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The Best Imperial Stouts To Help You Warm Up When The Weather Turns

Imperial stouts are big beers by design. The high ABVs and impactful flavors of these dark brews make the perfect accompaniment to this time of year. The weather is cooling, the days are shortening — you need a little something extra in your pint glass.

Imperial stouts were initially made in England for export to the courts of the tsars of Russia — in fact, they’re often still called “Russian imperial stouts” to this day. The idea was to amp up the ABVs for maximum punch and amp up the taste by adding hops to the barrels before transport from England to Russia. Naturally, these big, flavorful, heavily alcoholic beers found a broader audience. Today, Imperial Stouts are available from many craft brewers in one form or another.

In modern beer times, the standard of a high-ABV and barrel-aged stout has taken on a million permutations as brewers have toyed with malts, hops, adjuncts, and barrel aging strategies. The eight bottles of imperial stout below fall mostly in the “standard” category. We wanted to highlight brews you can generally find (and afford!). Though, we added a few specialty bottles of the dark stuff near the end.

NOTE: You also might be able to find last year’s releases of each of these beers as they’re all age-able brews — don’t forget to check those bottle dates!

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

ABV: 10.2%
Average Price: $10.99, 4-pack

The Beer:

This dark beer from Sierra Nevada is a classic. It’s dialed in with a very malt-forward base thanks to the combination of Two-row Pale, Caramelized, Chocolate, Carafa III, Honey, and Roasted Barley malts at its base. The beer is then hopped with Cascade, Magnum, and Ekuanot hops, giving the brew a burst of flavor.

Tasting Notes:

You get a sense of all those roasted malts from the first whiff. The depth of this beer is in how those malts are accentuated by a dark espresso bitterness next to sharp cacao. The beer edges away from the high alcohol with a note of caramel malts and a final wisp of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a great place to start your imperial stout journey. It’s easy to drink, full of dark flavors, and readily findable.

Great Lakes Blackout Imperial Stout

Great Lakes Brewing

ABV: 9%
Average Price: $11.59, 4-pack

The Beer:

This multiple-award-winning beer should be hitting shelves right about now. The brew has a base of Harrington 2-Row, Crystal 77, Black, and Roasted Barley malts. The hops are drawn back here with the addition of only Simcoe and Northern Brewer hops.

There’s a balance at play in the recipe that helps this beer really shine.

Tasting Notes:

The beer revels in all those roasted malts. There are hints of dark chocolate with minor notes of coffee bitterness. The sip edges more into the sweeter nature of the dark roasted malts than the bitterness of the hops, giving this a real drinkability.

Bottom Line:

This one might be too easy-drinking given the 9 percent ABVs. Overall, this is a great beer to pair with a backyard fire pit, smoked salmon, and cool weather.

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

North Coast

ABV: 9%
Average Price: $10.99, 4-pack

The Beer:

This is another classic that’s been racking up the awards since the 1990s. The brewers keep things simple, engaging, and delicious with this complex brew from one of California’s most beloved old-school microbrewers.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a familiar note of chocolatey roasted malts up top that soon veers dry and nutty as it draws you in. The sip is bold with a bit of a whiskey barrel mustiness, vanilla, and spice as the malts sweeten. The beer carries on with that dry nature and deeply roasted malts plus a note of dank pine resins that sneak in late, adding to the bitterness of the cacao.

Bottom Line:

This is always the first beer I buy from the store when I travel back home to Seattle. It feels like home on a rainy day — a classic for a reason.

Bell’s Expedition Stout

Bell

ABV: 10.5%
Average Price: $17.99, 6-pack

The Beer:

This dark beer from Bell’s is only on shelves from September to the end of October. The brew is dialed into an initial note highlighting the malts but it really is meant to be aged. That doesn’t mean you can’t grab a six-pack and kill it this weekend. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Tasting Notes:

The roasted malts are there and very inviting. Then the sip veers towards a dark, sweet fruit nature that has echos of dark chocolate covered cherries. The beer mellows and becomes lush as the dark berries and roasted malts mingle on your senses and hint a mild bitterness appears on the finish.

Bottom Line:

If you can find some bottles from previous years, snag those and give them a try next to this year’s release. It’ll be an education in how aging works wonders on imperial stouts.

Stone Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout

Stone Brewing

ABV: 10.6%
Average Price: $17.99, 6-pack

The Beer:

Stone’s Totalitarian melds the old English ways of making an imperial stout and adds in some signature California edges. The addition of Magnum and Belma hops to the dark roasted malts brings that bright California sun into this dark bottle of beer.

Tasting Notes:

The brew takes the familiar notes of dark chocolate malts, espresso bitterness, and dark fruit and adds in a distinctly West Coast hoppiness via a bright melon fruitiness next to a marshmallow sweetness. The svelteness of the beer goes down easily as the fruit, malt, and slightly hoppy bitterness sit in your senses in well-balanced unison.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those beers that pleasantly surprises you by standing out while still feeling familiar. It’s also easy to drink too much of — careful you don’t fall off your bar stool.

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Goose Island Brewing

ABV: 12.9%
Average Price: $12.99, 16.9-oz. bottle

The Beer:

Every year Bourbon County Stout gets a little more dialed in and a little more loved. This year, there was a long list of Bourbon County releases (as per usual). But we’re going with the standard edition here because it’s a damn fine one. The brew is barrel-aged for a year in a combination of whiskey barrels from Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill Distillery, and Wild Turkey, adding to the stout’s already deep flavor profile.

Tasting Notes:

The dark malts and chocolate are there with a clear nuttiness, but that’s just the opening number. On the palate, there’s a real sense of those bourbons barrels with notes of vanilla, worn leather, lush chocolate, and a bit of tobacco smoke. The sip is bold, full of bourbon depth, and always drawing you back for more.

Bottom Line:

This is a good beer to buy six bottles of and then drink one per year as it ages. It’ll be a journey and an education.

Prairie Bomb!

Prairie Ales

ABV: 13%
Average Price: $8.99, 12-oz. bottle

The Beer:

This beer from Oklahoma is a game-changer for many beer drinkers. The ABVs are as high as a bottle of wine. So tread lightly when drinking this one. The beer itself is amped up with the addition of Ancho chilis alongside coffee beans, vanilla beans, and chocolate — which are added during the aging phase.

The result is one bold f*cking beer.

Tasting Notes:

I mean, you know what’s coming. This beer noses clearly with dark chocolate, coffee beans, vanilla, and roasty malts. The chili comes through more on the palate and offers a wonderful counterpoint to the more “classic” imperial stout notes. It’s a bit like a dark chocolate bar that’s been spiked with smoky chili and a hint of caramelized malts next to a real alcohol kick.

Bottom Line:

This beer paired with a plate of chicken thighs smothered in mole with rice and some pickled veg is about as good as beer and food pairings get. It might be a bit much on its own for the uninitiated. Or it might be exactly your jam.

Deschutes The Abyss Aged In Tequila Barrels

Deschutes

ABV: 11.8%
Average Price: $24.99, 22-oz. bottle

The Beer:

This was a special release that’ll be a bit harder to find across the U.S. Still, Deschutes knows what it’s doing when it comes to dark beers and aging. This brew was aged in tequila barrels, giving it a very distinct profile that’s worth seeking out (especially as it ages).

Tasting Notes:

The tequila barrel adds a note of orchard fruit next to dark syrup sweetness and hints of oak, vanilla, and spice. It’s almost more like a dark rum with a hint of tobacco leading back towards a musty tequila barrel. There’s a spiced chocolate edge that embraces the woody aspects while never overpowering the caramel maltiness, espresso bitterness, or velvety texture.

Bottom Line:

Enjoy this like a fine wine… if you can get your hands on one.

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