorrow.
Joey Pepper, Bartender at Tørst and Assistant Brewer at Folksbier (Brooklyn)
BFM - Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, 11% ABV (Switzerland)
This is a wonderful imperial sour red ale primarily fermented with a wine yeast and aged in a variety of different wine barrels, where it’s inoculated with BFM’s house blend of wild yeast and bacteria. After sufficient conditioning, the beer in the barrels is blended before bottling to ensure consistency across the vintages in balancing complexity. Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien in my mind is a perfect marriage of strong ale and mixed fermentation; big dark fruit and leather tasting notes conjoined with a clean yet complex sour character developed from the long-term aging.
De Struise - Pannepot Grand Reserva, 10% ABV (Belgium)
A special treatment of Struise’s Belgian strong dark ale brewed originally for the local fishermen of De Panne, Belgium. Originally made for Ølbutikken in Copenhagen back in 2007, the beer is first aged in French oak barrels for 14 months, then further aged in Calvados barrels for 10 months prior to bottling. The extended aging in oak lends itself very well to this beer and has given it time to mellow out, loading it with rich nutty and caramel flavors that meld together to hide the ABV extremely well. This beer is usually particularly hard to find, but we did just receive some of the 2011 vintage at Tørst and I’m hoping other bars/stores stateside will, too.