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A Mixed Bag of Big Bottle Brews

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We're featuring three very different beers this time around—a porter, an imperial stout and a barley wine—but they have a few things in common. All offer a great liquid blanket to warm against the bleak weather; all come in a big bottle format; and all are among the best brews I've tasted in recent memory—each one exceptional and qualifying for my "don't you dare miss this one" list.

Alaskan Barley Wine Ale, 2008

Alaskan has been making this since 2003, but to my knowledge this is the first time this exceptional brew has been available in Idaho. It's a nice chestnut brown in color with a thin head that lets all the rich aromas of caramel-covered apples and candied orange come through. Most barley wines benefit from a bit of bottle age, and while I'm sure this one will cellar well, it is hard to resist its youthful freshness and charm. It tastes something like liquid fruit cake (in a good way) with citrus, berry, mandarin orange, toffee and spice. I pick up some dry hopping as well in this potent but well-balanced, too-easy-to-drink, simply superb barley wine.

Laughing Dog, Dogfather Imperial Stout

I have always been impressed by this Idaho brewery's reserve bottlings, and this one is no exception. Weighing in at a winter-warming 10.85 percent alcohol, you should share this one with a friend. It pours an opaque ebony with a thick, dark brown head. The aromas are all dark malt, toffee and blood orange. Big, bold flavors of lightly charred malt and piney hops are backed by softer anise and bittersweet chocolate-covered coffee beans. A touch of nuttiness comes through on the finish of this impressively complex, utterly worthy brew. Production is very limited, so don't delay.

Meantime London Porter

The Meantime brewery in Greenwich, England, is one of Britain's newest. Their near perfect porter re-creates a recipe from the 1750s, emulating the style of beer that helped make London a brewing capital of the world. It pours a deep, dark brown with a glint of ruby, topped by a frothy tan head. Lightly roasted malt aromas come through with a nice bit of sea brine. The warming flavors are much richer as chocolate-laced espresso combines with caramel, sweet citrus, mineral and dry malt all enveloped by a pleasant smokiness. I had no trouble finishing the bottle.