The 24 Best Stouts in America to Try This Winter
This is gonna get dark.
While IPAs tend to hog a lot of the beer-loving spotlight, for true believers, the holiest of grails are 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.
An ancient beer style, a stout is a top-fermented ale made from dark-roasted malted barley. They're among the most beloved, complex, and sought-after beers on the planet, whether they're the flagship offerings from the world's greatest breweries or one-off, barrel-aged masterpiece.
Given the breadth of the category, we've enlisted a panel of beer experts to name the stouts you should be seeking out right now. Some of the stouts on this list are widely available, but 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?
The brewers describe this stout as "essentially double" its already legendary 35K milk stout, with rich notes of coffee and dark chocolate. It's aged in barrels made from Brazilian Amburana wood—the first beer to do so—that previously held Angel's Envy whiskey. The resulting flavors include allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and other welcomed enhancements. Oh, and this beer also just so happened to win 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. As of December 2022, Beezlebub is not currently on the Alchemist's list of beers available for pickup at the brewery, so, if you’re trading to get your hands on a can, remember that dates matter. Get it as fresh as possible.
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 actually 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. One of the first spirits-barrel-aged beers Alesong ever released, the 2022 vintage was aged in Heaven Hill bourbon casks.
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, that may be Morning Sex, a sweet, coffee stout that will leave you feeling virulent and limber. 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.
A really big imperial stout named for the former Grand Prince of Moscow, Big Sky's Ivan the Terrible is aged in American oak bourbon barrels, and delicious to drink now or lay down for future enjoyment. This is a limited-release beer, and Big Sky isn't available in every U.S. state (yet), so your best bet is to seek out a friend of loved one in the brewery's distribution network to try to get your hands on this rich, roasty brew.
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.
This California brewery is particularly notable thanks to its ongoing series of imperial stouts, each of which is differentiated by the hue of hand-dipped wax crowing its 750 milliliter bottle. The world-renowned, barrel-aged stout portfolio includes this 2019 entrant, adorned in lime green wax. This stout has done a stellar job of embracing the bourbon 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, those egg-shaped tokens made from carved wood that fit neatly within each other. Fort George Brewery displays similar artistry in this highly regarded balancing act of whiskey and bourbon barrel notes against a chocolate-vanilla parfait of flavors, accentuated by anise and charred wood.
One of the more widely available imperial stouts, Black Cauldron is among Idaho’s best-known limited beer releases. The brewery has roots in Wyoming, too. In 1988, brothers Charlie and Ernie Otto founded Otto Brothers Brewing Company, and opened the state's first brewpub four years later. 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. Notes of chocolate, coffee, raisins, and dates with a splash of sherry come through on the flavor.
Before this imperial stout hits your lips, you're enveloped by the sweet smell of pancake syrup. On the palate, Double Stack has roasty coffee flavors with hits of vanilla, burnt sugar, and maple that coat your mouth, ending with a little bit of doughy flapjack notes. 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, and it's sold and traded on the black market all over the world; so, even though it’s not distributed, you might just be able to find it online if you know where to look.
Brooklyn, New York
The fact that this is a dark lager and not a stout shouldn’t deter you from adding it to your “must try” checklist. 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: 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 the desert since 2008. James’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout is a version of the brewery's Red Fox Imperial Stout, which is aged in bourbon barrels for seven months. 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, 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. We recommend keeping a Twitter alert for “ANTEAD” (the beer's cute little nickname), because a lot of these releases occur during the fall and early winter.
This aptly named stout from a small town on the outskirts of the Twin Cities pours blacker than midnight, with an aroma that belies its lengthy stay in bourbon barrels before its release. Despite its high ABV, it's a balanced pour, and the beer managed to attract quite a bit of attention despite its well-known Twin Cities neighbor, Surly Darkness. 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 full of culinary and cultural appeal that goes far deeper than Letterkenny and ketchup chips. North of the border, Nanaimo bars are a beloved treat that, and so 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.
This is a seasonal stout geared to woo java lovers, using cold brew prepared by the Coffee By Design 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. As an added bonus, the brewery donates a percentage of every beer sale to environmental nonprofits.
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 aromas of freshly baked chocolate cookies and a newly opened jar of Skippy, followed by a beautifully balanced palate.
St. Louis, Missouri
Adding chiles to beer can be tricky—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 this game-changing stout play just the right notes in a flavor quartet that also includes cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks.
Because of the natural variation that occurs when beer ages in bourbon barrels, each annual Deth’s Tar release is 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 on the rich malt rainbow. Each sip delivers huge, chocolate-covered espresso bean flavors with a soft caramel edge, and just enough whiskey prickle to counter the sweetness. It’s a fantastic balance of roast and bourbon and caramel, with a pillowy soft texture (thanks, oats) that makes the whole package taste like dessert.
St. Louis, Missouri
This annual release is an expertly crafted, adjunct-free blend of barrel-aged stouts. The brewery certainly has its choice of options, with 17 distinct stout recipes aging in a variety of barrels for varying lengths of time. In previous years, the blend has consisted 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. This beer will be costly—in both time and effort—to get your hands on, but there’s likely no finer example of Side Project’s commitment to beer, barrels, and aging beer in barrels.
Southern Brewing's varied lineup includes the Southern Hops IPA series, innovative wild yeast-forward Wandering Woodpile Project, and this absolute home run of a Russian imperial, the Double Barrel Nite Nite. This is a 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 Cognac 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. With its coffee finish, this stout is not only delicious, but also crushable, all without compromising complexity, subtle sweetness, and smooth mouthfeel.
The natural harmony that exists between stout and coffee is always beautiful; 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.
Named for a Cuban sandwich, this stout is decadently layered with toasted coconut flakes, raw coconut chips, Ugandan vanilla beans, plus Belizean roasted cacao nibs and their husks. It has a rich grain profile with warming hot chocolate spices that separate it from its smaller dark beer cousins.
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Imperial stouts made with adjuncts of dark chocolate, spices, and peppers are not uncommon, but Westbrook is one of the pioneers of the style. Initially made 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. Nothing in this world-class stout is heavy-handed. 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. 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 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. Wiseacre shows that a stout can be just as incredible as it is sessionable. Taking lactose, oats, and Ethiopian coffee beans, this is a perfectly balanced stout that deserves a place at your next gathering.
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.