If you’re new to the world of stouts, there’s a good chance your education doesn’t go much farther than the likes of Guinness. But you should know that the dark, malty, chocolate-tasting beer style goes from regular to turbocharged pretty quickly. And while we’re all about throwing back a few pints of Guinness from time to time, we definitely recommend exploring the world of higher ABV, robust stouts, too.
Generally speaking, stouts range from more basic styles like dry, milk, and oatmeal to pastry, coffee, and the highly potent barrel-aged and imperial stouts. With the latter designation typically being the darkest and strongest of them all.
We enjoy a great barrel-aged stout in the winter, but today we’re turning our attention specifically to imperial stouts (some do happen to be barrel-aged). To find the best of the bunch, we reached out to a crew of bartenders, who were kind enough to tell us which rich, high ABV stouts they tip back this time of year.
Karl Strauss Wreck Alley
Jerry Skakun, bartender at Cucina Enoteca in Newport Beach, California
Karl Strauss Wreck Alley Imperial Stout. Hands down. With Strauss being one of the oldest breweries in the US to make this style, this pick offers one of the best examples of what an Imperial Stout has to offer.
Average Price: $6.49 for a 22 ounce bottle
Common Space Chocolate Molten Cake Ice Cream Stout
Una Green, USBG bartender in Los Angeles
Try the Chocolate Molten Cake Ice Cream Stout from Common Space Brewery in Hawthorne, California. This beer is an homage to the amazing chocolate molten cake ice cream from the brewers’ friends at Coolhaus.
How rad (and deliciously decadent) is that?
Average Price: $6.99 for a 16-ounce can
New Holland Dragon’s Milk
Christopher Wright, bartender at Don Camillo Tuscan Cuisine in Corinthe, Texas
When I reach for an imperial stout, I smile upon Dragon’s Milk. This Imperial Milk Stout from New Holland Brewing Co. carries rich espresso notes that meet a subtle smokiness from the bourbon barrel in which it’s aged.
Also, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make a reduction from this milk stout using Madagascar vanilla bean and demerara sugar to add quite a layer to an old fashioned.
Average Price: $14.99 for a 4-pack
Off Color Dino S’mores
Brandon “Habi” Habenstein, bartender at The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Co. in Bardstown, Kentucky
Off Color Brewing’s Coffee Dino S’mores has every silly flavor anyone ever thought they wanted in an imperial stout. Marshmallow, vanilla, graham cracker, cocoa, coffee, and molasses. If curiosity alone doesn’t get you searching for this beer, I can assure you that it’s actually quite delicious.
Average Price: $24 for a 4-pack
North Coast Old Rasputin
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
This winter, cozy on up with an Old Rasputin from North Coast Brewing. One of the all-time great imperial stouts, it’s rich, full-bodied, and rocks a 9% ABV. It’s best poured into a snifter and allowed to warm a bit for a better chance at enjoying the subtle spice tucked away behind the bitter coffee and chocolate.
Average Price: $8.49 for a 4-pack
Angry Chair Loaded French Toast Imperial Stout
Cristina Suarez, beverage manager at KUSH Hospitality Group in Miami
Angry Chair Loaded French Toast Imperial Stout is the way to go. It’s like a liquid breakfast. Cinnamon, maple, and vanilla make it a breakfast of champions.
Average Price: $7.99 for a 16-ounce can
Southern Tier Warlock
Stephen Lasaten, food and beverage manager at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands
Southern Tier’s Warlock Imperial Stout. Usually released during the fall, but if you save it and hold on to it for the winter, it makes for a really nice treat. The spiced pumpkin pie aroma constantly lingering under the toasted malt makes for a great drink to sip and savor. Pairs well with smoked and roasted dishes commonly served during the wintertime.
I like to enjoy mine in a goblet or even a snifter so I can get a waft of the aromas during every sip.
Average Price: $16.99 for a 4-pack
Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout
Andres Rairan, lead bartender at High Tide Beach Bar & Grill in Miami
My favorite imperial stout right now is one that comes from here in Tampa, Florida. It’s called Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout (Cigar City Brewing). This stout is aged in a bourbon barrel and has amazing toffee, dark chocolate tastes notes with an amazing, smooth finish that just screams out “winter beer by the fire.”
Beware of the 12.6% ABVs!
Average Price: $13.99 for a 22 ounce bottle
Coronado German Chocolate Cake
Michele Gargiulo, front of house manager and sommelier at Hampton’s Restaurant in Sumter, South Carolina
Coronado German Chocolate Cake. First of all, name anything after chocolate cake, and I am in. This one is aged for six months in barrels, and it shows on the palate. Chocolate, vanilla bean, coconut, roasted coffee beans, and dried figs are center stage for this stout. Delicious and well balanced, this is a perfect warming winter beverage.
Average Price: $14.99 for a 22 ounce bottle
Jane Danger, national mixologist for Pernod-Ricard USA
Surly Darkness Imperial Stout packs a punch at 12% with a nontraditional high dose of hops. The hops round out the complex blend of malts to pave the way for coffee, chocolate-covered cherry, dried fruits, and toffee.
Malty and sweet can be signs of the style, citrus from the hops make it fun to pair with foods or enjoy before a meal.
Average Price: $22 for a 750ml bottle
Sire Negri, lead mixologist at Havana Beach Bar & Grill in Rosemary Beach, Florida
One of the best-known beers of the winter season continues to be Founders Brewing KBS. This imperial stout is brewed with massive amounts of chocolate and coffee and is then aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. The barrel aging imparts sweetness and notes of vanilla, creating a stout that will deliciously remain on your palate.
This beer is a treat in its own right – and the perfect dessert at the end of a cold evening.
Average Price: $17.99 for a 4-pack
Cigar City Apple Brandy Barrel-aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
Sarah Rexwinkle, key bartender for The Grand Marlin in Pensacola, Florida
I have found that Apple Brandy Barrel-aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is fantastic. This is a limited release that has extensive aging inside wooden barrels that previously held apple brandy, which adds to the depth and character of this imperial stout.
Average Price: Limited release
Munkle Silver Shoes
Allen Lancaster, master cocktail craftsman at The Bar at The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina
Currently, I would go with Silver Shoes Russian Imperial Stout from Munkle Brewing of Charleston. The flavors of wonderfully roasted malt give off a molasses-pumpernickel layer without too much sweetness.
Average Price: $6 for a pint
J Wakefield Bake Kujira
Ilan Chartor, head bartender at MILA in Miami
Bake Kujira coming out of the J Wakefield brewery here in Miami, also my favorite brewery. This special release brings winters in Miami and imperial stouts together, which isn’t an easy task. Aged in ex-bourbon barrels you’ll find flavors of roasted coffee, vanilla, and coconut.
Average Price: Limited release
Southern Tier Nitro Hot Cocoa Imperial Milk Stout
Jennifer Jackson-Keating, mixologist at Sneaky Tiki in Pensacola, Florida
My absolute favorite imperial stout would be made by Southern Tier Brewing Company. It’s the Nitro Hot Cocoa Imperial Milk Stout. The name says it all as to why it’s the best beer to drink in the winter. The can releases nitro which creates a foam of creamy flavor.
The chocolate with hints of marshmallow makes this beer great.
Average Price: $15.49 for a 4-pack
Evil Twin Even More Smores Imperial Stout
Aaron Hanson, bartender at Casa Santo Stefano in Tampa, Florida
Evil Twin Even More Smores Imperial Stout is everything. The chocolaty Graham Cracker flavors are mind-blowing. You can’t go wrong with toasted marshmallows and chocolate, right?
Average Price: Limited release