A couple weeks ago, when we were talking about seasonal beers and all the attendant backlashes and forelashes that come with their increasing popularity, commenter Hamilton Porter made the excellent point that some of the exaggerated hand-wringing stems from the odious cultural trend of "basic-shaming."
Let's not dive too deep into that pit of bullshit, but the general premise is that if there's anything worse than being the sort of hipster trash who drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon just because all the rest of the dirty-haired skinny kids do, it's being one of the lame-ass sheeple who need a calendar to figure out how to navigate the beer cooler.
While I can't condone judging anyone's beer choice too harshly on cultural or aesthetic grounds—I'll say a beer sucks, and that if you drink it you're making a sucky choice about beer, but I won't say it makes you an inferior human being or in some way unfit for any particular corner of society—I do accept the theory that if something tastes good in January, it probably tastes just as good in July. But even though I agree with the science of it, I have to admit that I drink more pilsner in the summer and more porter in the winter. I do 95 percent of my drinking in climate-controlled settings, so the weather should have no bearing on my beer decisions, yet it does.
And so, when people tell me it's cold outside (how else would I know?), I find myself leaning toward imperial stouts. This can be a dangerous direction, because most of these high-flavor, high-alcohol beers have even higher price tags. You can get a 22-ounce bottle of nice stout for around $4, but the price goes up a few bucks per adjective; if you want one of the really deluxe oak-aged anniversary-edition imperial coffee stouts, you're up into double figures. This is why I love Victory Storm King Imperial Stout, one of the few super-stouts (9.1-percent ABV) that's sold year-round in reasonably priced six-packs.
It's black. It smells like a ton of stuff, including raspberry vodka and sweetened coffee. It's quite hoppy for the style, which gives the chocolate a nice, deep bitterness that outlasts the sweet roasted coffee and dark fruit; in fact, the hops are potent enough to lend a clear, if faint, pine-resin edge that gives it an extra dimension lacking in even some of the most famous imperials. The finish is fairly balanced, leaning bitter, and once the initial sweetness fades, a very dark chocolate impression sticks around forever.
This may not be one of the world's very finest imperial stouts, but it is excellent when price and accessibility are accounted for. I think it's the best version available in a $12 six-pack, and it keeps forever (mine says it'll hold till 2019), so get yourself a dozen today to keep on hand for when the mood strikes out of nowhere and you don't feel like braving the snow—or the humidity, your call—for a $20 collector's item.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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