TEN New Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts for the Holidays

With the winter holiday season upon us, it’s time to reach deep into the darkness for dark, chocolaty, and decadent barrel-aged imperial stouts. I don’t know about you, but each year when the cold weather bites, the taste for velvety, bitter, and sweet barrel-aged stouts creeps upon me and I dig into the cellar to satiate that thirst while replenishing what’s gone with the annual winter bounty of new releases. We are not the only ones with this idea, as Breakside Brewery announces its Cellar-bration of barrel-aged beers and Bailey’s The Upper Lip hosts a week of tribute events to the Imperial Stout with Dark Days Week.

Here are ten new barrel-aged stouts released this season, all available in bottle or cans in the Pacific Northwest.

Backwoods Brewing: The Stumbler

Up in the Columbia River Gorge, Backwoods Brewing Company has released a new bourbon barrel-aged stout called “The Stumbler.” This Russian Imperial Stout spent 18 months in Heaven Hills bourbon barrels. Full of vanilla, charred oak, and brown sugar notes, it’s a hefty 12% ABV and 35 IBUs, with a base beer that used four different malts. Pick up a very rare 22oz hand wax-dipped bottle if you can. Only 90 cases were bottled, and some may even be available on draft at the brewery in Carson, Washington.

Crux Fermentation Project: Tough Love

Crux founder/brewmaster Larry Sidor is famous for creating The Abyss when he was with fellow Bend brewer Deschutes, but “Tough Love,” his barrel-aged imperial stout at Crux, might be even better. Crux recently released the fifth annual vintage of Tough Love, and for the first time it’s in wax dipped 750ml bottles. What makes this beer unique is a touch of oak-smoked wheat and malted rye that complement its layers of rich roasted malt and coffee flavors and velvety chocolate, vanilla, and Kentucky bourbon spice character. Tough Love is a bit more desserty than The Abyss and has some great dark and red fruit notes from dried cherries to raisins. Get this while you can, wherever Crux is sold!

Culmination Brewing: Multnomah County Stout

Portland’s Culmination Brewing is bringing back last year’s hit Multnomah County Stout. Last year I called this play on Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout perhaps a new classic; let’s see if the George Dickel whiskey barrel-aged stout is as good as last year when it’s released on Black Friday, November 24th, at the brewery. This year it’s in 500ml bottles rather than 22oz bombers, all the easier to enjoy its silky, oak and chocolate notes.

Epic Brewing: Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist

Epic Brewing produces an annual favorite Imperial Stout called Big Bad Baptist, but has also began releasing variants of it with special ingredients and barrel-aged versions. In 2017 for the first time Epic has released Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist that pushes the envelope on what a bourbon barrel-aged coffee stout can be.

Epic Brewing says that only a few ingredients have the rare ability to absorb barrel character, and at the top of their list was shaved coconut, so they decided to add it to the whiskey barrels. Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist uses a trio of barrel-aged imperial stout, barrel-aged Colombia Risaralda coffee, and barrel-aged coconut (yes, actual coconut in the barrels), along with a percentage of rum barrels. According to the brewery, the coconut does not steal the show, but it is the first flavor you will notice. It’s a beast at 12.7% ABV and I am guessing it ages pretty damn well.

Fremont Brewing: BBA Dark Star

Perhaps the most difficult beer to find on this list is Fremont Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star 2017 bottles. This year’s Imperial Oatmeal Stout is a blend of 18, 12, and 8-month Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star in 12-year old Kentucky bourbon barrels. The roasted and chocolate malts complement the smooth oats to bring you a stout delight wrapped in the gentle embrace of bourbon barrel-aged warmth. A touch of sweetness dances in balance with the hops to finish with a wave, and then she’s gone. Brewed with five different malts, flaked oats, Magnum, Willamette, and Cascade hops, it’s the biggest beer on this list at 14% ABV and 50 IBUs.

McMenamins Breweries: Lord of Misrule

McMenamins calls its annual barrel-aged imperial stout the Lord of Misrule the most sought-after of its barrel-aged beers. First brewed at Edgefield in 2014, each year the brewers slightly differ the ingredients to make each vintage unique. This year’s 2017 vintage is a creamy Imperial Breakfast Stout with notes of oats and coffee. It was aged in Hogshead Whiskey barrels and blended with barrel-aged organic maple syrup. The base beer is made with oats, kilned coffee malt, and lactose. It’s smooth and malty with a touch of sweetness and warm hints of oak. How early is too early for a beer? With McMenamins Lord of Misrule, you can probably start at breakfast!

Lord of Misrule releases December 1, with tastings at Edgefield and McMenamins 23rd Avenue Bottle Shop (Date TBD).  Plus, the Bottle Shop will have it on tap for the bottle release!

Ninkasi Brewing: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Ground Control

This interesting beer by Ninkasi Brewing is made with yeast that was shot into space–literally. Ninkasi then brewed a beer with Oregon hazelnuts, star anise, and cocoa nibs and called it Ground Control. Originally released in April 2015, the beer continues to draw fans and has been released in a special barrel-aged version for 2017. “The Ground Control legacy continues to evolve as we discover new ways to play with the nuances of this beer,” says Jamie Floyd, Ninkasi co-founder and founding brewer. “This year, we aged the beer in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels and blended it with 10 percent fresh Ground Control to enhance the characteristics of the cocoa nibs, hazel nuts and star anise.” 22oz bombers of 10% ABV Bourbon Barrel-Aged Ground Control and rarer Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel-Aged Ground Control at 11% ABV are available now.

Oskar Blues: Barrel-aged Ten FIDY

Ten FIDY Imperial Stout is probably the first beer of its kind put into cans, and one of the best known across the country. This Barrel-Aged Ten FIDY was previously a rare and hard to find version aged in Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hills bourbon barrels for a minimum of eight months. Oskar Blues is distributing this version across its whole national distribution network in 2017, so you now have a chance of trying one of the best and most infamous barrel-aged imperial stouts in crazy 19.2oz cans. Find it by using the Oskar Blues Beer Finder at www.oskarblues.com/beerfinder.

pFriem: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

Does pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River do anything badly? In addition to Belgian-styles and IPAs, the brewery just released this great Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout in bottles. pFriem’s BBA Imperial Stout absorbs the tannins of Oola Distiller’s Bourbon Barrels for a full year before being bottled. Decadent and filled with aromas of caramel, chocolate mousse, & coconut with big flavors of ripe cherries, hint of char, and a touch of bourbon. 11.5% 70 IBUs and available now in 375ml bottles.

Ruse Brewing: Deep Sleeper

Portland’s Ruse Brewing has been making great small batch farmhouse and barrel-aged beers for the past year out of Culmination Brewing’s facility before moving into its own spot next year. Ruse’s latest release is Deep Sleeper, an imperial oatmeal stout aged in whiskey barrels with Vermont maple syrup. The maple syrup portion is an ode to co-brewer/owner Devin Benware’s Vermont roots and the bottle label is designed by yours truly. Deep Sleeper is highly limited and only 70 cases of 500ml bottles were produced. Available now in the Portland-area only at fine bottleshops and at Culmination Brewing’s taproom.

Sierra Nevada: Trip in the Woods’ Cocoa Coconut Narwhal

Sierra Nevada’s great Narwhal Imperial Stout is available in 12oz bottles, but this special one-off barrel-aged version with coconut and cocoa was bottled only once and is extremely limited in 750ml caged and corked bottles. Narwhals are a mythical, whale-like creature (Editor’s note: Dude, come on, narwhals are real. They are a  small species of whale.), and thus this barrel-aged and coconut version might be nearly as rare. Brewed with toasted coconut and then left to mature in Kentucky bourbon barrels for nearly a year. To the barrels was added even more coconut and cocoa nibs to create a uniquely rich and decadent stout. Catch a glimpse while you can before this rare treat slips below the surface forever. Brewed with six different kinds of mats plus Cocoa Nibs, Toasted Coconut, Kentucky Bourbon Barrels. 11.9% ABV and 50 IBUs. 

Deschutes Brewery: The Abyss

If Ruse Brewing’s Deep Sleeper is the most obscure beer on this list, then Deschutes’ The Abyss is easily the most well known. Released every year since 2006, The Abyss is one of the most famous and acclaimed imperial stouts in the world. It’s released each winter, and the 2017 vintage just hit last week at Deschutes pubs with distributed bottles hitting bottleshops and grocery stores in limited quantities shortly. The Abyss is brewed with black strap molasses, licorice, and dry-spiced with cherry bark and vanilla bean. Half the batch is aged in bourbon barrels, wine barrels, and new Oregon oak barrels, then blended back with the non-barrel-aged portion. For the last couple of years Deschutes has released special alternate spirit barrel versions; this year there will be a 100% tequila barrel aged version and a 100% rum barrel-aged version. The regular The Abyss is 11.1% ABV and 80 IBUs and is out now. The alternate versions will be available at Deschutes pubs in mid-December.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com