As we head into fall, our thoughts turn away from session beers, wheat ales and IPAs and toward big beers made for sipping. And nothing packs a punch quite like those aged in a bourbon barrel. These beers can even be cellared—stored and saved for consumption on any day you deem celebratory—adding layers to the flavor profile. Craft beer enthusiasts often buy two bottles and store one for later, comparing their tasting notes from one bottle to the next. We recommend you do the same with following…
Deschutes Abyss An imperial stout aged in oak bourbon barrels, The Abyss pours opaque with licorice notes that are immediately identifiable, accompanied by a crème brûlée mouthfeel and chocolate-covered coffee bean finish. And at 11 percent ABV, this is a boozy bottle of beer. Mouthwatering.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Outside of the obvious—that aging beer in a vessel that previously contained bourbon leads to a mild burn in the chest going down—barrels also impart notes of vanilla and oak. This medal-winner from the Midwest is an expensive ass-kicker at 14.5 percent ABV. But it’s well worth every sip.
Firestone-Walker Parabola Firestone-Walker has made its name by blending different styles of beers in their barrels, and this limited edition Russian imperial stout is aged for 12 months before bottling. It pours thick with aromas of molasses and bourbon and has a chewy, viscous mouthfeel accentuated by dried fruit and toffee. It finishes dry and ashy. Also, it’s 13 percent ABV and you’ll know it.
Cigar City Big Sound Scotch Ale This big, malt-forward beer—classified as a Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale—brings some sweetness to the dance and will definitely lift your spirits and put a jolly ol’ grin on your face. You’re going to taste some caramel and brown sugar in there. And bourbon, of course. But at 8.5 percent ABV, it’s one of the more drinkable barrel-aged beers out there.
Lost Abbey Angel’s Share Angel’s Share refers to the small amount of alcohol that evaporates out of a barrel during fermentation. There are vanilla notes, but here’s no hiding the bourbon in this bottle—you can smell it as soon as you pop the cork. There’s lots of roasted and toasted malt flavor, but it still possesses a sweetness of dried dark fruit (think dates and figs) and gooey molasses. At 12.5 percent ABV, you need to go easy or, ahem, share with a friend.
Three Floyds Dark Lord This exceedingly rare beer can only be purchased one day a year and fetches up to $200 a bottle on eBay. This writer sampled a 2-ounce pour at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting during the Great American Beer Festival a few years back and overheard a guy say, “This beer is so thick you could walk across it.” Not untrue. It pours black as oil with huge chocolate and bourbon notes and goes off at 15 percent ABV. A beer to try before you die.
Great Lakes Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout The name is a double entendre: it might happen if you drink too much, but it’s inspired by the 2003 blackout that enveloped the northeastern US in darkness. Another rare, seasonal Russian Imperial Stout, it’s 9.5 percent ABV and has the aroma of day-old coffee spiked with bourbon. Throw in subtle vanilla, roasted and bitter chocolate flavors, plus a marshmallow-y finish, and drinking it can be a religious experience.