As the bright greens of summer and brilliant reds of autumn make way for the sparkling snows of winter, so do the light lagers and pilsners in our hands get set aside for heavier and darker ales, stouts and porters.
This year’s trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver offered the chance to taste a wide variety of beers from all across the country, including plenty of winter brews. The following is a sampling of the best of these that can be found at a liquor store or bar near you.
Take the Black Stout
ABV: 7 percent
This Belgian brewery has teamed up with HBO to create a series of beers based on the hit fantasy show “Game of Thrones.” The Take the Black stout is the second in the series. The booth at the Great American Beer Festival had people lining up to get a chance to taste the just-released stout, as well as pose in front of a poster of the label.
Although some brews are more about the hype than the product itself, that’s not true with Take the Black stout. It presents a rich, malty flavor with hints of coffee and chocolate, followed by a slightly earthy taste. The beer is as dark as the black cloaks of the characters it represents, with a tan, frothy head. It offers a tasty option for long winter nights of television-watching marathons.
The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Flying Dog Brewing
ABV: 9 percent
Flying Dog Brewery is easily recognized by its packaging, which features wacky, splashy designs with Picasso-like depictions of snarling dogs and other ferocious creatures. The brewery was in fine form at the Great American Beer Festival, and when our group tasted their pumpkin ale, there was an all-around chorus of “wow” and going back for more. Unlike the usual pumpkin ale, Flying Dog’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale is much darker and presents a much more complex flavor profile. Chocolate malt gives it a heavy smoothness, with hints of cinnamon and sweet graham cracker, complemented by just a nip of bitter hops.
ABV: 4.4 percent
There’s nothing better than getting one of your favorite beers fresh from the tap at the local brewery. When the winter snows swirl around Summit County, you can head to Frisco’s Backcountry Brewery and warm yourself up with a large glass of Breakfast Stout. This milk stout is lower in alcohol by volume than many of its stout brethren, which means savoring more than one is a possibility that won’t leave you stretched flat out. The Breakfast Stout has some great flavors — milky caramel which mixes with the bright taste of roasted coffee, which leaves no question as to where the name comes from. It’s a mild stout for those who aren’t interested in something too heavy or sweet.
Dragonhosen Imperial Oktoberfest
Boulder Beer Co.
ABV: 9 percent
As the first microbrewery in Colorado, Boulder Beer Co. has had plenty of time to perfect its brews. This latest Oktoberfest-style beer is a great example of this. The Dragonhosen is brewed with Vienna and Munich malts, which give it a rich, dark, malty flavor. At 9 percent alcohol by volume, it packs a bit more of a punch than your usual Oktoberfest, too, but it’s one your taste buds won’t mind.
Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Great Divide Brewing Co.
ABV: 9.5 percent
After the award ceremony at the Great American Beer Festival, the folks at Great Divide Brewing Co. were able to display a golden sticker next to their imperial stout. The Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti won a gold medal in the chocolate beer category, for good reason. This beer is definitely on the sweeter side, with plenty of malty chocolate flavor to taste like dessert. It’s not just a syrupy beer, however, and gets a boost from a large mix of hops. At 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, we recommend sticking to one pint after dinner, preferably while sitting by a roaring fire and watching the snowflakes drift down past the window.