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We Asked Bartenders To Name Their Favorite High-Alcohol Beers For Winter

Technically, winter doesn’t begin until The Winter Solstice on December 21st. Technically. But that hasn’t stopped Mother Nature from dumping snow, freezing rain, wind, and all-around awful weather on much of the continental US. Even if you live someplace that doesn’t have easily-defined seasons, you’ve probably found that you at least need to throw on a light jacket before leaving the house these days.

That means it’s time for warming, high-alcohol content beers to shine. Will Lee, beverage director at Grey Ghost in Detroit prefers a Russian Imperial Stout during this time of year.

“I just tasted Komes Russian Imperial Stout and it’s about to be added to the Grey Ghost beer list,” he says. “This is my style of winter beer: big, bold, and assertive coming at 12% abv with rich toasty malt notes paired with bitter chocolate and molasses. It pours almost pitch black but doesn’t drink the way it looks. It doesn’t leave you with that full feeling you typically get from a big stout.”

Other drinkers prefer drinking barrel-aged stouts, porters, and even high-ABV IPAs while they wait for spring to arrive in a few long months. Check out what some of our favorite bartenders are drinking this season below.

Pfriem Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout

Taylor Scoma, manager at Stacked in Portland, Oregon

Pfriem’s Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout is definitely my pick for winter beer drinking. The malty bourbon aroma complements the chocolaty, creamy taste — this combo sets you up to truly appreciate the booziness that cuts through. Most of all, the champagne-like bubbles makes this stout enjoyable from beginning to end.

Boulevard Whiskey Barrel Stout

Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City makes an amazing Whiskey Barrel Stout. It is 11.8% ABV and aged in first and second use whiskey casks. This results in a rich Imperial stout with layers of Chocolate, espresso, whiskey, and vanilla flavor profiles.

Lagunitas Brown Shugga

Cole Newton, bartender and owner of Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans

Lagunitas Brown Shugga, the wildly delicious and deceptively strong winter seasonal by Lagunitas, was originally brewed by mistake when a bunch of raw sugar was inadvertently fed to some very refined yeast. The brewery describes this as “akin to feeding raw shark to a gerbil,” and the resulting style of beer as “Irresponsible”.

My college roommate was arrested trying to walk across the interstate after drinking a six-pack. Plan accordingly.

Stone Coffee Milk Stout

Jay Oakley, bartender at B & O Brasserie in Baltimore

When it comes to a high-octane warming beer, a good stiff porter or stout is the way to go. I like Stone Coffee Milk Stout because that rich chocolate, caramel, and coffee design gives the same warm feeling that coffee brings for me.

Idyll Hounds Divide & Conch’r

Slayde Martin, bar operations manager at Pescado in Rosemary Beach, Florida

Again, I’m not a big beer drinker, so I’m going to go with my favorite IPA for this one, which is higher ABV. Divide & Conch’r by Idyll Hounds is wonderfully balanced, with enough malt that the hops aren’t in your face. It’s by far my favorite IPA and quite possibly the only high ABV beer that I drink.

Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

One of my favorite high-alcohol beers is Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break. At 11%, it’s surprisingly smooth, has nice mocha notes, and comes with a nice chew to it. This one’s definitely a nice winter warmer on a cold holiday night.

Sun King Shadow Proof

Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire in The Cayman Islands

Sun King Shadow Proof Imperial Stout. At a whopping 10% this rich, complex, chocolatey, molasses-laden monster combines pale, Special W, Black, Oats, Chocolate, and deep roasted barley malts together with the appropriately named Warrior and Boadecia hops for a fantastic array of flavor with every sip.

Elysian Space Dust

Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville

Space Dust from Elysian would be my go-to for the cold winter months. It’s the first high gravity IPA that I really enjoyed and coming in at just a shade over 8%, it will definitely keep you warm all winter long.

Breakside The Mountains Of Instead

Brandon Lockman, leader bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon

It’s hard to pick a single beer because they change every winter. Something new always comes up. Breakside Brewery once did a beer called ‘The Mountains of Instead.’ It was an amber beer aged in apple brandy barrels from Clear Creek Distilling, and that tiny bit of smoke made it very interesting. So, I usually trust the barrel-aged seasonal release from Breakside.

MIA Tourist Trappe

Zarko Stankovik beverage manager of Time Out Market in Miami

Even though in Miami we only have a few cold days, that would be MIA ‘Tourist Trappe’ Belgian Tripel with 11%ABV, brewed here in Miami. MIA Tripel has a Belgian Abbey yeast strain that imparts fruity and spicy yet soft, well-rounded esters. Brewed with Belgian candy sugar for increased ABV and dryness. Elegant aroma of honey with a flavor profile of coriander, honey, and citrus.

Chimay Blue Grand Reserve

Christa Costa, owner and mixologist at The Artisan’s Palate in Charlotte, North Carolina

Chimay Blue Grand Reserve. I like the smooth palate finish and the rich flavors of caramel and spices during the cold months. I think it goes well with toasted pumpkin spice bread.

Troegs Mad Elf

Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia

Troegs Mad Elf is my go-to during the cold months — a honey and cherry Christmas Ale they only brew once a year. At 11 percent ABV, it’ll keep you warm until spring.

Monday Night Tears of My Enemies

Jose Medina Camacho, lead bartender at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama

If I could get a hold of all the Monday Night Brewing’s “Tears of My Enemies- Scotch Barrel Aged)—I don’t only drink stouts in the winter, but they sure do help keep you warm. This beer can be breakfast, a snack, or a dessert. It’s rich, bold, and creamy – everything I look for in a stout.

MIA Megamix Miami

Bryan Mayer, bartender at Azabu Miami Beach

I recommend Megamix Miami Pale Ale, it’s a crisp and citric beer that gives you some warmth for the not so cold Miami winter months.

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