The Best Stouts You'll Taste This Winter

For more foamy adventures with our panel, follow @AleSharpton@zmack@NewSchoolBeer@apkryza, and @MLynchChi
Stout beer
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

IPAs tend to hog a lot of the beer-loving spotlight, but for true believers, the holiest of grails are those containing stouts. There’s a reason beer nerds gather in dank cellars to swap precious, limited-edition, coal-black stouts, and why for some, Dark Lord Day brings more joy than Christmas morning: Whether they’re flagship offerings from great breweries or one-off, barrel-aged masterpieces that change in flavor profile every day, stouts are among the most beloved, complex, and sought-after beers on the planet.  

Which is to say, choosing the best stouts of the moment is probably a fool’s errand. Luckily, we’ve (mostly) forgone consulting fools, instead opting to enlist a panel of beer experts to name the stouts you should be seeking out right now. While some of the stouts on this list are widely available, many require a pilgrimage to a brewery. Others demand that you buy a ticket to a launch event. And some require you to take to the dark (beer) web in order to find people willing to sell or trade their precious bottles after they’ve disappeared from shelves. But we’re confident you’ll be able to seek out even the whitest of whales on this list. And when you do… wanna trade?

About that panel: We’ve divided the country into four sections. In the Northeast, we have longtime Thrillist writer and owner of Alphabet City Beer Co.Zach Mack. Taking reins in the South is legendary beer scribe and journalist Ale Sharpton. Bringing up the West is Ezra Johnson-Greenough, founder of Portland Beer Week and The New School beer blog. And representing the Midwest is beer reporter and writer Kate Bernot, along with Thrillist editor Andy Kryza.

Best American stouts
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Imperial Stout, 9.6%
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Distribution: Brewery only
The Foothills gang out of Winston-Salem knew this cocoa-infused imperial stout was phenomenal, so they had to bless it with one of the dopest packages in the game. From its clever moniker referencing the soul band in Eddie Murphy’s cult classic Coming to America, to the fine sista adorning the label, this bomber flies off the shelf during its late winter limited release. Lucky for us, in late August, the barrel-aged version brewed with coffee roasted under the same roof by Foothills’ new Footnote venture hit shelves. Get you some. -- AS

Russian Imperial Stout, 13.9%
Birmingham, Alabama
Distribution: Brewery only
Birmingham is progressively establishing itself as a must-visit beer city, and Good People certainly played a DiCaprio-level role in that. Inspired by the popular Mexican luchadores, the annual bottle release of their clotheslining El Gordo imperial stout has evolved into a straight up festival when December comes around. Whether it’s a vertical of its series dating back to '14, an Olé Mole version, barrel-aged, or whatever, just know whatever’s offered will be delicioso. The banging label art is a bonus. -- AS

Russian Imperial Stout, 9.5%
Victor, Idaho
Distribution: Available throughout the West, Midwest, and some eastern states -- use their beer locator tool here
Probably one of the most widely available imperial stouts and perhaps Idaho’s favorite limited specialty beer release is Grand Teton’s Black Cauldron imperial stout. Grand Teton Brewing is famous for their Wyoming roots: Brothers Charlie and Ernie Otto founded it in 1988 as Otto Brothers Brewing Company. In '92 they opened the state's first brewpub, and they claim credit for introducing the growler to America. In 1998 they expanded to Idaho with a production facility and now a pub in their adopted hometown of Victor. Black Cauldron has a distinct but subtle smokiness, a flavor accentuated with beechwood-smoked malt in the mash and plenty of caramel malts for a full chewy body. Flavor notes of chocolate, coffee, raisins, and dates with a splash of sherry come through on the flavor. Black Cauldron pays homage to the history of women as brewers where in many cultures they maintained and brewed the beer for families and communities. -- EJG

Imperial Stout, 11.5%
Bend, Oregon
Distribution: California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington
Crux founder Larry Sidor is famous for, among other things, being Deschutes Brewery’s brewmaster for eight years, during which time he created the now infamous The Abyss imperial stout. While The Abyss isn’t as in demand as it used to be, Sidor’s new bourbon barrel-aged “Tough Love” is a new Oregon favorite. Whereas Abyss was more charred oak and licorice, Tough Love is more chocolate-covered cherries, dark fruit, bittersweet and milk chocolate with bourbon spiciness, and just a hint of oak-smoked malts. Released once a year, now in 750-milliliter, wax-dipped bottles, it makes a great dessert beer, sipper, or addition to the cellar for years to come. -- EJG

Imperial Stout, 10%
St. Louis, Missouri
Distribution: Select states during fall release -- use their beer locator tool here
Adding chiles can be a dangerous game when it comes to beer -- add too little and why did you even bother, go too heavy and your beer will be memorable, but not in a good way so much as a "yeah I'm not drinking the rest of this" way. Luckily the folks at Perennial know what they're doing, and the ancho chiles in their game-changing stout play just the right notes in a flavor quartet that's also composed of cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks, with no one element overpowering the others. It's rightfully coveted when its fall release rolls around, and when they drop the even-more limited barrel-aged version people go to insane lengths to acquire it. If you've ever had it, you understand. -- ML

Best stouts in America
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Imperial Milk Stout, 9.2%
Richmond, Virginia
Distribution: Multiple states -- use their beer locator tool here
It can easily be argued that Hardywood is one of the pioneers of brewing an imperial stout with other ingredients outside the basic four. The result is a collection of blinging medals commemorating their inventiveness over the years. Although their catalog of potent sippers is extensive, the Gingerbread is the godfather of them all. Showcasing their statewide allegiance using Casselmonte Farm’s baby ginger and Bearer Farms’ wildflower honey, Hardywood pours a taste of home in every glass, and is bringing that taste to the masses thanks to the brand’s expansion to surrounding states. -- AS

Imperial Stout, 11.2%
Stillwater, Minnesota
Distribution: Brewery only
This aptly named stout from a small town on the outskirts of the Twin Cities pours blacker than a black cat's shadow at midnight, with an aroma that belies its lengthy stay in bourbon barrels before its release -- but the boozier notes in this beer remain in balance well enough that it's managed to attract quite a bit of attention despite sharing a general geographic area with another stellar stout whose name recalls the night (that'd be Surly Darkness for those of you who are way behind on your Twin Cities imbibing). Pour yourself a glass, and if you see your shadow, just keep drinking. -- ML

Russian Imperial Stout, 12%
Erie, Pennsylvania
Distribution: Pennsylvania
It could be argued that one measure of a beer’s influence is the popularity of its longevity. So it’s worth noting that for more than a decade, Voodoo Brewery’s perennial imperial stout is still a largely sought-after bottle when it’s dropped. Conditioned on oak with nothing but chocolate and roasted malts, this beer’s balanced boldness is carried on flavors of black licorice, vanilla bean, and nutmeg over a velvety texture. The barrel-aged and coffee variants of this base beer are a nice pickup as well (if you can find them), but rest assured that the original is every bit enjoyable in its own right. -- ZM

Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout, 14.5%
Seattle, WA
Distribution: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Southern California, Japan
The Rusty Nail is like a classic old vinyl record, worn and wobbly but with a trusted groove that never fails to soothe your soul. Put the nail down and settle into the groovy sounds of one of Washington’s most sought after beers. Starting out as a creamy, toasty oatmeal stout, The First Nail becomes the Rusty Nail after sitting for 15 months in 12-year old bourbon barrels. The chords and chorus come into harmony with a melange of brewer’s licorice, smoked barley, and cinnamon bark that will send you spinning. The Rusty Nail is released once a year, but if you look hard, you can find it on bottle shelves in finer beer stores of the Pacific Northwest. -- EJG

Russian Imperial Stout, 10%
Henniker, New Hampshire
Distribution: New Hampshire
October in New Hampshire means the end of Peeper season, the beginning of hockey season, and the release of one of the state’s most coveted beers. Henniker Brewing Co.’s yearly drop of King Misanthrope, their “Russian Imperial Stout aged on house-toasted maple wood cured with American whiskey from Flag Hill Distillery,” has started to grab attention beyond the Granite State. Well-balanced flavors of black licorice and maple, a warming hint of whiskey, a full-bodied mouthfeel, and a long, lingering finish make it easy to see what all the fuss has been about. -- ZM

Imperial Stout, 14.5%
Chicago, Illinois
Distribution: Limited, check with your local retailer

Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stouts are always about the whiskey, and the brewery’s BCBS forays into rye barrel-aging add an interesting counterpoint to the plentiful bourbon barrel-aged stouts on shelves. Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye barrels specifically held this year’s Reserve Rye variant, overlaying that spirit’s signature spice and toffee across the base beer’s stone fruit, coffee, and chocolate notes. It’s everything barrel-aged stout fans love about whiskey’s effect on beer—with a little kick. -- KB

Best American stouts
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Peanut Butter Chocolate Milk Stout, 7.1%
St. Louis, Missouri
Distribution: Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Maryland (and DC), Massachusetts, Oklahoma
This flavorful, slightly sweet stout reminiscent of dessert has a relatively manageable ABV, making its new 16-ounce cans appropriate for an after-dinner treat on a regular basis. Peanut butter synches up with malt-derived chocolate malt to create a less-sugary Reese’s vibe, while a bit of the base milk stout’s lactose provides a rounded richness to the end of the sip. A little bit of coffee-esque roast keeps the whole package from feeling too nostalgic—this is definitely a peanut butter stout for adults. -- KB

Imperial Stout, 11.8%
Denver, Colorado
Distribution: Available nationwide in select markets -- use their beer locator tool here
Big Bad Baptist is Epic's annual imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans from a different roaster chosen each year. Many look forward to its annual release, which now includes some even more sought-after special editions. In 2016 Epic added Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist, a beer that uses coffee that was aged in whiskey barrels by Hotbox Roasters, who took green beans and let them soak up the oak and whiskey before roasting. Add to that organic, single-origin cocoa nibs from an SLC chocolatier and you have an even more special release. Not content to leave it at that, Big Bad Baptista is another version inspired by traditional Mexican coffee drink café de olla. This version has vanilla, cinnamon, Solstice chocolate cacao nibs, and Mexican coffee from Blue Copper. -- EJG

Milk Stout, 5.5%
Westbrook, Maine
Distribution: Maine, Massachusetts, New York
It’s amazing the kind of reactions that putting “peanut butter” on a label can elicit: Some are shocked, some horrified, others delighted. Whatever your personal tastes, in the case of this beer it just works so well. This stout isn’t as confectionary as it is complex, with freshly baked chocolate cookies and a freshly opened jar of Skippy on the nose that belies the balanced experience on the palate. If you have to question it, you should probably just try it for yourself to find out. After all, they did just expand distribution to include New York. -- ZM

Imperial Stout, 12.2%
Ocean Township, New Jersey
Distribution: New Jersey
The thing with imperial stouts that set them apart from most other beer styles is that unlike hop bombs and fruity sours, they’re in no rush to be enjoyed. Such is the case with Kane’s legendary offering in this category, where batches are aged in barrels sourced from a nearby winery for as long as the brewers deem necessary before bottling them and sending them out into the world. Does this make it hard to get your hands on one? Most likely. Does it live up to the hype? Most definitely. Keep a Twitter alert for “ANTEAD” (the beer's cute little nickname), because a lot of these releases just so happen to coincide with fall and early winter. -- ZM

Foreign-style Stout, 6%
Jackson, Wyoming
Distribution: Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New York, and Utah
In these days of big, over-the-top high-alcohol and pastry stouts, there just isn’t much love anymore for the sessionable, quaffable, not-so-strong average stout. Snake River Brewing’s Zonker Stout makes a strong case for spreading that love. This 6% foreign-style stout has developed a strong following in Wyoming thanks to its balanced roasted barley, chocolate, and coffee notes with a little caramel to back it up. It’s smooth and drinkable, not hit-you-over-the-head sweet, heavy, and boozy. It’s also one of the most acclaimed beers from Wyoming with three silver medals and two golds from the Great American Beer Festival, plus three golds from the World Beer Cup. -- EJG

Russian Imperial Stout, 12%
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Distribution: Throughout the Midwest -- use their beer locator tool here
Darkness is upon us: On September 28, the beloved Minneapolis brewery held its annual Darkness Day, and there's a damn good reason throngs of people line up to celebrate it, arguably the brewery's best release (the wider public release will hit later this month). This year's Darkness Day was a rowdy, two-day metal concert in Somerset, Wisconsin. But even if it happened in a public bathroom, it'd be worth it. Taken on its own, Darkness is an explosion of swirling chocolate, fruit, and coffee flavors. But it's in the barrel-aged variants that things get real crazy: This year features rum-, bourbon-, and fernet-aged takes on the already legendary beer. -- AK

Best American stouts
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Imperial Stout, 8%
Asheville, North Carolina
Distribution: Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee
Asheville hosts one of the best craft beer scenes in America with its astounding amount of breweries per capita, which means anything hitting the market better have its big boy pants on to stand out from the rest; Hi-Wire’s 10W-40 imperial stout successfully manages the feat. Showing love to its surrounding local purveyors, this mouth pleaser features coffee from Dynamite Roasting Co., French Broad Chocolates, and some vanilla to keep it real in the ‘Ville. And the name makes sense; its viscosity will have brew heads fiendin’ for this oil more than the Tin Man. -- AS

Imperial Stout, 9%
Warwick, Rhode Island
Distribution: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York
Even with the meteoric success they’ve had since opening in 2013 (including an expansion into a much bigger brewery in Warwick), Proclamation is still known best for its complex sours and juicy IPAs. Now that they’ve found a hit with Black Hexes, this reputation may be evolving. This is a dark, brooding, balanced stout that integrates its booziness beautifully and finishes nice and dry. This makes it just as drinkable in warmer weather as it will be in a few short weeks when colder weather comes crashing back into New England. Do yourself a favor and pop one at your next BBQ. -- ZM

Barrel-Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout With Plums, 11.7%
Chicago, Illinois
Distribution: Illinois
Revolution’s beloved Deth’s Tar barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout doesn’t need a fruit addition—but damn if it doesn’t taste really good with one. Plums pick up on the already redolent stone-fruit notes in the base beer, creating a chocolate-covered berry sensation so well woven it’s difficult to say where the malt flavors end and the fruit begins. Bourbon barrels add sticky vanilla and caramel notes that continue the dessert-like impression; elevated alcohol is warming and noticeable but not at all distracting. -- KB

ABV Imperial Stout, 12%
Portland, OR and Corrales, NM
Distribution: Both pubs and Ex Novo’s distribution partners
A 16oz can of Ex Novo Brewing’s 12% ABV Imperial Stout may not actually Kill the Sun, but can kill your sobriety and possibly the next day’s as well. Aged in three different kinds of whiskey and bourbon barrels with notes of graham cracker, marshmallow and vanilla, this is a beer fit to be enjoyed over a campfire under a cold moon. This year’s annual release of Kill the Sun was packaged in cans instead of bottles for the first time, and comes in Mocha and Horchata versions along with just plain old whiskey barrel-aged. After a can of KTS, you won’t even miss the sun. 

Imperial Stout, 11%
Portland, Oregon
Distribution: Brewery only
Dessert beers are a moniker I often use for the bubbling trend of making beers to taste like desserts, treats, candy, etc. Some call them Pastry Stouts, which is a little bit more limiting of a descriptor. Double Stack by Portland’s much-hyped Great Notion Brewing fits both names. Before the glass even nears your lips you will be enveloped by the sweet smell of pancake syrup: This beer is sweet and hot with a roasty/burnt coffee flavor, with hits of vanilla, burnt sugar, and maple that coat your mouth, ending with a little bit of that doughy flapjack flavor. This is a beer so intense and gooey that you can practically pour it over a double stack of pancakes itself. Beer geeks line up for crowlers of Double Stack that get sold and traded on the black market all over the world so even though it’s not distributed, you can find it online if you know where to look. -- EJG

Imperial Stout, 8%
Stowe, Vermont
Distribution: Vermont
If beers had feelings, it’s likely that Beelzebub would harbor some resentment issues against its mega-popular, genre-defining sibling, Heady Topper. Luckily, stouts are not sentient (that we know of), which means this beer can rest comfortably out of the limelight as the dark, roasty alternative to its hoppy kin. There are many out there who argue that this is actually the Alchemists best offering, toeing the line between an imperial stout and a black DIPA with a roasty, hoppy profile that’s unlike many others in its category. Just remember if you’re trading to get your hands on a can, dates matter. Get it as fresh as possible, even if it means waiting a bit to find some! -- ZM

Best American stouts
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Imperial Stout, 13.9%
Atlanta, Georgia
Distribution: Georgia or hit up their Beer Finder.
Georgia’s beer scene continues to progress thanks to all the laws becoming more forgiving, especially for distribution. And the once regularly controversial Scofflaw--brandishing a shit-talking goat mascot--is one of the reasons why. In recent times, this West Midtown Atlanta brewer has let up on justifying its rebellious moniker and focused more on diversifying its stellar lineup. With brewing duties handled by the legendary Travis Herman, bourgeoning craftsman Joel Franklin, and the rest of their talented herd, their IPAs have been kicking ass, but now they’ve evidently mastered the dark side with their complex, coffee-noted, barrel-aged Absentium. 

Embracing the sea of accolades from the original, Scofflaw is blessing their fans’ patronage with six variations on Black Friday including Rum Coconut, Hazelnut, Maple,  Vanilla, Coffee Maple, and—get this— Double Barrel Vanilla Maple Absentium. The latter is aged six months in vanilla bourbon barrels, transferred to maple bourbon barrels for 12 months, and then completed with more vanilla beans added to the batch. Crazy! As usual, they live on the edge by juuuuuust making the ABV state limit set at 14%. You gotta love it. --AS

Coffee Milk Stout, 5%
Memphis, Tennessee
Distribution: Georgia or hit up their Beer Finder.
Not every stout has to be a mind-erasing imperial concoction to get some love. Straight from the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, Wiseacre shows sippers that a stout can be just as incredible at a sessionable 5% ABV. Taking lactose, oats, and hitting up the Motherland for Ethiopian coffee beans direct from its Konga region, the result is one of the best stouts of the year and placement on this prestigious list. And I love their quote about it: “Red Bull and vodka done the long way for old men, not teenagers.” Of course, all genders and legal ages are welcome to indulge in this new breakfast of champions. -- AS

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, 13.0%
Louisville, Kentucky
Distribution: Up to 43 states in the U.S.
Representing Louisville to the fullest, these cats know how to capture both the eyes (ever see the Brown Note label with the dude in tighty whities who just sharted?) and palates with a legion of world-class brews. Taking their already gangster 35K milk stout brewed at 7%, they doubled the rich notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and damn near potency at 13% to make the Angel’s Envy barrel-aged 70K Imperial version. As if they didn’t reap enough props with that joint, ATG goes ahead and ages the 70K in barrels sourced from Brazil’s Amburana trees; they’re the first to ever do it, resulting in flavors of allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and other welcomed enhancements. Oh, and a gold medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival. Get you some. -- AS

Imperial Coffee Stout, 9.4%
Phoenix, Arizona
Distribution: Arizona
It's a bold move to make a deep, dark imperial stout in the white-hot city of Phoenix, Arizona, which recently set a record of 116 degrees on a Wednesday afternoon. But Sunup did just that, and we abide. Best enjoyed at bowling alleys and nightclubs, this carefree lounge lizard enjoys the huge hit of coffee, bittersweet chocolate and vanilla with the sensation of steamed milk, roasted nuts, and rich, dark dried fruits. Underneath all that you won’t lose sight of the 9.4% alcohol, which really helps relax your rolling arm. -- EJG

Imperial Stout, 10.5%
Henderson, Nevada
Distribution: Nevada
Located just 20 minutes outside the Vegas Strip, Joseph James Brewing has been bringing tasty craft beer to a literal desert wasteland since 2008. James’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout is a version of their Red Fox Imperial Stout that they age in bourbon barrels for seven months, it’s also the third highest-rated beer from Nevada on beer ratings/review site Beer Advocate. With notes of coffee, chocolate, and the spicy and vanilla wood notes you get from the bourbon barrels, this burly 70 IBU beer is bottled once a year in wax-topped, 22-ounce bottles that the brewery recommends be served at only a slightly chilled 60⁰F. -- EJG

Barrel-aged Imperial Stout, 12.7%
Pasa Robles, CA
Distribution: Very limited draft
It’s a common refrain from winemakers that it takes a lot of good beer to make a great wine; Pasa Robles-Firestone Walker apparently believes the opposite is also true. Consistently taking inspiration from the winemakers of northern California, Firestone Walker released a wine-inspired take on their amazingly luxurious Parabola barrel-aged Imperial Stout. The regular Parabola was already a chewy, syrupy, Tootsie roll candy of a beer and now it’s picked up vinous berry tartness, leather, dried dates, tobacco, and slightly astringent funk. The wino brewers at Firestone Walker released Napa Parabola as a one-time exploration of red wine from one of Napa, California’s most sought-after wineries that’s definitely not a fucking Merlot. -- EJG

Imperial Stout, 9.5%
Missoula, Montana
Distribution: Limited distribution nationwide -- use their beer locator tool here
Ivan the Terrible did some good things between spats of terribleness. Mr. The Terrible was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547. He united multiple continents and ethnicities into a modern empire that brought Russia out of the medieval times and into an autocratic bureaucracy. In other words he evolved over time like a fine wine... or a really big bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that unites Montana’s residents into one big beer-loving people. -- EJG

American Stout, 7.6%
Charlton, Massachusetts
Distribution: Massachusetts
The natural harmony that exists between stout and coffee is a beautiful one, and even in a crowded category, this offering from Tree House stands out. Flavors of baker's chocolate, a freshly pulled Americano, warm brownies baked with caramel, and a scoop of coffee ice cream are balanced by a subtle, java-based acidity that rounds out the palate. Much like a fresh shot of espresso, time is of the essence: Resist the urge to cellar this (and any other beers made with coffee) and drink it as fresh as possible. -- ZM

Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, 15%
St. Louis, Missouri
Distribution: Brewery only
This annual release from Side Project is an expert, adjunct-free blend of five barrel-aged stouts, and is one of the brewery’s most sought-after bottles. This year, the final blend consists of some beers that are incredible in their own right, including two O.W.K. stouts aged 21 months in Willet and Eagle Rare bourbon barrels, plus three Derivation blends aged for no less than 20 months in Knob Creek and Willet bourbon barrels. It may be costly—in both time and effort—to get your hands on this, but there’s likely no finer example of Side Project’s commitment to beer, barrels, and aging beer in barrels. -- KB

Imperial Stout, 12.8%
Decorah, Iowa
Distribution: Seven Midwestern states, plus Florida and some of New England -- use their beer locator tool here
Toppling Goliath is one of those destination breweries that seemingly sprang up out of nowhere -- aka Iowa -- and immediately caught beer lovers’ attention thanks in large part to the emergence of the beloved Pseudo Sue IPA and its cousins. But the brewery really embraced that “Goliath” part of its moniker thanks to its barrel-aged beasts, including the Assassin series, Kentucky Brunch, and the rich, wondrous Mornin’ Delight. The stout, poured from coveted wax-dipped bottles, takes the notion of sipper up a notch thanks to its powerful espresso notes followed up by a surge of maple syrup that, combined with roasted malt flavor, doesn’t seem too far removed from the breakfast table -- until you stand up and realize, nearly immediately, that drinking 22 ounces of strong imperial stout before work is probably a very bad idea. -- AK

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.