If you live north of Florida, chances are you’ve been somewhat snowbound this week. We’ve been watching the kids sled down our side yard in an air mattress (ours) and a kayak (the neighbors’) and waiting for the gas company to turn on the heat in our new office. Cabin fever is setting in. And while chicken soup and some hot chocolate are nice cures for the cold weather, so is a glass of stout winter ale. Here are 10 of our favorites with a bias toward Belgian Strong Dark Ales:
1. Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper
Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium | 11% ABV
You don’t get a belly like Santa’s without putting down some beer, and we can’t imagine a better brew to polish off after a long winter’s night. Just don’t drink it while driving a flying sleigh. It’s a strong Belgian ale with the emphasis on strong at 11% and lots of flavor—the brewery adjusts the recipe a bit each year.
2. Kleinbrouwerij Canaster Winterscotch
KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren | Erpe-Mere, Belgium | 8.7% ABV
I’m not really sure what a sugar-plum is, but I have visions of them dancing in this beer, maybe even singing a raucous pub tune. This Belgian strong dark is bubbly with just a hint of winter spices and dried fruit.
3. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Brouwerij St. Bernardus | Watou, Belgium | 10%
I went to a Christmas party this year where two of the white elephant gifts were bottles of this annual brew—no surprise they kept getting stolen. I had one briefly before stealing a Brick Store Pub t-shirt. And yes, this was the office party for my church. It’s dark as the richest Belgian chocolate, malty without being too sweet, with a perfect frothy head. At 10% abv, just one of these will make for a very merry Christmas season. *Full disclosure: this brewery is the semi-official sponsor of my soccer club, FC Bernardus (I play on both the Abt 12 and Prior 8 teams).
4. Scaldis Noël
Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl | Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium | 12%
Called Bush elsewhere, the brewery couldn’t use that name here for some reason—something to do with fermented corn water that goes by that name here. Even the regular Scaldis, a pale ale, weighs in at 12%, but the Noël manages that potency without being too syrupy sweet.
5. Gouden Carolus Noël
Brouwerij Het Anker | Mechelen, Belgium | 10.5%
Gouden Carolus is another beer that was already a long way towards qualifying for this list before the even more wintry version was released. As sweet as molasses and nearly as thick, this will satisfy the beer lover and the sweet-tooth, and especially those of us who are both.
6. Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale
Highland Brewing | Asheville, N.C.
If you want a winter warmer that stands out from the crowd, this is it. Forget the potpourri of spices. Cold Mountain tastes like caramel and marshmallow—vanilla, nuts and chocolate in a rich and deceptively drinkable beer. Roaring fire optional.—Reid Ramsay
7. Smuttynose Winter Ale
Smuttynose Brewing Company | Portsmouth, N.H. | 5.1% ABV
I hope you didn’t think every beer of winter had to be a strong ale, an imperial stout or a spiced beer. Smuttynose Winter goes against the grain, with a Belgian-style dubbel, complete with candi sugar and authentic Trappist yeast. Toffee, caramel and dark fruit, with a slight chocolate hint, come together in a drinkable winter treat.—Reid Ramsay
8. Victory Storm King Stout
Victory Brewing Company | Downingtown, Penn. | 9.1% ABV
This Russian Imperial Stout is one of my favorite stouts no matter the season—strong dark malt flavor with hints of caramel and coffee and a nice addition of hops that hits the back of the tongue. This beer stands out for its smooth viscous mouthfeel and an aftertaste that lasts forever. A perfect after-dinner beer by the fire.—Will Hinton
Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg | Vorchdorf, Austria | 14% ABV
Okay, enough with the dark ales and stouts. This Austrian lager is every bit the winter warmer. That’s right—lager. Brewed once a year and allowed to ferment for over 10 months, this 14% ABV beer is smooth malty goodness for the coldest of nights.—Will Hinton
10. Trader Joe’s 2010 Vintage Ale
Trader Joe’s Brewing Company | San Jose, Calif. (brewed in Canada) | 7% ABV
If you’ve blown most of your beer money on the heating bill, we also recommend Trader Joe’s 2010 Vintage. While it’s labeled Trader Joe’s, it’s made by our favorite Canadian brewery Unibrou. Think of this Belgian Strong Dark as the beer answer to Two-Buck Chuck.