There’s no rule about changing your beer preferences based on the weather. If you enjoy stouts, drink them all year. Prefer bold, hoppy IPAs? Sip them in spring or fall. We’re not here to judge you on your seasonal beer choices. We will, however, contend that winter months are made for high-ABV beers (alcohol by volume), regardless of style, because of what a little more alcohol brings to the table.
“It can be an imperial stout, double IPA, or Belgian, but that higher alcohol content always has an immediate warming and relaxing effect that pairs so well with the season,” says Seth Wile, co-owner and head brewer at Okay Beer Co. in Honeoye Falls, NY. “Higher ABV beers also tend to have more residual sugars and therefore are a little sweeter.”
What constitutes a high-ABV beer? Wile uses 7.5% ABV as his cut-off.
“Using IPA as a guide to answer this, I draw the line for a double IPA at 7.6%,” he says. “Once it hits 10% or more, it’s a triple or imperial. For me, this guideline applies to most other styles.”
Garth Beyer, certified cicerone and owner of Garth’s Brew Bar in Madison, WI, opts for a style-by-style basis. A high-ABV pilsner, say 8%, is going to be different than a high-ABV barrel-aged stout (e.g. 17%). “If you’re forced to speak in generalities, it’s safe to assume that something that has a ‘higher ABV’ is almost always 6% or higher,” says Beyer. “If you had asked the question 10 years ago, I’d have said anything above 4%. But beer ABV stats indicate the average ABV of craft beer is a few percentages higher than it was back then.”
On top of the warming effect, higher ABV beers are also likely to have more body. “They’re nurturing to the stomach,” notes Beyer. “Typically, higher ABV beers make us feel full and satisfied because they simply have more proteins, starches, and sugars in them.” The difference between low-ABV and high-ABV, he adds “is like eating a small salad versus a chicken cordon bleu.”
Lucky for you, there are countless high-ABV beers perfectly suited for winter. Keep scrolling to see our favorite stouts, porters, IPAs, and barleywines to drink until the spring thaw.
High-ABV Beers That Also Go Big on Flavor
1. Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break
A name like Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break offers a pretty good idea about what you’re getting into when you crack open one of these bad boys. Brewed with coffee, this 11.5% ABV imperial stout also gets its robust, rich, indulgent flavor from the addition of almond and vanilla. It literally tastes like someone took all of the rich, sweet flavors of a biscotti and turned it into a warming beer.
ABV: 11.5%[$11.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans; eviltwin.nyc]
2. Tröegs Double Blizzard IPA
Pennsylvania’s Tröegs is well-known for its limited, seasonal releases. One of its most eagerly awaited is Tröegs Double Blizzard IPA. This 8.3% ABV double IPA gets its flavor from being brewed with El Dorado, Chinook, and Centennial hops in the kettle. It’s then dry-hopped with a ridiculous amount of Galaxy and Chinook hops. It’s dank, resinous, and filled with citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
ABV: 8.3%[$14.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans; troegs.com]
3. Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter
This 10% ABV imperial porter might be available year-round, but it really hits the spot on a cold winter night. The name—a reference to the late Hunter S. Thompson’s style of journalism—is packed with comforting flavors like roasted malts, toasted vanilla beans, dark chocolate, freshly brewed coffee, and caramelized sugar. The finish is lightly bitter and hoppy, adding yet another dimension to this already epic beer.
ABV: 10%[$14.99 for a six-pack; flyingdog.com]
4. Alesmith Wee Heavy
Alesmith might be known for its iconic Speedway Stout and myriad IPAs, but when the winter wind blows, we’d rather reach for an Alesmith Wee Heavy. This 10% ABV seasonal beer begins as a classic, robust Scotch Ale. It’s then matured for at least a year in ex-bourbon barrels. The result is a complex, nuanced, rich, beer with hints of vanilla beans, buttery toffee, chocolate, and warming whiskey.
ABV: 10%[$13 for a 330ml bottle; alesmith.com]
5. Bell’s Hopslam Ale
When it comes to sought-after, high-ABV winter IPAs, it’s difficult to beat the appeal of Bell’s Hopslam. Usually released in January, this popular double IPA is kettle brewed with six different hop varieties before being dry-hopped with Simcoe hops. The result is a citrus, pine, and tropical fruit-filled brew that sits at 10% ABV. You’ll want to stock up so you can enjoy it well beyond winter.
ABV: 10%[$18.99 for a six-pack; bellsbeer.com]
6. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
Bigfoot might be a mythical creature allegedly roaming the woods of the Pacific Northwest, but there’s nothing debatable about Sierra Nevada Bigfoot’s flavor. First brewed in 1983, this often cellared beer is brewed with ale yeast, caramelized malts, and two-row malts. It gets its snappy, hoppy flavors from the addition of Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops.
ABV: 9.6%[$14.99 for a six-pack; sierranevada.com]
7. North Coast Old Rasputin
No winter is complete without at least a few pints of North Coast Old Rasputin. This bold, robust Russian imperial stout was created to pay homage to the traditional high-ABV beers brewed for the court of Catherine the Great. The result is a 9% ABV classic with notes of roasted malts, coffee, chocolate, and caramel. It’s an exceptional beer guaranteed to warm you from the inside out, even on the coldest winter night.
ABV: 9%[$8.99 for a four-pack; northcoastbrewing.com]
8. Cigar City Cosmic Crown
Cigar City is revered for its popular Jai Alai IPA among the Florida-based brewery’s other fine offerings. Come winter, we’ll opt to crack open its signature Belgian-style strong ale, Cigar City Cosmic Crown. Fruity with some light spice, this 9% ABV brew is made with Galaxy hops, and is perfectly warming.
ABV: 9%[$12.99 for a six-pack; cigarcitybrewing.com]
9. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
When it comes to barrel-aged beers, few beat the flavor-to-warming ability of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. The 2022 version is 14.3% ABV and was matured in ex-bourbon barrels from Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, and Heaven Hill. The result is a complex stout featuring flavors of dried fruits, chocolate, vanilla beans, and bourbon whiskey.
ABV: 14.3%[$39.99 for a four-pack; gooseisland.com]
10. Firestone Walker Parabola
We drink Firestone Walker Parabola any time of year, but it just hits different on a cold winter night. This 13.6% ABV imperial stout was aged for a minimum of one full year in former bourbon barrels. The result: a complex, nuanced stout with hints of dark chocolate, dried cherries, pipe tobacco, vanilla beans, and freshly brewed coffee.
ABV: 13.6%[$9.99 for a 12-ounce bottle; firestonebeer.com]
11. American Solera Chet
This imperial stout, brewed with chocolate, pours a rich, dark brown. It’s on the sweeter side and is this winter’s go-to pick for dessert in a can. Bonus: It’s great in a chocolate glaze as well if you want to get a little creative in the kitchen. Just make sure you’ve got your recipe planned ahead of time, because at 13 percent ABV you’ll feel the effects sooner than later.
ABV: 13%[$16, 750ml; wine-searcher.com]
12. Burial Beer Co. Griddle Imperial Espresso Stout
Rich, bold coffee flavor defines this beer made with beans from Summit Coffee. You’ll enjoy notes of chocolate and smoke. It’s meant for slow sipping—even better by a fire, be it a hearth flame or under the stars.
13. Equilibrium Brewery Deviation Triple India Pale Ale
Super drinkable and smooth, this triple IPA checks in at 10.5% ABV. It tastes like a much more sessionable beer—without the overly boozy taste that some high-ABV brews can take on. Though the can art’s cool, we recommend pouring it in a glass as you get a puffy, almost cream-like head. If you spot this one on a shelf, snag it before it’s gone.
14. Surly Brewing Co. Abrasive Double IPA
The can promises an aggressive, fruity, and bold experience. While those are accurate descriptors of Surly’s Abrasive Double IPA, this beer also packs enough bitterness on the back end to help it stand out from the legions of other double IPAs. Fun fact—it also is reputedly the first one brewed in Minnesota.
15. NoDa Brewing Company Captain Peanut Butter’s Chocolate Revenge
Peanut butter beer isn’t a new concept, but we hadn’t found one we really took to until NoDa Brewing Company’s Captain Peanut Butter Imperial Porter fortuitously came along. Brewed with cocoa nibs and peanut butter, it’s superbly balanced with restrained sweetness and perfect pb notes that are neither lost nor overbearing.
ABV: 9.2%[$16.99; totalwine.com]
16. Brouwerij Van Steenberge Gulden Draak
Though this dark red triple ale comes in a small bottle with just 11.2 ounces of beer in it, it’s especially worth seeking out if you need a break from those sour beers and same-old IPAs. Gulden Draak (that’s “Golden Dragon” to you) has some spicy bite combined with a maltiness that’ll warm you up to the core. It’s frisky without being too sweet, full-bodied without being a liquid sandwich, and definitely worth the effort to seek out.
ABV: 10.5%[$14, 750ml; wine-searcher.com]
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