This isn’t technically a style—it’s something brewers do to make an already enjoyable beer even more macho. According to Fremont Brewing lead brewer James McDermet, aging smooths out certain characteristics like hoppiness and the brashness of high alcohol. Remove those notes and you’re left with something awfully malty and sweet, but just as boozy; that’s when a wooden barrel, saturated with memories of its previous liquid occupant (most brewers favor bourbon), steps in, sharpening things up with flavors like oak or vanilla. High-alcohol winter beers lend themselves particularly well to aging, though all this extra time and labor means barrel-aged beers are typically found in small quantities; some, like the annual release of Fremont’s B-Bomb, are anticipated like Black Friday or Santa Claus.
Fremont Brewing B-Bomb
A special batch of the popular Abominable winter ale is made with extra alcohol to withstand a year in a bourbon barrel. Though the brewery tries to avoid overhyping its Decemberish release, bottles go fast. fremontbrewing.com
Schooner Exact Brewing Hoppy the Woodsman The brewery’s Hoppy Holidays winter ale emerges from a six-month barrel sojourn with a new bourbon-breathing personality and complex oaky notes. This is the first year Schooner is bottling its holiday tradition. schoonerexact.com
Two Beers Brewing Fall Line Russian Imperial Stout Part of a small, rotating lineup of specialty beers that show off what the SoDo brewery is capable of. The winter offering spent six months in a brandy barrel, plus another four on a mix of vanilla beans, Bing cherries, and cocoa nibs from Theo chocolate. twobeersbrewery.com