Craft Beer's 10 Best Seasonal Porters and Stouts

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- You don't need to spice up a beer or put Santa Claus and wreaths on the label to make a great winter beer. Sometimes you just need to darken it up and give it enough kick to warm you.

Though it's a great time to sip the last of the fall's pumpkin ales and sample the first of the holiday season's winter warmers, this is also stout season. Though the folks at Diageo Guinness ( DEO) seem more than happy to let mainstream American beer drinkers believe St. Patrick's Day ushers in stout season here in the U.S., American craft brewers use this time of year to introduce their malty holiday porters, creamy sweet stouts and high-octane limited release imperial stouts.

But how do you tell a porter from a stout? Should it even matter to holiday beer drinkers looking for a tall glass of something warm, dark and lovely? Not really. Blame Arthur Guinness for the confusion, as his recipe for Extra Superior Porter eventually became Guinness Stout. True porters didn't return until the initial U.S. craft beer boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and to this day judges at beer competitions insist stouts are darker, use roasted barley and use less water than porters.

It gets a bit esoteric after that, and even brewers and beers experts don't believe there's much separating porters and stouts beyond what a brewer decides to call it. Writer Adrienne So summed it up in far greater detail for Beer West back in March, but drinkers shouldn't trifle themselves with such distinctions this winter.

There are a lot better reasons to enjoy these seasonal stouts and porters than their names alone. Here are just 10 examples of stouts and porters that are a perfect fit for the cold months ahead:

Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout and Cherry Rye Bourbon County
Alcohol by volume: 14%

Practically the entire beer-loving Chicagoland area lines up for the bourbon-barrel-aged Bourbon County Stout in September, but the original 15% ABV recipe may not be the best Goose Island has to offer.

Bourbon County Coffee Stout was released in November, made with La Tortuga beans from Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. That roasted coffee flavor melds with hints of vanilla and chocolate to dampen the bourbon burn just a bit. The Cherry Rye Bourbon also hit the shelves in November, adding some seasonally appropriate dark cherry tartness to the equation.

Goose Island fans keep waiting for Bourbon County Stout to water down or go year-round after Anheuser-Busch InBev's ( BUD) purchase of Goose Island last year. While that day seems ever closer as Goose Island execs and brewers leave and barrel capacity grows, this year's batch indicates the good times won't end this winter.

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