For some reason — maybe it's the longer nights — winter brings out a taste for dark, strong, malty beers: porters and stouts, particularly in the overpowering Russian and Baltic styles. They overflow with roasted flavors, and they're usually quite sweet.
But that's not the only way they can go. Old Rasputin is a Russian imperial stout, meaning that it's very dark (it pours nearly black with a very high tan head) and alcoholic (9% by volume), but you taste very little sweetness. That's because of a bitterness level toward the top of the IPA range, though it doesn't register in the palate as bitter, rather as a dryness cleaning up after all the malt.
Don't think of it as you would a sweet stout; its overwhelming taste impression resembles dark coffee. Like coffee, Old Rasputin could be comfortable with most traditional American foods, even steak and eggs with hash browns.
Style: A broad-shouldered, super-dark brew ready for anything
Price: $2 to $3 per 12-ounce bottle
Where to find it: Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles, (310) 475-0606, http://www.wallywine.com; Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, (310) 306-2822, http://www.beveragewarehouse.com; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463,www.hitimewine.net; Red Carpet Wine, 400 E. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, (800) 339-0609, http://www.redcarpetwine.com; Wade's Wines in Westlake Village, (818) 597-9463, http://www.wadeswines.com, Total Wine stores, http://www.totalwine.com; and Beverages and More stores, http://www.bevmo.com.