High alcohol beers like old ales, strong ales, and rich, robust, warming beers are currently having their day in the sun. In part because it’s been cold lately. And in part because… well, just about everything has left us in need of a few extra ABVs.
What is an old ale, you ask? Technically, an old ale is one of the offshoots of the strong ale family. These beers are rich, malty, and usually pretty dark in appearance. They’re typically on the very high end of the ABV range (for beer) and vatted to really let the flavors sharpen.
“It’s a traditional English old ale style with some sweetness, malt, dark fruits, and little bitterness to balance it out,” explains Isaac Rice, lead bartender at Urban Farmer in Philadelphia. “This rich style beer is great for cold weather, but still has some welcome fruit characteristics like figs and raisins.”
To find the best old ales, strong ales, and other warming beers to drink as winter closes out, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders for their picks. Check them below and stay toasty until the eventual winter thaw.
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Founders Curmudgeon is one of the few I’m familiar with in this category. It’s brewed with molasses and then aged in oak barrels. It’s malty and has a lot of rustic dark fruit and sweet lumber. With the near 10% ABV, it almost drinks as a barley wine, so pace yourself.
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
Delirium Tremens Noel
Charles Hardwick, former bartender at The Aviary in New York City
Delirium Tremens Noel. Great on the tongue, long malty finish, a great balance of fruit and spiciness. Lively yet warming to the insides. A good fireside quaff.
Average Price: $24.49 for a 4-pack
Cigar City Opal
Anthony Aviles, general manager at Jack Dusty in Sarasota, Florida
Cigar City Opal – a reddish color that is almost hazy as it pours. It’s malty and super-rich but very light on the palate. Although it has baking spice flavors such as vanilla, toffee, etc. it doesn’t coat your mouth after each sip making for the perfect winter beverage.
Average Price: Currently unavailable
Old Speckled Hen
Daniel Burns, bartender at Elixir in San Francisco
Old Speckled Hen is one of my favorite beers of all time. It’s best on draft — where you can taste the full effect of the nitrogen pour. It’s got a creamy texture with earthy caramel flavors makes it a great rainy day pint.
Average Price: $10.99 for a six-pack
Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale
Aaron Polsky, founder of LiveWire Drinks in Los Angeles
I must be getting old, because this is another genre that I’m out of the loop on, but if I were blind-shopping at a store I would definitely go with Bell’s, another brewery that only puts out incredible beers. The one old ale that I know they make is Third Coast. It’s rich, malty, and full of warming caramel flavor perfect for winter drinking.
Average Price: $14.99 for a six-pack
Theakston Old Peculiar
Frederic Yarm, USBG bartender in Boston
Theakston’s Old Peculiar is an amazing match to winter with its darker and dried fruit notes. I find chocolate, raisin, cherry, toffee, nutty, and licorice flavors with an earthy, herbal finish that feels akin to a Belgian Dubbel.
Average Price: $14.99 for a six-pack
Smuttynose Really Old Brown Dog
Benjamin Pozar, bartender at Fogo de Chao in Philadelphia
Smuttynose Really Old Brown Dog fits the bill for this one. It has a delightfully dark character of caramel toffee and dried red fruits. It might be a brown ale, but the high alcohol and malty, rich flavor ticks all the old ale boxes.
Average Price: $9.99 for a Six-pack
Cigar City Big Sound
Denise Padin’ Cuevas, bartender at Siro Urban Italian Kitchen in Orlando
Cigar City Big Sound Bourbon Barrell Aged Scotch Ale. It is made in Tampa and is dark with sweet toffee notes and finishes with flavors of caramel and malt. It is one of my favorite winter beers. Technically a Scotch ale, it’s definitely in the strong ale family.
Average Price: Gift Set for $49.99
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12
This 8% ABV Scottish old ale is matured in Highland Park whisky barrels. The result is a warming beer with hints of milk chocolate, sweet caramel, and roasted malts, perfectly suited for cold-weather drinking.
Average Price: $11.99 for a 12-ounce bottle
North Coast Old Stock Ale
This is a bold, warming winter beer. It’s 10.2% ABV and brewed with malts and hops, all imported from England to give it an authentic British-style flavor with hints of sticky toffee pudding, figs, and buttery caramel.
Average Price: $12.99 for a 4-pack
Great Divide Hibernation Ale
This aptly named beer pretty much sums up how we wish we could spend the winter months. Since we can’t make like a bear and sleep until spring, we’ll drink this warming, malty, rich, caramel-filled brew instead.
Average Price: $9.99 for a six-pack
Founders Curmudgeon’s Better Half
This sequel to the popular curmudgeon ramps up the flavor by aging it in bourbon casks that once housed maple syrup. The result is a richer, sweeter, maple candy-filled old ale.
Average Price: $18.49 for a 4-pack