When the weather turns cold and the days continue to get shorter and shorter, while we still imbibe lighter beers like pilsners and pale ales from time to time, we mostly turn our attention to stouts. We love these robust, wintry beers’ roasted malts, chocolate, and coffee flavors.
For those unaware, imperial stouts are richer, more robust, fuller versions of the classic stout beer with more roasted malts, dark chocolate, coffee, and sometimes smoky aromas and flavors. On top of that, imperial stouts get an extra kick by being higher in alcohol than their classic counterparts. We’re talking 8-10% ABV in general. If that doesn’t warm you up on a frigid fall or winter day, nothing will.
Also, you might be wondering why these warming, robust beers are referred to as “imperial,” and it’s not simply because you feel regal and worldly when you sip on one. It can be traced back to the court of Catherine the Great in the 1700s. She had English brewers craft bigger, bolder beers for her. The name (along with imperial IPAs) has managed to remain through the centuries.
On top of being bigger, bolder, and higher in alcohol, some imperial stouts are also barrel-aged. It should be noted, however, that not all are. Below, you’ll find eight of our favorite warming, flavorful, memorable imperial stouts. Some are barrel-aged, and some aren’t. All are delicious and deserve a spot in your fall and winter beer rotation.
Firestone Walker might be well-known for its hoppy, piney, boundary-pushing IPAs and lagers. But it’s also known for its prowess in stouts, specifically its limited-release Parabola. This imperial stout was matured for a whole year in barrels that formerly held bourbon whiskey. The result is a bold, unique stout with notes of dried cherries, dark chocolate, roasted malts, freshly brewed coffee, and sweet bourbon flavors.
If you only drink one imperial stout on this list, make it North Coast Old Rasputin. Named for the mad monk Grigori Rasputin, a mystic who carried a ton of influence in Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, this 9% ABV Russian imperial stout is known for its rich flavors of dark chocolate, roasted malts, caramel candy, vanilla beans, and coffee beans. It’s made to taste like the traditional beers of Catherine the Great’s court.
First brewed way back in 1989, this is one of the first Russian imperial stouts ever brewed in the US. Today, it remains one of the best examples of the style readily available. It’s known for its rich flavor profile consisting of dried fruits, caramel malts, dark chocolate, and light floral hops. It’s a beer designed to be cellared. Spending weeks, months, or even years in your basement will only make it taste better. We suggest buying two bottles—one for now and one for later.
If you’re going to imbibe an imperial stout throughout the holidays, you might as well try one with seasonal flavors. We suggest the recently released Ommegang Everything Naughty. This one is different, though, as it’s a white chocolate imperial blonde stout loaded with flavors like white chocolate, roasted malts, coffee beans, and creamy vanilla. It’s a unique beer for the winter season that you’ll celebrate long after the holidays.
This award-winning 12% ABV imperial stout is one of the most popular imperial stouts on the market and one of the beers the San Diego-based brewery is most known for. This iconic brew is known for its roasted malt, dried fruit, and dark chocolate flavor that’s ramped up by the addition of locally sourced roasted coffee beans. It’s big, bold, and well-suited for winter drinking.
When it comes to bold, over-the-top imperial stouts, there are very few more well-known than Founder Breakfast Stout. This 8.3% ABV double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout is brewed with flaked oats, chocolate, and coffee. You don’t need to drink this year-round imperial stout for breakfast, but we can’t think of a better way to start the day.
This popular imperial stout gets its name from the mythical mountain creature known as the Yeti. Like the furry beast, this stout is big, bold, and loaded with a monstrous amount of caramel sweetness, roasted malts, dark chocolate, raisins, vanilla beans, and just a hint of floral hops at the finish. It’s balanced, flavorful, and perfect to warm you inside and out on a freezing winter night.
With a name like Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break, you better believe this is a sweet, rich, borderline indulgent imperial stout. Made to taste like a biscotti in beer form, this imperial stout is brewed with coffee, vanilla, and almond flavors. The result is an 11.5% ABV brew with notable flavors like candied almonds, vanilla beans, rich chocolate, and espresso coffee beans. This is a unique imperial stout that’s available all year long but hits best in late fall and early winter.
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