With the wind chills far below freezing, it's hard to argue with a mug of hot cocoa or bourbon cider beside the fireplace. But it's also the season for stouts, winter warmers and other beers that pair best with a thick snowpack. Unwind after a day on the slopes by stopping by one of the breweries in the region, or sipping their brews at regional bars and restaurants. Here are a few to try before the season's over:
Laughing Dog Brewing
Winter in Sandpoint means the return of Laughing Dog's Dogfather, an imperial stout aged in charred bourbon barrels. It's available in 22-oz. bottles — and at 10 percent alcohol by volume, it might be one to drink once you're safely at home just steps from your bed. Though not strictly a winter seasonal, another cold-weather favorite is the Anubis Imperial Coffee Porter, also available in 22-oz. bottles.
With an annual average snowfall of nearly 50 inches, the historic mining town of Wallace knows a thing or two about winter. The Winter Ale from Wallace Brewing takes its warming role seriously, at 8 percent alcohol by volume. The caramel maltiness has hints of candy apple and toasted marshmallow. If you're not making it to Wallace any time before the snow starts melting, this beer has also been spotted on Spokane-area tap lists recently.
Paradise Creek Brewery
In Pullman, Paradise Creek Brewery released several dark, rich beers just for the winter season. They made a limited-edition Peppermint Porter for a s'mores bonfire holiday event, if you're lucky enough to stop by before they run out. But they've got two other seasonals to try: Stocking Stuffer, an imperial stout, and Lupular Fallout, an imperial black IPA released last week. Paradise Creek bottles some of their standards, but you'll only find these beers on tap. If you're looking for a snack to go with your pint, general manager Scott Mackey suggests the grilled cheese with peppered bacon, Cougar Gold and smoked cheddar.
Hopped Up Brewing
It's the first winter in operation for Hopped Up Brewing in Spokane Valley, but owner and brewer Steve Ewan hasn't wasted time getting into seasonals and rotating brews. The robust, malty Destroy My Sweater ale — which gets its name from the brewery's Ugly Sweater Party — is brewed with spruce tips instead of hops for a subtle wintry flavor. If you're already getting tired of dark beers by this point in the season, keep an eye out for a limited-edition huckleberry cream ale coming to one of the rotating taps.
No-Li's Winter Warmer is a flavorful alternative to the season's stouts and porters. A ruby-colored strong ale, the 2013 version has spicy notes from the hops without the heavy spiced flavor that's often in fall and winter seasonals. Most local grocery stores have started stocking the 22-oz. bottles, making this a perfect winter brew to pick up on the way home on those nights when you need to rest up before another early start. Also keep an eye out for No-Li's next offering in the Expo Series — the Skyrail IPA, a single-hop seasonal released on Dec. 24 as a convenient mood lifter for the days following Christmas.
Icicle Brewing Co.
If you're traveling through Leavenworth during a trip to the Cascades, stop by Icicle Brewing Co. Dark Persuasion German Chocolate Cake Ale, a porter with hints of coconut, was a favorite at regional beer festivals last winter. Plenty of fans were eagerly waiting when this year's first keg was tapped on Dec. 1. Another experimental seasonal coming at the beginning of 2014 is Strictly Business, a dark-roasted pale ale. ♦