Breweries and bars rotate their seasonal offerings with good reason. Each season brings with it a unique character that can only be satisfied by specific styles. For real fanatics, drinking a single style or even a single beer year-round will make sense, but most don’t fall in that category.
The market of beer drinkers continues to provide sounds reasons for seasonal brews. None of these seasonal beers stand out as much as the dark flavors of the winter.
If a brewery does not already have a year-round porter or stout in the mix of their beers, you can expect they will be rolling some out for their patrons during the holiday season. The thick, creamy flavors of porters and stouts have become as synonymous with the colder months of winter as have the lighter beers with beach-goers in the summer.
Whether you are a year-round drinker of these styles or a seasonal dabbler, there remains a range of options for you to sample. That includes a list of rare, top-shelf creations that are worth the effort to get your hands on and traditional offerings that remain high-quality.
Here, we have compiled a list of a few that deserve some extra attention. Keep an eye out for these if you’re not already in the midst of your search.
Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro
It would feel like an egregious error on my part to start this list with anything else. The Left Hand Milk Stout – the sans Nitrogen version of this beer – played a primary role in sparking my interest in beer as well as some irresponsible credit card usage. A single order of the velvety smooth flavor and milk chocolate deliciousness was never enough to quench my thirst for it.
The milk stout is the featured beer of the Longmont, Colorado Left Hand Brewing Company. The addition of nitrogen to this classic beverage elevates the already robust mouth-feel. Activating the nitrogen is as essential a step in drinking this beer as there is in consuming any beverage. Don’t be gentle. Flip your bottle upside-down for a real hard pour. Your reward will be the cascading flow of nitrogen rising through your glass and the taste that accompanies it.
The nitrogen effect only heightens the smoothness of this beer. Nitrogen’s explosion in popularity has been most notable in the growth of nitro-coffee beverages. The cold brew nature of such drinks already works to off-set some acidity from the coffee, and nitrogen pushes that even further, making black coffee a smooth and palatable beverage without the addition of creams of sugars.
With the ability to have such an impact on something like black coffee, bringing nitrogen to the already beautifully balanced Left Hand Milk Stout lifts this beverage to levels of lore. Praise and accept any chance to sample this elixir with haste.
Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City
The world of winter beers is surrounded by a reputation of knowing what it means to feel cold. Fans of the style will drink them all year. But the biting cold of winter sparks the desire for the full, rich flavors more than anything else. Cigar City of Tampa, Florida proves it knows as well as anybody how to bring the warmth of its state to drinkers in the coldest climates. Tampa might not know snow, but Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout will make your skin melt off the bone.
This imperial stout is one of the favorites of all Cigar City’s offerings. That is saying a lot considering their massive popularity that we featured in another one of our articles. Cigar City’s exceptional stout is one more example of beer fans flocking to the trademark of scarcity in the industry. The imperial stout releases once a year on what Cigar City has dubbed Hunahpu’s Day. Event tickets are limited and allow visitors to buy a capped amount of the popular beer while supplies last.
The event is so popular it has even drawn the attention of counterfeiters making fake tickets to sell or try to get in themselves. Be aware of where of who you are purchasing from if this event is on your to-do list.
While the event is what draws crowds, the complexity of this beer is what sets it apart. To get so many people coming back year after year, Cigar City must deliver something that won’t be found in a standard mass-produced stout. Event-goers have yet to leave disappointed.
Ingredients such as cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, cinnamon, ancho chilies, and pasilla chilies combine to make this beverage a diverse experience that people would yearn for regardless of its scarcity. In Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, Cigar City has proved you don’t need to know winter to make a great winter beer.
Deschutes Brewery returns us north to colder winters and brings its own level of complexity in a very different way. Additions of molasses, brewer’s liquorice, vanilla beans, and cherry bark bring an assortment of flavors to what was already a tribute to diversity. The six malt styles and four different types of hops were enough to make this beverage diverse. Furthermore, a barrel aging process brings even more flavors to the palate, with Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and Oregon Oak barrels brought into the mix to create an Avant-Garde masterpiece for the drinker.
Due to its barrel aging, The Abyss has a unique tannic finish that differentiates it from other winter beers on this list. Deschutes Brewing Company garners more attention for their year-round beverages, such as the Fresh Squeezed IPA. But that does not take away from the profound level of craft accomplished in The Abyss. The Bend, Oregon company could very well make this a year-round favorite as well were it not for the depth of the process involved.
As it is, those lucky enough to get their hands on The Abyss will have to settle for a seasonal taste of its depth. Without a doubt, tasting this beverage will have the drinker coming out the other end an entirely new person.
When I first got my hands on an Anchor Porter, I was oblivious to its history and class among other porters. Regardless of my ignorance, it still left me with a permanent memory as a beer that would have me longing for porters for years to come. Still, Anchor created a tall task in living up to the standard set by this trail-blazing porter, first brewed in 1972.
With a color of pitch-black darkness, smooth texture, and creamy head, this porter sets a high bar and epitomizes the qualities of a fine winter beer. As the first modern American porter, Anchor wears the crown well. Its chocolate, toffee, and coffee flavors blend superbly for a smooth flavor absent any significant astringency.
Although the darkness of this beer is intimidating, the flavors reward those who drink past their apprehensions. For almost 50 years now, Anchor Porter has been delivering a taste that defines the style. In its time, Anchor has won many awards for this beer and adoring fans. People who are less interested in adventure and more looking for a beer that can give reason to be eager for the winter months have found their beer in the Anchor Porter. This porter has outlasted many others. Smart money would have Anchor maintaining its crown as a premiere porter-maker for the foreseeable future.
Just Cracking the Surface
While this shortlist only begins to cover the breadth of excellence that exists in winter beers, it remains an ideal place to start the winter journey. For those looking to explore the snowy road of winter beers alone, searching for anything in the porter or stout varieties – whether coffee, breakfast, imperial, or otherwise – is an excellent route to go. Just don’t expect each one to match the standard set on this list.