Some of the darkest and heaviest beers can almost pass as a meal themselves. And on a cold day, that's just the point. Unlike a frosty light beer, stouts and porters warm you from the inside out. Originally from Britain and Ireland, these heady ales have been reinterpreted by dozens of microbreweries across the country-many of them in ski towns. The selection ranges from sweet and creamy to black and intense. The flavors are hearty and complex, so drink slowly and savor.
First timers entering the world of heavy beers might start with a porter. Born in 1700s London as a beer favored by train station porters (hence the name), porter was originally a blend of three beers: an old, stale ale, a medium-bodied ale and a fresh, lighter ale. A 21st-century porter gets its deeper color and richer flavor from roasted specialty malts, though it's not as dark as stout.
Boulder Beer in Boulder, Colo., has been making Planet Porter since the 1970s-enough time to get the recipe just right. With intriguing fruity aromas and flavors of chocolate and coffee, Planet Porter is a slow-sipper and a Colorado ski-town favorite. On the other side of the country, Vermont's Otter Creek Brewing keeps après-ski drinkers satisfied with Stovepipe Porter, a rich, smoky brew you'll find at Killington or Stowe. Other U.S. porters to look for include Sierra Nevada Porter from Chico, Calif., and Road Dog Ale's Scottish Porter from the Flying Dog Brewery in Denver (originally from Aspen). Both are accented with aromatic hops and roasted, bitter flavors. Also try the lighter, nuttier King's Peak Porter from Salt Lake City's Uinta Brewing Co.
You may have never tried porter, but chances are you know all about Guinness. It's the most famous stout in the world, and justly renowned for its smooth, creamy texture and surprisingly delicate, malty flavor. Guinness is a dry stout-also known as an Irish stout, since the most famous of its ilk come from the Emerald Isle.
Guinness is creamy and delicious, though exploring the lesser-known stouts is where the fun really starts. For a good American alternative, try Breckenridge Brewery's Oatmeal Stout. It's full of creamy caramel and dark-chocolate flavors. Much heavier is Russian Imperial Stout, the strongest version of stout (originally brewed in England and exported to Russia and the Baltic States, and popular with the Russian Imperial Court).
Some American versions of this cult favorite can get a little extreme. Rogue XS Imperial Stout from Oregon, a popular Northwestern brew found as far north as Whistler, B.C., is thick and inky in the glass with pronounced flavors of coffee and dark chocolate. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from the North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg, Calif. (popular around Lake Tahoe), is even more intense. It bears a strong resemblance to motor oil in the glass, but tastes of caramel, toffee and coffee bean.
Higher in alcohol than the average brew, all will leave you quenched, warm and satisfied.
Ready for something really strong? Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Del., brews World Wide Stout, a monster brew with more than three times the alcohol content of the average beer. Black as pitch, with a scorching aroma of alcohol, World Wide Stout scares off amateurs by look alone. Those brave enough to drink a glass will experience a viscous texture and the sticky-sweet flavors of chocolate and orange peel-and, if they're not moderate-one heck of a headache the next day.