The much-anticipated El Niño rainstorms have finally come, and all this cold, wet weather is a great excuse to dive into some beer styles that are known for their bold flavors and warming alcohol content. There's nothing wrong with an easy-drinking pint or a hoppy IPA on a stormy day — and higher alcohol double IPAs can still give you that warm-inside feeling — but we so rarely get a meteorological motivation to drink some of craft beer's most flavorful styles in the Southland. Here are four styles of beer to warm up a stormy day.
The first style that often comes to mind when the mercury drops is the dark and roasty imperial stouts that push into double-digit alcohol percentages. It can be hard to dive into an inky, 11% alcohol stout when you're still wearing flip-flops, but these beers are built to banish the gloom. Thick and rich with flavors of bittersweet chocolate, dark-roasted coffee, and even shades of savory umami in the background, they're the liquid embodiment of cozy.
Philadelphia's Victory Brewing Co. has long sent its excellent beers to California, and the Storm King Stout (in six-packs from $12 to $14) is a superlative example of an American imperial stout. Cocoa and coffee dominate the flavor, and there's a complex hop bitterness layered into the finish that adds more complexity. Another imperial stout that leans heavily on hop flavors to counterpoint all the roasted malts is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Narwhal (four packs are about $12).
Wee heavy Scotch ale
The most alcoholic of the family of Scottish ale styles, the wee heavy (so named because it was traditionally served in "wee" glasses, due to the brew's potency) is known for its caramel sweetness and understated hop character. These brews are boiled longer than the average beer, resulting in the deep and complex flavors of darkly toasted breads and toffee.
San Diego's Alesmith Brewery makes a version that's as refined as it is bold. Dark sugars and fruit predominate, but the roasty and subtly smoky background balances the brew's sweetness. You might want to grab a friend (and a block of blue cheese) with whom to split the 750-ml bottle (about $15). Oskar Blues Brewery makes a more manageable wee heavy called Old Chub. Available in six-packs of 12-ounce cans for about $10-$12, the 8% alcohol Scotch ale is perfect for stashing in your fridge for a literal rainy day. Locally, Beachwood Brewing in Long Beach makes a pair of Scottish-style ales available on draft at the brewpub. Full Malted Jacket is the heavy hitter, and Beachwood may be the only bar in town where you can sip on your wee heavy in the traditional thistle-shaped glass. For even more punch, grab a bottle of the barrel-aged version of Full Malted Jacket for $25 while you're there.
First brewed in 18th century England to give aristocratic households an alternative to wine, the barley wine style of beer was embraced by American craft brewers looking for styles that harbored bold flavors and lots of alcohol. The American versions tend to be far hoppier than their English forebears, but they're still malt-driven beers that can feature an intense alcoholic warming effect in the throat and chest.
Stone Brewing Co.'s Old Guardian and Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Old Ruffian are textbook examples of American barley wines that add hop flavor to an already intense style. Both brands get released annually in February (the 22-ounce bottles are about $10), but bottles tend to linger.
The practice of bold and strong beers aged in used spirits barrels is a popular trend in the craft beer world, and these bottles can be both more expensive and higher in alcohol than most craft brews.
Goose Island Beer Co. (now owned by AB InBev) was one of the first breweries to popularize bourbon barrel-aged beers, and every year on Black Friday it releases its Bourbon County line of beers. They can be difficult to find, but at nearly 14% alcohol and thick with whiskey flavors, Bourbon County is worth seeking out. One of the kings of the barrel-aged beer trend is Firestone Walker Brewing Co., and the Paso Robles brewery makes half a dozen different beers that spend long months aging in a barrel room brimming with oaken casks. It also creates a blend of these beers each year for its Anniversary Ale, and these are special-occasion bottles with bottomless complexity. From $18 to $22.
Available at local BevMo! and Total Wine locations, Sunset Beer Co. in Echo Park, Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock, Select Beer Store in Redondo Beach, Stearns Liquor in Long Beach, or Ramirez Beverage Center in Boyle Heights.