The holiday season is over, but this is Chicago — winter is just getting started. When you make the decision to pile on layers of clothing and huff it down to the corner bar, you're going to want a brew that's worth the trek. Likewise, if holing up in your apartment and hibernating through March is your preferred cold-weather strategy, you'll need some winter beer to help you through the long haul. Here, our favorite choices to ease mid-winter blues:
BFM La Dragonne at Drinks Over Dearborn
Laboring over a double boiler in his spankin' new downtown locale, Kyle McHugh of DOD explains to me that La Dragonne is "the beer drinker's mulled wine." As that familiar winter potpourri of cloves, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and orange peel wafts from his prep kitchen, I'm already salivating. The dark, almost black, brew boasts a perfumed kick, a soft texture, and the kind of comforting warmth (thanks 7.5 percent ABV!) previously reserved for fireside spiked-cocoa. Although I don't typically drop twenty bucks on a single beer (particularly in a recession), this spiced winter treat (which comes in a wine-sized bottle and is served after being heated to 167 degrees F) is the ideal hostess gift for any mid-winter dinner parties.
Brasserie Dupont "Avec Les Bons Voeux" at Bar on Buena
This exciting seasonal ale was once only available to friends of the makers to celebrate the new year. Fortunately for those of us who don't run with the Belgium brewery crowd, the special gift ("With Best Wishes) is now more universally accessible. At first whiff, the odorous Old World funk wafting from the drink can be off-putting but one sip reveals this copper-colored beer to be an impressively balanced offering. The velvety, almost creamy, texture gives way to honey-like malts, a breaded body and just a hint of orange peel. Hop-heads get just enough potency to rejoice, and a solid dose of carbonation disguises the 9.5 percent alcohol content.
St. Bernardus ABT 12 at Map Room
When monks brew a beer using water from a pre-Joan of Arc rainfall (they pump subterranean water from a depth of 150 feet, from a reserve they claim began during a historic rainfall), you know it's gotta be good. But when they consider one of these painstakingly crafted Abbey ales to be legions above the rest — well, that's when you know it's gotta be great. The St. Bernardus ABT 12 is considered the brewery's "show piece," and with a silky mahogany body, alternating notes of citrus and roasted malts and a whopping 10.5 percent ABV, this one does not disappoint. In the grand tradition of winter-appropriate brews, subtle smoke and dark fruits carry the balance.
Bear Republic Black Mamba at Sheffield's ($5)
Served in a goblet and sporting a surprisingly smooth texture and poised head, this one appears to be a delicate flower with little oomph — but that couldn't be further from the truth. Constructed from three kinds of wheat and black crystal malt, Black Mamba has a depth of flavor that you would never expect from a wheat beer. Of course, you wouldn't expect a wheat beer to be jet-black, either. Billed as a Belgian-style wheat beer, this silky brew is likely to appease ale and stout fans alike. Earthy, nutty and sporting hints of sugared roast, Black Mamba is a workhorse session beer at only 5.3 percent ABV.
Take it with you:
Goose Island Oatmeal Stout (Everywhere!)
Sure, you can nab this creamy stout year-round, but it's during the winter months that Goose Island's Oatmeal Stout (5 percent ABV) really shines. Deeply roasted malts carry subtle whiffs of coffee and oat for an effortlessly drinkable cold-weather staple.
Hirter Morchl Austrian (Sam's Wine + Spirits)
This unique Austrian brew tastes remarkably similar to iced espresso. Caramelized malts, plenty of effervescence, reasonably low ABV (5 percent) and a striking earthiness elevate this deep red beer to session material.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (Whole Foods)
With near-burnt notes of roasted malt, an edge of espresso and deep profiles of nutty dark chocolate, this oil-click colored stout is not for lightweights. At 10 percent ABV, the potent brew cuts through the wind-chill factor like no other.