Heavy hitters, lighter alternatives and Tribulation: Our favorite winter beers from local brewing companies

Winter decided to finally show up this January, and it arrived in full force. While science may tell you that alcohol does not actually warm you up, there is no better way to knock the chill out of the air than a nice beer. The good news is that there are plenty of excellent options around town to choose from, both in terms of breweries providing excellent selections, and in the quality of those very drinks at each location. For many breweries on this list, it was difficult to pick just one of their beers, but we persevered and battled through to find the very best of the best in town.

Tex Arcana from Against the Grain
A Belgian stout is a rare treat from any brewery and Against the Grain has crafted an excellent entry with their Tex Arcana. The Tex Arcana is as dark as a moonless night, and with a body that is heavy, but not particularly as viscous as some stouts. There is a hint of that kind of malty sweetness that accompanies Belgian beers that colors the flavor in a way that hints at licorice. It’s that taste that lends a festive flare to the beer, and one that invites repeat samples. This is a bit on the heavier side in terms of ABV, so you may want to limit those samples, or snuggle in for the night with a growler at home, unless this beer is eventually canned or bottled, which would be well-appreciated.

English Mild from Akasha
The English Mild at Akasha is an excellent session beer, which seems to be an increasing rarity in the craft brew market. For the uninitiated, a session beer is one that has a low alcohol content, and one that is ideal for sitting and drinking with some regularity without fear that you will get too overwhelmed by the alcohol content. The English Mild clocks in at just under 4 percent alcohol, which is less than a Budweiser in terms of strength. What makes it so exceptional though is the beer’s richness of flavor: this is a delicious brown ale colored with notes of spices that never complicate the taste. As such, this is an incredibly easy and inviting beer to drink, and one that feels incredibly hearty, but not too heavy.

Peanut Brown from Apocalypse Brew Works
The Apocalypse Brew Works Peanut Brown is the kind of beer that could easily go wrong fast. Peanut flavoring in beer is often the sort of thing that can overpower a drink, as if you are drinking liquid peanut butter or something. Apocalypse has no problem striking up just the right balance in between that peanut and beer flavor. The end result is a woody taste, almost hazelnut-like, with earthy notes. This feels thick in that respect, which would seem confirmed by the dark coloration of the drink, but this is ultimately a light-bodied beer that goes down incredibly smooth.

Heine Bros Mocha Milk Stout from The BBC
Historically, the BBC has released a Heine Brothers Coffee Stout, which, as the name suggests, has a strong and slightly acidic coffee flavor. It seems like they’re mixing it up a bit this year with the Heine Bros Mocha Milk Stout, an exquisite beer in any season. Here the BBC has crafted a stout as dark, thick-bodied beer with an approachable taste, even for non-dark beer drinkers. The mocha aspect of the beer adds that nice, chocolaty flavor that undercuts the acidity of whatever coffee may be present, and the milk aspect makes for a beer with a creamy consistency that reflects the best of Guiness or (even better) Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, but with a life of its own. This is the equivalent of hot chocolate in beer form — a cool and delicious blend of frothy and thick, without ever being too saccharine.

Coconut Porter from Cumberland
Cumberland’s Coconut Porter is the perfect answer to the winter time blues: It’s got that heavy body ideal for the cold weather, but with an added coconut pop like the ghost of summer’s past. As the name implies, this is a porter and, as such, has the color and body of one — dark and foreboding — but the coconut offsets that in such a beautifully delicious way. As with their autumn offering, Cumberland really excels at crafting a beer that never tastes like the flavor was chemically-induced, and that always privileges a more authentic experience. The brewery has been on fire lately and this is proof that they have their finger on the pulse of what makes for not just a good beer, but one that sticks out.

Barbearian from Floyd County Brewing Company
An unconventional brown ale, the Floyd County Brewing Company has concocted something more like a traditional Belgian than a standard English Brown. As such, you can expect a malt flavor that never gets overly sweet, but certainly colors the flavor of the beer. This seems to be an unfiltered drink as the body is especially thick, albeit not quite in stout territory, with flakes of grains collecting in the bottle of the glass. The ABV here is a bit strong and the environment of the brewery, which skews towards an olde English pub, certainly engenders a sense of drinking thick brews one after the other. While that may be ill-advised, the Barbearian itself certainly invites that approach, as it is sweet in flavor, but not overboard in that regard.

Bourbon Barrel Stout from Goodwood
While not necessarily a seasonal, the Bourbon Barrel Stout by Goodwood is perhaps one of the brewery’s most satisfying winter beers. As advertised, the folks at Goodwood have crafted a solid stout colored by a stint aged in bourbon barrels for a flavor that blends the bite of bourbon and the thickness of a stout, resulting in a beer that somehow manages a subtle sweetness and crisp taste. This is a smooth beer, with an aftertaste that pops like the best Kentucky bourbon, and the brewery knows this: the Bourbon Barrel Stout is their carryover from their time affiliated with the BBC … and Goodwood has their stamp all over it. You can grab this in a bottle at a number of places around town, but there is something special about huddling up with some pals on a chilly evening to have a pint in their taproom on Main Street.

Tribulation from Great Flood
With the limited release of their Tribulation Stout, Great Flood is really proving what an amazing brewery they can be. Served in bottles only, the Tribulation Stout is a coffee and oatmeal stout aged in bourbon barrels, which creates a ridiculously smooth flavor. This is one of the finest brews that I have ever had the privilege of consuming, and it makes for an amazing winter warmer. All that said, it is incredibly potent, with an ABV of around 12 percent, which is  approximately three times that of a domestic beer. Coupled with the fact that it comes served in a bottle that contains 1 pint, 9.4 fluid ounces, it is perhaps best shared with a friend. The Tribulation Stout is black gold, pure and velvety goodness with a taste that combines a hearty breakfast with a nice post dinner nightcap. It’s truly a remarkable brew.

Noel from Monnik
The new kid on the block, Monnik proved to be the most challenging in the most wonderful of ways. Simply put, their beer is good to the point that it was difficult to pick just one of the many remarkable and delicious beers on tap. There were no less than four flavored saisons on tap, as well as a host of ales (IPA, APA, etc.), a creamy stout, and more. The Najaar, a spiced saison, was one of the best beers I’ve had to memory, but in the end, the Noel was certainly the right choice. What the Noel offers is a crisp seasonal alternative to the traditional porters, stouts and brown ales that typically dominate the market at this time of year. With a light coloration and a heavily-gingered taste, the Noel is a delightful drink that goes down easy and has a nice pop to the flavor that lacks in so many beers regardless of the time of year.