Alcohol by volume: 11% ABV
If this is a time of giving and good will, why aren't the folks east of the Mississippi allowed to taste this wondrous little batch of deep, dark stout from Bend, Ore.? Maybe because it doesn't take itself as seriously as the beer nerd stouts that sit in cellars and are alluded to on message boards while owners troll for suckers willing to make trades. Abyss' bottle says age it, the brewers say you should try to drink it fresh; the pragmatist says get two bottles and try it both ways. Certainly one of the richest stouts on this list, The Abyss is as dark as its name implies and skips over the niceties of roasted grain and chocolate notes for heavier molasses and licorice flavors. Released in mid-November, it's built for the cold gray days ahead while still warm enough to have its own chocolate brownie recipe. Our apologies to folks back East, who'd likely love a bottle once the snow hits. Surly Darkness
Alcohol by volume: 9.8% ABV
This Minnesota brewery loves itself a 16-ounce tallboy can and an easy drinkin' beer. That Darkness comes in a wine-style bottle capped with a red wax seal and emblazoned with a vampire face should be a sign that it's not messing around. It's tough to consider this a winter holiday beer, as the October release date and goth labeling clearly vie for Halloween space amid the pumpkin ales, but a potent stout laden with hints of chocolate, cherries, raisins, coffee and toffee fits right in at the Christmas table. Just be prepared for some holiday bitterness that doesn't stem from getting socks instead of a tablet. Surly says it adds "a touch of hops" to Darkness, but its 85 IBUs are more than beer lovers will find in some brews that deign to call themselves IPAs. Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Original Stout
Alcohol by volume: 9.5% ABV
What makes a "breakfast stout," you ask? Well, the first thing you'll want to add is a bit of coffee. Denver-based Great Divide tweaks its Yeti imperial stout this way by infusing it with a whole lot of Denver's own Pablo's espresso. A little vanilla or milky flavor always helps, and Yeti's strong undercurrent of vanilla from its oak-barrel aging certainly does the trick. Finally, you'll want to crank up the volume a bit as a wakeup call. All of those sugars help give this coffee-powered Yeti some extra kick, while the coffee and vanilla keep the burn to a minimum. Can you drink it for breakfast? Some people have a thing about not drinking a beer before noon, but last we checked it wasn't illegal. Bells Expedition Stout
Alcohol by volume: 10.5% ABV
Why did we put another Michigan brewery in here? That's simple: Michigan knows cold, Michigan knows long winter months and lake-effect snow, Michigan knows hard times. As a result of all of that, its large craft beer community knows how to make a stout that will get folks through. From October until about mid-March, it's Expedition Stout season. Bell's created this malty, fruity, chocolate-laden monster strictly for the winter months, even if it won't be at its best until a winter from now. It's one of the only beers of its kind brewed for the express purpose of aging, yet is still available on tap for much of the season for those who can't wait. How long you hold off depends on what kind of a stout drinker you are. If you like a powerful, bitter imperial that lets you in on its secret from the first sip, drink Expedition Stout in its early months. If you enjoy a more subtle, malty stout, let this one sit around a while. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.