Best Dark Beers For The Holidays in Houston
Houston’s sub-tropical climate doesn’t often demand rich and robust beer styles like stouts, porters and winter warmers. These thick, malt-driven beers just aren’t as refreshing as a light-bodied Kölsch or pale ale, beer styles that cut through the heat with crisp, thirst-quenching flavors. So, when Houston temperatures do finally drop below 80 degrees, it’s important to make the most of it and break out those dark beers.
Here’s a list of some of the best that are easily available. These were all found at H-E-B, which has a surprisingly robust beer department. These are all also likely found at better liquor stores, too. Call ahead to be sure (but do note that during the busy holiday season, there might be a long wait to get a knowledgeable person on the phone at big-box retailers like Spec’s and Total Wine). These beers also make terrific gifts — and you wouldn’t want to give away something you haven’t tried yourself yet, would you? Of course not.
Barrel Aged Winter Warmer, Rahr & Sons Brewing Company, Fort Worth; Winter Warmer aged in bourbon barrels, 11 percent ABV: The Winter Warmer is medium-bodied with moderate creaminess and a great round mouthfeel. The rich malt base and dark, dried fruit flavor is backed by stiff vanilla and bourbon flavors. The taste is slightly cake-y, comfortingly boozy and jammy. The finish tastes like black cherries and figs.
Chai Milk Stout Nitro, Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont, Colorado; English sweet/milk stout with chai spice, 5 percent ABV: Those who appreciate Left Hand’s original nitro stout are also likely to love the chai-infused version. This brew pours a deep mahogany brown and sports a thick tan head. The chai aroma is subtle with a background of light chocolate, cardamom and allspice. The nitro and oats create an ultra-smooth mouthfeel that subdues the potent chai spices, giving this beer an overall silky and balanced flavor.
Double Dunk, Prairie Artisan Ales, Tulsa; American imperial stout conditioned on Oreos (yes, really), 11.9 percent ABV: This brewery has struggled with infection issues in its beers, but when conditions are right it produces astounding flavors. Double Dunk is the latest limited release and if you’ve ever wanted to know what dunking Oreos in stout tastes like, you’re in luck. The beer pours pitch black with minimal head and has aromas of chocolate and cookies. On the palate, the high ABV isn’t obvious, making this stout dangerously drinkable. The Oreo flavor hits its peak once the beer reaches about 40 degrees (approximately 10 minutes after it exits the fridge).
Josh The Apple Baron, Clown Shoes, Boston; 10 percent ABV: This is the third beer in a series by Clown Shoes honoring Texas beer representative Josh Baggett. Its predecessors include Josh the Revelator IPA released in 2015 and Josh The Guava King IPA released in 2016. This ale, only sold in Texas, is a wee heavy style aged on apple brandy barrels. Both the nose and the flavor are apple-forward and the balance is exceptional. The apple flavor is crisp and bright and finishes with a lingering carbonated tingle on the back of the tongue.
Neapolitan Stout, Untitled Art / Bottle Logic, Waunakee, Wisconsin; American imperial stout, 12 percent ABV: This beer certainly delivers on the name and Neapolitan ice cream-like flavors. The flavor and aroma is strawberry-forward but fades to a light milky chocolate and vanilla finish. It has a heavy body but a velvety texture with just enough residual sugars to provide a sweet finish.
Negative Space, 11 Below Brewing Company, Houston; Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout with cinnamon and ancho chiles, 9.5 percent ABV: This rich and intense stout delivers all of the flavors it promises in the description: cacao nibs, cinnamon and ancho chiles. It’s rare for a beer to feature so many flavors and remain balanced and delicious, but Negative Space excels at this tricky achievement.
Or Xata, The Bruery, Placentia, California; American Blonde Ale with cinnamon and vanilla, 7.2 percent ABV: Spice, cinnamon and vanilla beans flavor this blonde ale and lactose imparts the characteristic creamy quality of horchata. It is an unexpected profile for a lightly-colored beer. Close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re drinking carbonated horchata.
Peanut Butter Pretzel Stout, Martin House Brewing Company, Fort Worth; American stout with pretzel and peanut butter, 6.5 percent ABV: The brewery adds six pounds of crushed pretzels per barrel to brew the pretzel stout and this year they added peanut butter, too. This beer pours dark while retaining significant carbonation. The nose is roasted peanuts and packs a salty punch on the first sip. The ABV is low so that the body on isn’t as round as other stouts. However, it does not lack character thanks to the peanut butter.
Spiced Cider, Austin Eastciders Collaboratory, Austin, Herbed/Spiced Cider, 5 percent ABV: There just had to be one cider in this holiday beer list. This crisp, dry cider is made with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger. It tastes like apples but finishes slightly spicy. The medium body and zesty blend of fall spices evokes a slice of apple pie and is the type of addictive combination we crave.
Storm Crusher, Brash Brewing Company (Houston) collaboration with Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, New York); Belgian quad with blueberries and coffee, 9.7 percent ABV: This big, bold Belgian quad is brewed with coffee beans and blueberries, making it exactly the kind of beer Houston has come to expect of Brash. Aromas of coffee burst from the glass followed by notes of blueberries and caramel. The beer has a very full mouthfeel and a pleasantly sweet, persistent caramel-malt profile. Proceeds from this 16-ounce can benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation.
Whether you’re drinking for yourself or looking for that perfect gift for the beer connoisseur in your life, these seasonal releases are stunning examples of the innovation that captivate the craft beer market.