Winter may not officially start for another month, but the time to begin savoring our favorite frigid weather beer, the imperial stout, officially begins now. Sure, we’re all for barleywines, porters, and strong ales around this time too. No offense either to regular stouts or those dry ones we’ll be visiting come early spring. But when push comes to suds, imperial stouts remain our top nominee as the perfect winter-weather beer.
Also known as the Russian imperial stout, this typically pitch-black beer is known for its dark, roasted malts, bold and robust flavors, and high alcohol content, which can push 15 percent. Originating back in the 1700s, the imperial stout got its name from its popular export destination at the time—brewed in England and shipped to Russia to be imbibed by the Imperial Court of Catherine the Great.
From classic, must-try Russian imperial stouts like Old Rasputin to lesser-known, barrel-aged standouts, here are ten rich, roasty, heartwarming imperial stouts we’d choose to sip on any cold, nearly-winter’s night.
1. North Coast Old Rasputin
No imperial stout list is complete without North Coast Old Rasputin. Paying homage to the infamous “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin with one of the more haunting beer labels out there, this 9 percent ABV award-winner is made in the classic 18th-century style. The result is a bold, flavorful stout with notes of dried fruit, chocolate, fresh-brewed coffee, and caramel.
[$8.99, 4-pack; northcoastbrewing.com]
2. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
You won’t find a more beloved barrel-aged imperial stout than this Goose Island classic launched in 1992 to celebrate the brewery’s 1,000th batch of beer. One of the most eagerly awaited beers every fall, each year’s version is truly its own thing. The 2021 rendering is a blend of stouts aged up to 14 months in bourbon barrels from notable distilleries including Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace. It’s known for its pronounced chocolate fudge, vanilla, and warming bourbon flavor.
[$23.99 per 16.9oz bottle; gooseisland.com]
3. Great Divide Yeti
Available year-round and packing a potent punch at 9.5 percent ABV, there’s a reason Great Divide Yeti is rated as highly as it is. This award-winning beer offers hints of roasted coffee beans, buttery caramel, and sweet vanilla. The finish will warm you with a mix of chocolate sweetness and bitter hops.
[$4.99 per can; greatdivide.com]
4. Avery Uncle Jacob’s Stout
Whoever Uncle Jacob is, he must’ve been quite a guy to have a 15.9 percent ABV beer named after him. Bourbon barrel-aged for six months, this robust yet surprisingly mellow stout offers hints of raisins, dried cherries, roasted espresso beans, toasted vanilla beans, and sweet bourbon. The Boulder CO-based brewers recommend enjoying it with a rich, gooey chocolate brownie.
[prices vary; averybrewing.com]
5. Firestone Walker Parabola
California’s Firestone Walker may be best known for its IPAs and Pivo Pils, but don’t overlook its barrel-aged beers—especially one of the best of that batch, Parabola. Aged for a full year in ex-bourbon barrels, the result is a bold beer with notes of oaky wood, dried fruits, coffee beans, bitter chocolate, and caramel.
6. Sierra Nevada Narwhal
Another brewery famous for its hop-centric beer, Sierra Nevada makes some of the finest darker beers out there as well. Living up to its legendary unicorn-like sea creature name, Narwhal is a truly singular imperial stout brewed with Caramelized, Chocolate, Two-row Pale, and Carafa III malts and is filled with flavors like bitter chocolate, raisins, caramel, and just a hint of smoke.
[prices vary; sierranevada.com]
7. Bell’s Expedition Stout
One of the first Russian imperial stouts made in the U.S., this 10 percent brew is only available in the early fall. It’s known for its malt-forward flavor along with dried fruits, chocolate fudge, toffee, and vanilla. A great beer for aging, you can buy a six-pack now and save some for the middle of the winter or early spring.
[$15.99, 6-pack; bellsbeer.com]
8. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
One of Brooklyn Brewery’s best-known brews, this 10.5 percent chocolate bomb is available only from October until March. The good news: this gives you a whole half-year (and the entire winter) to indulge in this dessert-worthy beer brimming with roasted coffee, fudge, raisin, caramel malt, and dark chocolate tones—with just a hint of fruit.
[$16.99, 6-pack; brooklynbrewery.com]
9. Founders Imperial Stout
Michigan’s Founders is a giant name in the beer world, and generally seems to brew nothing but big winners. Its Imperial Stout might not receive the attention of, say, a Founders Breakfast Stout or All Day IPA but we think it should. This 10.5 percent Russian imperial stout is highlighted by roasted malts, dark chocolate, caramel candy, vanilla, and butterscotch.
[$11.99, 4-pack; foundersbrewing.com]
10. Surly Darkness
One of the most eagerly awaited Russian imperial stout releases, Surly Darkness is brewed with a symphony of malts including 2-Row, Golden Promise, Aromatic, Chocolate, Black, and special B—as well as roasted barley, oats, brewers crystals, and a trio of hops (Simcoe, Warrior, and Amarillo). The result is a potent 12 percent brew with notes of raisins, dried cherries, freshly brewed espresso, caramel, and dark, bitter chocolate.
[prices vary; surlybrewing.com]