One of the best aspects of beer—aside from, well, everything—is that it has so many diversified styles. Between ales, stouts, lagers, sours, IPAs, barrel-aged, hefeweizens, wheats, ambers, reds—you get the point. The possibilities are endless. But within these broad genres, modern craft brewers have been tweaking recipes and experimenting with subcategories that are both innovative and intensely flavorful. A personal favorite that has been seemingly ubiquitous as of late is the Imperial Stout. Typically weighing in at somewhere over 8% ABV, these dark-bodied behemoths are strong on flavor and not for the faint of heart. If ‘light‘ beer is your thing, there’s really no chance of you getting along well with such a malty monster. But if you want your beer to have a serious impact on your palate, the Imperial Stout may be just for you.
Thankfully there are a number of incredible microbreweries throughout the country that produce some noteworthy offerings when it comes to this particular style. In the West Coast you can choose between Stone Brewing’s Imperial Russian Stout—unforgettably aromatic with notes of anise, black currant and roasted coffee, this big boy has upwards of 10% ABV and is released every year at the start of Spring. In the Pacific Northwest, Deschutes Brewery waits until the Winter time to release The Abyss, aged in oak and Bourbon barrels for an unmistakable depth. It warms you up from the inside out.
In the South, Tampa’s renowned Cigar City Brewing is responsible for Hunaphu’s Imperial, throwing in aged pasilla and ancho peppers for a distinct spice that is counterbalanced by the subtle sweetness of vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs added during the brewing process. Austin Texas’ Independence Brewery offers their Convict Hill, which might not boast the same number of exotic ingredients as the Hunaphu, but certainly goes toe-to-toe with any competition when it comes to robust, roasted goodness.
The Midwest is home to Three Floyds, makers of the exclusive Barrel Aged Dark Lord, one of the most avidly sought-after beers in the known universe. It is aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels and is almost impossible to procure. In Michigan you’ll find Founders Brewing. They are responsible for Canadian Breakfast Stout, aged in maple barrels and tasty enough to enjoy in the morning with some eggs and bacon.
If you find yourself in the Northeast, don’t miss out on Brooklyn Brewery’s hard-to-find Black Ops. Aged for four months in Bourbon barrels and then bottled flat with champagne yeast, it undergoes re-fermentation in the bottle, producing a nice amount of effervescence to accompany the tinges of dark chocolate and vanilla oak that dance on the tongue like a million little angels.
If you think these big-flavored brews are only for the colder months, you’re missing out. They are best served at a warmer temperature, so they’re basically begging to come with you to the beach this weekend.