Big, black monsters have invaded local bottle shops. If you've got a kingly budget and schedule, early December is the best time to buy limited-edition barrel-aged imperial stouts.
But let's say you're a working schlub who just got off work on a chilly Wednesday night. You want something dark, malty and imperial-grade but you don't want to drop $15 or make a special stop at Beer Mongers. You want something strong—at least 9 percent ABV—that's also inexpensive, no more than $9 for a 22-ounce bottle, and readily available at Fred Meyer. What do you grab?
Five WW tasters put four West Coast imperial stouts through a blind taste test, ranking them on a 100-point scale. The results? The best comes from our own backyard.
Gigantic Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout
Portland, $7.99, 10 percent ABV
Southeast Portland-based Gigantic is best known for its IPA, which was the bestselling local beer at Belmont Station last year. This imperial stout is as thick as Ovaltine and as black as a cloudy, moonless night under Oregon pines, with a milky sweetness that leaves a little gap under the door for nutty and herbal flavors to float in.
"Like hazelnut hot cocoa—big and a little crunchy."
"Whoa, flowers and nuts—tastes like Christmas."
Great Divide Yeti Russian Imperial Stout
Denver, $8.19, 9.5 percent ABV
The Yeti is best known to beer geeks as the base for a cornucopia of speciality versions: Cocoa Yeti, Belize Cocoa Aged Yeti, Oatmeal Yeti, Oatmeal Raisin Yeti, White Ash Oak Aged Yeti. We found the original version desperately craves air and warmth. Pulled cool from the fridge, our snifters rumbled alive as the night wore on.
"Big chocolate. Sweet, well-rounded and just a hint of fire in the back."
"The most fascinating flavor of the five. An unidentifiable note—campfire? rum raisin?—leaves me pursing my lips for another sip."
Lagunitas Imperial Stout
Petaluma, Calif., $3.79, 9.9 percent ABV
This Northern California brewery's simple imperial has smoke and fire. The booze is a little loud in this simple and inexpensive imperial, but you can do much worse with a $4 bomber.
"Definitely a little hot and too bitter—there's something like spoiled milk in there."
"Burnt toast and a little thin. Quaffable, though."
âChocolatey, but more like an M&M than a slab of fudge.â
No-Li Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout
Spokane, Wash., $5.99, 9.5 percent ABV
Spokane's No-Li—called North Lights before the threat of litigation forced a name change—just started distributing in Portland. This brew didn't impress our tasters, but we're very fond of the brewery's spicy Winter Warmer.
"Bittersweet coffee, like a cup of Turkish brew with a tablespoon of sugar."
"Very dry finish—almost like eating overly salty food."