With apologies to T.S. Eliot, January is the cruelest month. The holidays are gone, the weather is dreary and if there is sun, it's only good for casting long shadows. And don't count on early February to break the winter doldrums. What you need is a beverage of substance and cheer, with enough alcohol to act as antifreeze. What you need is a barleywine.
Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale, $2.99-$3.49
Sweet, fresh-baked bread aromas lead off in this dark amber pour; touches of cracked grain, caramel, fig and raisin follow. There is more sweet bread on the palate along with jammy stone-fruit, plum, lightly toasted malt and dark chocolate. A nice hit of earthy hops comes through on the finish. This brew weighs in at a fairly modest 8.8 percent alcohol.
North Coast 2015 Old Stock Ale, $3.29-$4.29
This beer pours a chestnut brown in the glass with a decent, short-lived head. The toasted bread aromas are fairly subdued, backed by lightly sour fruit and herb. It's much bolder in the mouth with boozy malt, toffee, chocolate, cherry and touches of grain and hops. This 11.9 percent alcohol entry wants time to come together.
Sierra Nevada 2015 Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, $2.29-$2.99
This pick pours a ruby-tinged amber with a thin-but-persistent head and a bigger hop presence than you'd expect in a barleywine—that's Sierra Nevada's signature style. This big-but-balanced brew opens with piney hops and grapefruit aromas. Bitter hops wrap around a core of sweet malt, colored by fresh citrus and herb. This 9.6 percent alcohol beer is delicious now, and it evolves beautifully with age.