The 24 Best Stouts in America to Try This Winter
This is gonna get dark.
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.
So, 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?
Representing Louisville to the fullest, these cats know how to capture both the eyes and palates with a legion of world-class brews. Taking its already legendary 35K milk stout brewed, the brewery doubled the rich notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and damn near potency to make the Angel’s Envy barrel-aged 70K Imperial version. As if the brewers didn’t reap enough props with that joint, ATG goes ahead and ages the 70K in barrels sourced from Brazil’s Amburana trees—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.
If beer 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 Alchemist’s 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.
Marvel fans may be familiar with Aleksei Sytsevich, aka supervillain the Rhino who first appeared in 1966’s The Amazing Spider-Man issue #41. While it’s difficult to tell if Alesong Brewing & Blending’s signature beer Rhino Suit is actually inspired by the character, they undoubtedly have a lot in common. Both the beer and it’s namesake are highly resistant to damage and temperature extremes. Rhino Suit by Alesong is a bourbon, coco, and vanilla Imperial Milk Stout thick as the Rhino’s famously tough exterior and imbued with the same superhuman strength. The award-winning beer has won over a devoted fan following to rival the MCU, and has similarly been rebooted more times than the Spider-Man franchise yielding everything from Mocha to Maple Rhino Suit remakes.
During an Alaskan winter, the sun may rise for only three hours a day, in the town of Utqiagvik they won’t see the sun for 60 days. Anchorage Brewing knows a little something about the fortitude required to survive this brooding time and during the darkest hour, of the darkest day, of the coldest night—no one is reaching for a pilsner. Forged in fire, this barrel-aged Imperial Stout summons syrupy molasses, rich brown sugar, and saccharine sweetly bitter licorice, all bound together by the black magic of a Belgian-style yeast and a dash of mystical Summit hops.
When rising for an early work day, it helps to have something to look forward to. For the liquid scientists at Mesa’s Beer Research Institute they came up with the answer of Morning Sex—a sweet coffee stout that will leave you feeling virulent and limber for what comes next. This wakeup call of a brew is buzzing with stimulating cold-pressed coffee from a local roaster that fills the glass with a seductive scent of salted toasted nuts, lightly charred briquettes, and caramel flavored coffee creamer that hits the spot when you are looking for a morning pick-up.
Ivan the Terrible did some good things between spats of terribleness. Mr. The Terrible was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533-1547. 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.
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.
Any brewery that has an ongoing series of imperial stouts differentiated by the hue of the hand-dipped wax crowing their 750 milliliter bottles must be gangster. Fifty Fifty Brewing has been killing that lane with its world-renowned Eclipse barrel-aged stout portfolio for years. Let’s give bourbon whiskey aficionados a nod and go with the 2019 Basil Hayden adorning lime green wax. Basil has blown up in recent years and this stout variety has done a stellar job of embracing the brand’s flawless balancing act of oak, vanilla, cinnamon, and subtle peat. Additional notes of black cherries and semi-sweet chocolate complete its decadent, tongue-coating tasting experience to perfectly complement your favorite cigar.
Matryoshka is the proper name for Russian nesting dolls—egg-shaped babushka stacking dolls made from oak that fit one inside each other revealing a prize inside. Much of the artistry of a Matroyshka is in the elaborate creations that Fort George Brewery imitates with its highly regarded balancing act of whiskey and bourbon barrel notes against a chocolate-vanilla parfait of flavors accentuated by anise and charred wood. Matryoshka Russian Imperial Stout fits lovingly into the warm embrace of its own wooden egg shaped vessel called a whiskey barrel, and later that liquid nests into a bottle, before finding its final resting place inside your belly where it brings comfort and joy.
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 its 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.
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.
Brooklyn, New York
At a time when every other non-IPA hype beer is either aged in bourbon barrels or made with enough pastry to make a baker blush, it’s nice to know that two great brewing establishments can come together in the name of Baltic Porter. The fact that this is a dark lager and not a stout shouldn’t deter you from adding it to your “must try” checklist. Released just in time to coincide with the Pastrytown stout festival, this beer can go shoulder to shoulder with other hefty dark brews, bringing a robust and roasty flavor profile of toffee pudding, espresso, and chocolate bars before gliding away on the palate with a velvety smooth finish. Fans of Grimm and American Solera will have come to expect this level of complexity in a joint project between the two breweries and this certainly won’t leave them disappointed.
With Original Reaper, Half Acre manages to do something quite rare indeed: Produce a non-barrel-aged, non-adjudicated, non-imperial stout that stands out from the crowd. No lactose or vanilla are needed here; the beer is satisfyingly sturdy thanks to its malt bill alone. Roastiness is the headline, mostly of a coffee bean and slightly nutty tone, but there's also plum skin, molasses, and blackberry notes in the mix as well. The brewery describes it as an “afternoon drinking stout,” and we couldn’t agree more.
St. Louis, Missouri
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.
An ode to still of night, Holy Mountain Brewing’s annual release of 100% bourbon barrel-aged beer is best enjoyed in the wee hours of the morning when spirits are at their most powerful. Sublimely woody, this uncut expression of oak barrel-aging’s contribution to stout distills this beer genre down into a deceptively simple but uncompromising vision to ponder. Midnight Still fills your palate with thoughts and flavors that communicate a simple message in a complex way. When you strip away the light and the constant thrum of society, and retreat into silent reflection you realize that the answer to every question is in the bottom of a glass of inky black stout staring right back at you.
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.
Ocean Township, 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.
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.
Providence, Rhode Island
Anyone who has spent time living in Canada knows the country is chock-full of culinary and cultural quirks that go far deeper than Letterkenny and ketchup chips. North of the border, Nanaimo bars are a beloved treat that has somehow managed to stay largely below the radar in the U.S. Of course, it was only a matter of time before someone got wise and decided to craft a thick stout in their honor. Long Live uses graham crackers, pecans, toasted coconut, and cacao nibs in this absurdly rich sipper that coats the palate and warms the soul. As you might’ve guessed, this is not your typical lawnmower beer—its high ABV makes it a great can to split at dessert time. Just please don’t make any jokes about saying “eh” when you drink it.
Although the label design adorning its signature 16.9-ounce bottles thrives on simplicity, Maine Beer Company consistently takes the more complex approach on the actual liquid. Fall is a seasonal stout geared to woo java lovers, using cold brew prepared by their Coffee By Design homies based in nearby Portland. Delivering an even distribution of toffee, caramel, dark chocolate, and fig on the nose and palate, this could be the new breakfast of champions to seek out during the cold months. To tug a little on the heart strings, all of Maine’s product donates a percentage to environmental nonprofits. That’s dope.
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.
St. Louis, Missouri
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.
Natural variation that occurs with aging in bourbon barrels makes each year’s Deth’s Tar slightly different, but it never misses. The base oatmeal stout has enough brawny roast to stand up to the considerable booziness the barrels impart, so despite the whiskey’s influence, the spotlight stays squarely focused on the rich malt rainbow: The sip delivers huge chocolate-covered espresso bean flavors with a soft caramel edge, and just enough bourbon prickle to counter the sweeter elements. It’s a fantastic balance of roast and whiskey and caramel, with a pillowy soft texture (thanks, oats) that makes the whole package taste like dessert.
St. Louis, Missouri
This annual release from Side Project is an expert, adjunct-free blend of barrel-aged stouts, and is one of the brewery’s most sought-after bottles. The brewery certainly has its choice of options, with 17 distinct stout recipes aging in a variety of barrels for varying lengths of time. Each year, blenders at Side Project select the optimal blend to showcase both the richness of the base stouts and the subtle influences of the barrel. This year, the blend consists of four stouts (O.W.K., Vibes, Gen, Chocolate), aged in six barrels (Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Willett Bourbon, 4 Roses OBSV, Weller 12-Year, Jim Beam) for periods ranging between 14 and 42 months. It will 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.
Southern Brewing has made successful efforts to carve its own lane within the last few years largely due to the burgeoning Southern Hops IPA series, innovative wild yeast-forward Wandering Woodpile Project, and homerun Russian imperial, the Double Barrel Nite Nite. While the Moon Eyes Imperial Stout series has a growing fanbase for all its flavor variants, the Nite Nite serves as the no-nonsense shot caller that lets its base recipe and barrel aging do the talking. Spending more than a year in Willett bourbon barrels followed by another year and change in French Cognac rum barrels, DB Nite Nite’s delectable fusion of vanilla, oak, and molasses in a silky motor oil viscosity guarantees a peaceful sleep after a day of indulgence.
Not every stout has to emulate the thickness of molasses, use lactose, or rival the potency of whiskey shots. Atlanta brewing giant SweetWater and head brewer since day one, Nick Nock, adopted this ideology and introduced a medium-bodied version of the style using almond milk so that the dairy-restricted sippers can get some love, too. We’re all about innovation and this stout is not only delicious with a coffee finish, but crushable without compromising its complexity, subtle sweetness, and smooth mouthfeel.
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.
Medianoche is a delicious type of Cuban sandwich and an equally delectable barrel-aged Imperial Stout. Both are stacked with ingredients: the sammy with roast pork, ham, mustard, swiss cheese, and sweet pickles and the stout decadently layered with toasted coconut flakes, raw coconut chips, Ugandan vanilla beans, Belizean roasted cacao nibs, and their husks. The sandwich is made with a sweeter, more doughy warm-pressed bread than its cousin the Cubano, and the beer with a crustier rich grain profile with warming hot chocolate spices that separate it from its smaller dark beer cousins. The sandwich gained its title as a popular after hours fuel enjoyed in the clubs of Havana, while Weldwerks beer of the same name is sipped into the late hours by beer nerds home from the taphouse in Colorado. Together they are like long distance siblings separated at birth. but each fulfilling a similarly satisfying function.
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Nowadays, seeing an imperial stout boasting adjuncts of dark chocolate, spices, and peppers is not uncommon, but one of the pioneers of the style always deserves recognition. This is especially true when a brewery like Westbrook has mastered the style since 2011. Initially serving as a one-off anniversary celebration, Cake’s overwhelming response justified an annual release of whatever variation the brewers feel will rock our palates—such as a Maple Bourbon barrel-aged version while the base of cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa nibs, and habanero peppers stay intact. Addressing the latter ingredient, don’t worry about breathing fire if spiciness is not your thing. Nothing in this world-class stout is heavy-handed to overshadow the recipe’s other tasting attributes, plus a welcomed hint of smoke on the finish. Overall, it’s just a damn good stout worthy of all the hype, praise and respect it continues to garner.
Brooklyn, New York
Usually, darker days, colder weather, and the quick succession of multiple indulgent meals make late fall and early winter prime time for pastry stouts. Unfortunately, finding the right balance of roasted bitterness, baked goods sweetness, and a smooth body can be an exercise in frustration. Even as a relatively young upstart of a brewery, Wild East seems to have found its rhythm with this barrel aged nitro stout. Vanilla bean and toasted almond are featured ingredients, but are used with restraint, creating a beautifully balanced beer that is nowhere near cloying or syrupy on the palate. It’s the kind of beer that works well with the types of foods that are staples at the friendsgivings and holiday feasts that dominate your social calendar this time of year, making it the rare stout that doesn’t have to sub in as liquid dessert.
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 as it is sessionable. 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 in recent years. And we love the 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.
Ezra Johnson-Greenough is the founder of Portland Beer Week and The New School beer blog. Follow him @newschoolbeer.
Zach Mack is the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. and Governors Island Beer Co. in NYC, a Certified Cicerone, and absolutely nothing else. Follow him @zmack.
Ale Sharpton is an award-winning journalist, blogger, photographer, and beer authority based in Atlanta. Follow him @AleSharpton.