If the first sight of gray weather brings a hearty pint of stout to mind, then as winter storms line up across the Eastern Pacific, stronger imperial stouts are ever more tempting. But a sweet, spirit-scented imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels—that's a shelter-in-place warning in a glass.
Recently, I brown-bagged some strong, local brews and their barrel-aged editions, where available, and poured them for
Bohemian staffers—carefully, two ounces at a time—to elicit their reactions to these monsters of craft beer.
Marin Brewing Old Dipsea Barleywine Style Ale Long before the triple IPA, there was the barleywine: a souped-up, maltier version of brown English ale. It's been a long time since I had one, and I was surprised by the creamy smoothness of this 9 percent alcohol by volume (abv) regular release.
Marin Brewing 2013 Old Dipsea (aged 15 months in whiskey barrels) The same raisin and date sugar aromas are amped-up here, but it isn't just the booze that lends sweet, sherried notes, says brewmaster Arne Johnson. Like wine, beer undergoes micro-oxygenation when aged in barrels, a slow, tiny dose that rounds out flavors without spoiling the beer. This is the last barrel-aged barleywine for a while, because Johnson only has room for a few barrels. But look for an Imperial stout aged in Breckenridge Distillery bourbon barrels, on draft for SF Beer Week, Jan. 22.
Moylan's Ryan Sullivan's Imperial Stout A smoky whiff of dark roasted grain and coffee introduces this imperial Irish-style stout, which finishes on a dry, pleasingly bitter note for a brew of 10 percent abv.
Moylan's 2014 Ryan Sullivan's Imperial Stout Perhaps because it was aged six months in single malt whiskey barrels (from Stillwater Spirits, under the same ownership), this stands out from the bourbon-barrel pack, retaining a dry, roasty Irish stout palate with molasses, vanilla, licorice and sarsaparilla overtones. A rare bird in stores.
Lagunitas 2015 High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout Aged in High West Distillery rye barrels, with all the caramel, syrup and booze of a Bananas Foster, this is the most whiskey-fied of the lineup, a chocolaty, 12 percent abv winter warmer that wants pouring over ice cream. Look for a draft-only release this month, or wait until November for the next bottled edition.
Fogbelt Federation Giant Imperial Milk Stout This collaboration beer gets an infusion of subtle flavor from oak chips and the bits of char that collect on the bottom of local distillery barrels, but is dominated by cold-brew from Santa Rosa's Brew coffeehouse. Bohemians loved all 64 ounces of this growler. The last keg of this 9.1 percent abv batch gets tapped for SF Beer Week.