Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beer style of the week; American Barleywines

Week 50

Last week, in the midst of a raging blizzard, it was the perfect time for English Barleywines. In keeping with the theme of warming beers to take on the nasty effects of winter, we bring you American Barleywines. As you might imagine, the American take on the style is brasher, bolder, spicier, hoppier and of course, less refined. That said, there are many English-style Barleywines brewed in the US (and elsewhere) and American-style Barleywines that fit into, or cross over both style ranges. For this article (and last week’s), for the most part, I will try to simply take the brewers at their word, or go with what the style is listed as in and/or

As written last week; Barleywine is a misleading name. It’s not in any way, shape or form in the wine family. It does, however, possess wine-like strength; from between 9% and 13% ABV. Sometimes you will find a Barleywine aged in Sherry or Port barrels (these are generally worth seeking out!).Deep colored, full bodied, with varying degrees of fruitiness in the aroma and taste, citrus and/or resinous hop bitterness with noticeable sweetness are common to the style. A potent alcoholic kick is a certainty. There are some beers listed as Barleywine that weigh in at fewer than 9% ABV, but they are probably more suited to the Old Ale or Strong English Ale family. Barleywines should be very strong ales!

Wonderfully warming American Barleywines

West Coast

Bigfoot Barleywine-style Ale - Sierra Nevada Brewing – Chico, California – 9.6% ABV

2004 bottle, reviewed in 2005

It pours a lovely sun burnt orange amber with a smallish but fairly long-lasting beige head.

Potent floral hop aromas burst out of the glass while pouring. A smell of spruce, malt and alcohol blend in.

Caramel and candy sugar sweetness are easily noticed. Doughy bread, rum-soaked raisins and a light taste of herbs begin to emerge, though settled in the background.

Sharp grapefruit, lemon zest and a bit of a metallic bite provide quite a bite. The piney esters of whole fresh hops and the big alcohol kick remain quite separate from the other tastes, which begin to mingle halfway through the glass. Bigfoot is an original Northwest American-style Barleywine. I hope that just because something else more extreme flavor-wise, or more potent in the ABV department comes along, doesn't relegate this wonderful brew to the back shelf. Long live the legend of Bigfoot!

Mid Coast (It’s near Lake Michigan)

Third Coast Old Ale – Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo, Michigan – 10.2% ABV

12oz brown bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a unique dark and cloudy pine pitch amber. A fast fading beige head leave behind trails of spotty and patchy lace.

A fresh-cut piney smell fades into an authentic Old Ale sweet malty aroma of perfumy hop and alcohol.

This brew almost begs you to cellar it. And now that it's open, I know why...damn!

Sweet toffee and bready malt flavors blend with candy sugar, a light taste of prunes and dark sipping rum.

Potent and edgy whole hop taste reveals a sharp white grapefruit bitterness. A hint of black pepper and faint salty taste act as the perfect compliment. Throughout this rating process, I've adjusted my numerical values several times. It's a beer that deserves a long time to age. And if you're unwilling to age it, at least take the time to review it slowly.

East Coast

Flying Mouflan – Troegs Brewing Co. – Hershey, Pennsylvania – 9.3% ABV

22 oz. brown bottle. No freshness date.

The color is deep, dark amber/mahogany. A very fast-fading caramel head becomes a thin ring.

A big whiff of rum-soaked plums hits with a bang. Caramel malt, citrusy and floral hop smells are present throughout. A light smell of milk chocolate is noticed.

Flavors of a mixed fruit bowl drenched in dark rum and port wine come to mind. Prunes, raisins, pears, tangerine and pineapple, with a hint of banana. Does this count for my daily fruit intake? The citrusy hops poke through, as does a nice rich malty taste. Sweet caramel adds the right balance to the bold flavors.

As the label suggests, I will cellar one and see how things transform in a year. If I can wait that long.

2011 Blunderbuss Barleywine – Aged in Port & Sherry Barrels – Cambridge Brewing Co. Cambridge, Massachusetts – 13% ABV - Served in a snifter.

It pours a hazy tannish golden color with a thin beige head that was fading as the waitress carried it from the tap to the table.

Smells of ripe fruit and sherry rise to greet the nose at once. Mixed aromas of vanilla, fruit cake, figs, burnt caramel, along with whiffs of amber rum drift in and out. I'm almost afraid if I drink it too fast, I'll lose the wonderful and complex smells.

The flavors are as inviting and complex as the aromas. The rich and creamy body carries flavors of rum cake, crème Brule, figs, sweet berries, mild citrus, soft herbs, and sherry.

If you’re in need of a self-indulgent, decadent Barleywine to pleasure your mind, body and soul, this is the one!


Next week; Baltic and/or Imperial Porters


Quote: "Brewers enjoy working to make beer as much as drinking beer instead of working."
-Harold Rudolph

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beer style of the week; English Barleywines

Week 49

Well, winter is finally upon us in New England. I know I’ve been blathering on for the past month about special warming beers brewed to ward off winter’s nasty effects and we’ve had plenty of near winter conditions, but some lousy weather front, or stupid global warming effect prevents my bold decent into the basement for the really BIG liquid warmers. The time has come! And I couldn’t be happier! It’s Barleywine time! YES!!!!

To be honest, I didn’t know where the snow shovel was hiding, but I knew exactly where to find the Barleywine. Some of us have our priorities in order!

Barleywine is a misleading name. It’s not in any way, shape or form in the wine family. It does, however, possess wine-like strength; from between 8.5% and 13% ABV. English Barleywine is a deep colored, full bodied ale, with varying degrees of fruitiness in the aroma and taste. Citrus and/or resinous hop bitterness with noticeable caramel sweetness is common to the style. A potent alcoholic kick is a certainty. There are some beers listed as Barleywine that weigh in at fewer than 8.5% ABV, but they are probably better suited to the Old Ale or Strong English Ale family. Barleywines should be very strong ales! American Barleywines are generally more hop-forward ales, while the English style tends to be more rounded, earthy and balanced. A taste of “toffee” is more prominent in the English style, but not uncommon in the American versions. Both styles age very well in a cool, dark place. Serve cool, not chilled.

From the land of origin

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale – Manchester, England – 11.5% ABV

2000 Limited Edition. Sampled in 2004

Poured into a slim bodied Lindeman's Lambic glass to create a head.

It pours an orange-tinged deep amber with a substantial beige head and solid strips of horizontal lace. A big upfront vintage port aroma along with fresh bread dough, hops, sweet malt, alcohol and mild woody notes comprise a complex array of sweet smells. A full and sweet caramel Maris Otter malt house an amazing variety of flavors. Rich toffee, butterscotch, prunes, coffee, candy sugar and honey. A mild lime-like bitterness and beautifully balanced warming alcohol add just the right amount of contrast to this exceptionally well-crafted brew. Add a touch of creamy sherry and you get the picture. Bring on the winter!

Strong Golden Barley Wine – Samuel Smith Old Brewery – Tadcaster, England – 10.2% ABV - Cute 180ml bottle. 2010

Found in the small beer/wine section of the small convenience store next to our hotel in County Hall, Westminster.

Served in a globe-shaped glass.

It pours an oily golden color with a thin white head along with small specks of lacing.

A fumy Triple Sec-like aroma blasts out of the glass at first pour. Sweet doughy malt smells follow close behind. Wonderful fruit and citrus notes play nicely off the maltiness. A light smell of peppery spice floats in late.

The flavors mirror the aromas very closely. Add a taste of toffee and a somewhat harsh vodka-like warming alcohol taste in the breath.

The mouthfeel is a little syrupy, but that was to be expected.

I wanted to grab another bottle the next night, but I guess I got the last one. I do count my blessings though for having stumbled upon a rare find.

New England

Leviathan Barleywine-Style Ale – Harpoon Brewing – Boston, MA – 10% ABV

12 oz. dark brown bottle. No freshness date. Served in a Piraat goblet.

Pours a ruby-hued amber with a 2” off-white creamy head and some patchy and spotty lacing.

A rummy and sweet malty smell vie for quick attention. Smells of citrusy and resinous hops flow forward, as does some peppery spice and prune juice.

Tastes of toffee and sweet malt are upfront. Flavors of orange zest, rum, tobacco and peppery spices come in right behind. A white rum heat is well masked within the spiciness and hop bitterness, but can be tasted in the breath ½ way through.

This is a bit on the thin side for a Barley malt, but not in a negative way. It’s just not as slick and only as many within the style range.

Shipyard Barley Wine Style – Shipyard Brewing – Portland, Maine – 8.5% ABV

Served in a short Corsendonk goblet.

Pours a dark woody mahogany color with a creamy inch and 1/2” fast-fading mocha head and some patchy lacing.

Smells of mashed figs and plums are upfront, with a whiff of sweet roasted malt. Light citrus notes slide in behind. A light whiff of Kahlua is noticed throughout.

The flavors, in Shipyard’s style are edgy and bright. Crisp flavors tart orange citrus, tobacco, peppery spice mingles with tastes of toffee, caramel malt, figs. A taste of amber rum rolls in late and hangs around.

This is a medium-bodied Barleywine with just a bit of oily slickness to the mouthfeel. It tastes a little stronger than the 8.5% ABV listed. Maybe it will keep folks (me) from pounding it down like a fool.

Our Finest Regards – Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project – Westport, MA – 13.5% ABV

22 0z. Dark brown bottle. Freshness date on cap label. 2010
Served in a short Corsendonk goblet.
It pours a mahogany/amber color with fast-fading mocha head and a fair amount a patchy and trailing lacing.
Big blasts of complex aromas rise at once. Mashed fig, banana bread, Tripel sec, citrusy and resinous hops, peppery spices and white rum, invite inhale after inhale.
The flavors are even bigger and bolder than the smells. Tastes range from rum-soaked figs and ripe banana, to toffee and buttery caramel, to Indian pudding, to resinous and peppery spice, and back to that rummy flavor. The tastes sometimes are similar and cross into a Quadrupel-like profile...not a complaint...just my perception.
The mouthfeel is wonderful smooth an silky, and not as oily as it appeared when pouring. I was going to cap it, but couldn't resist.

Must try/Grand Examples

Weyerbacher Insanity

Arquabus – Cambridge Brewing Co.

Next Week; American Barleywines


Quote; “Beer makes you feel as you ought to feel without beer.” - Henry Lawson, Poet – (1867-1922)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yard House – Legacy Place, Dedham, MA

My wife and I had just completed a chilled-to-the-bone 3.5 mile hike through the woods at a nearby Trustees of the Reservation Park in Sharon. We were cold, thirsty and hungry. Our plan was to reward ourselves for our healthy tramp through the woods with lunch (and Beer) at the Yard House. After winding our way through the maze-like parking lots, we entered Yard House and found a line formed from the reception booth and into the foyer. Everyone with buzzers in hand. 35 minute wait for table? There were a few seats at the bar, so we grabbed them (we prefer the bar anyway!)

It’s mid-afternoon on MLK Day and the place is packed. But, who are these people? And just what is Yard House?

At center stage, is a massive stainless oval bar (think NASCAR track) that anchors the entire restaurant. Lots of glass, stainless and modernistic motifs lend a sort of futuristic and/or industrial look. Flat screen TVs are mostly positioned where they are not in any particular line of sight. It’s a sprawling place yet there’s a logical flow and order to it. Restaurant-style seating surrounds the bar, creating somewhat narrow passageways. But it’s the array of tap handles that draws the attention. Indeed! 114 tap handles!

There are good selections of Belgians, Germans, English, US (East and West Coast, plus some familiar locals), along with a line of the usual suspects from the US mega-brewers (who must not be named), plus some of the easy-to-find Euro and Asian selections such as Henie, Stella, Peroni and Sapporo. What’s missing are a few rare, eye-popping, jaw-dropping selections that create that “nirvana” moment for the über beer geeks. But be assured, if you have a pulse you will find something to arouse the buds.

Baffled by all the beer choices? They offer a “Six Pack” of 5 oz. samplers. While it might be a nice idea to introduce folks to new beer styles, 5 oz. in narrow cylindrical glasses is too small an amount for the average beer enthusiast to fully capture the essences and nuances of a beer. It would be better to serve 4 - 8 oz. beers in wide mouth glasses. But, that’s just my opinion… A few seats down from us, a guy was rating his Belgian 6 pack sampler starting with the St. Bernardus Abt 12, followed by the Tripel Karmeliet. Good luck tasting the rest!

I ordered a Notch Session. It arrived in a standard pint glass with a proper 2” head. It was a bit too chilled, but not frosted. The Tripel Karmeliet arrived in a proper short-stemmed goblet, but it was too cold and the head was a bit stifled. I waited 5 minutes before enjoying. Bliss!

The food menu is interesting and varied enough with three full pages of tempting offerings. I ordered 3 different “Street Tacos” (Korean Short Rib, Chicken Tinga, and Korean Pork Belly). When the waitress brought our order, she explained that the chef had only enough pork belly for about ½ of their normal portion. She asked if I wanted to try a different taco option. I told her not to worry about it. The ½ portion was just fine. Long story, short…they took the entire order (which was delicious) off the check. Note to self; It pays NOT to complain! BTW - My wife ordered the vegetarian (with Gardein) salad and was quite pleased with the quality and quantity of her choice.

So, what exactly is Yard House? A sports bar chain? Sort of…I guess you could gather there with friends to watch a game...enjoy some beer and appetizers.

Is it a beer bar? In a way…in a pretty big way, though a few of the über beer geeks might whine a bit.

Is it a gastro-pub? It could be interpreted as a very large one.

Is it a beer-focused family restaurant? Could be. There were families with children. They all seemed content.

The Yard House can appeal to a wide range of clientele without falling into any clique and that’s a pretty nifty feat!

On a side note; There’s a mega-Whole Foods in Legacy Place which happens to have a fairly solid beer section. Now you have an even better reason for getting in the car and visiting the Yard House.


Yard House – 200 Legacy Place – Dedham, MA 02026 – 781-326-4644

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beer style of the week; Easy-drinking Lagers

Week 48

After celebrating our 12 Beers of Christmas with a staggering assortment of palette-rasping Extreme Beers, it’s time we slowed down a bit to renew and refresh our taste buds.

Easy-drinking lagers require a bit of concerted effort to capture the mild fragrant aromas and subtly pleasing flavors they offer. These beers never screech or shout. They whisper sweet nothings. We can (but, probably shouldn’t) operating machinery after enjoying a few. They’re clean, light, refreshing, palette-caressing, easy-drinking Lagers. The ABV should be no greater than 5.1%

Go to Top Beers; And check out all the delicate Lagers in the Top 100. I’ll crack open a beer while you read…..…

Welcome back! Are you surprised? Only one Lager of any kind under 6.7% ABV made the list. And that came in at #93. WHAT!!???!!?!!

The reality is that people are gravitating towards bigger, wilder, funkier, brasher, bolder beers. Is that a bad thing? Glad you asked…Only if too many quality brewers stop making these highly finessed lagers. Creating a delicate and crisp lager, and having it come out right is far more difficult than chucking massive quantities of roasted barleys, barrels of hops and fruits in a brew kettle and aging it in whiskey vats. Nothing wrong with that either, I’m just saying…

Anyway, enough of my pining for the golden days…sniff, sniff…I do remind myself each and every day that we’re all lucky to be living in the very best time in the history of beer-making. We have so many brewers creating styles and sub-styles than we’ll ever be able taste in a lifetime (I am willing to keep trying, though). The point is; Do yourself a favor. Every now and then, drink some of these lovely smaller beers. Get back to the basic roots and take the time to examiner and savor a beer. It will re-kindle that flame you had the very first time you tasted a well-craft beer, plus you’ll refresh your palette so you can, once again fully appreciate the Extremes. That’s my plan, at least!

From the Lands of Origin

Weihenstephaner Original - Bayerische Staasbrauerei Weihenstephan – Freising, Germany – 5.1% ABV

Served in a tall spiraled Weihenstephaner glass.

It pours a bright pale golden color with a foamy 2” snow-white head. Webby and trailing lacing cling ½ way down the glass.
A fresh lightly roasted grainy aroma dominates. Fresh cut hay comes to mind. A spicy and floral hop nose inch forward, as does a slight fruity smell.
Tastes of sweet Farina and a mildly metallic tang are upfront. A spicy hop bitterness slowly merges. A minor, but noticeable mineral taste remains in the background throughout. A mild alcoholic fuminess is perceived late in the breath.
The body is a bit more full and rounded than it looks. Once the carbonation subsides, it invites huge thirst-quenching gulps. Nice Beer!

Viru – AS Tartu Olletehas – Tarhu, Estonia – 5% ABV

The most unusual brown bottle in Beerdom. Best before date is supposed to be on the cap, but none there.
Unfairly listed, and then bashed as an American Adjunct Lager on BeerAdvocate, but is really more of a German Pilsner with Saaz hops and Baltic malts.
It pours a very pale golden color with a 2" snow-white head and some sticky and trailing lace.
The aroma is mostly grassy malt and a lightly citrus and resinous hop. A mild smell of wild flowers is in the distance.
A taste of white crackers carries a very light dose of lime-like hops. A hint of herbs and an odd salinity in the aftertaste throws things off a bit, but not too far.
This isn't a bad beer...Very very gulpable lager.


Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager – Tadcaster, England – 5% ABV

This is perhaps one of the most drinkable lagers on the planet...perhaps the entire universe. Pours out a deep golden color with a puffy and foamy white head. The lace lingers and fades slowly, leaving spotty traces. The aroma is of sweet caramel malt; a faint whiff of fruit and light floral hops arouses the senses. The lightly herbal and slightly sweet malt is a perfect complement to the citrusy and tea-like hops. This heavenly liquid is balanced, rounded and smooth, but flavorful. The complexion and flavors change ever so subtly as the glass warms and the change is good. One is not enough!

New England Reps

Sam Adams Light Lager – Boston Beer Company – Boston, Massachusetts – 4% ABV

This is the lightest brew of this week’s selection.

Deep Gold in color with a nice white fizzy head. Light, slightly rye-bready herbal malt. Floral hop aroma with a light sweet malt fragrance. Fairly high in metallic and light citrus hops. Malty for a Light. IMHO, the best Light beer to date.

Thomas Hooker Munich Style Lager – Thomas Hooker Ales & Lagers -
Pours a pale yellow golden color with a solid snow-white head and some webby and trailing lacing throughout.

The aroma carries a mild noble hoppiness and a grainy bread smell upfront. A light whiff of wild flowers and herbs peeks through.

The flavors are very balanced. The lightly roasted malt has a touch of sweetness. The hops provide some metallic tang and a mild lime-like citrusy bitterness.

While the body is light in color, it has some depth. As the spritzy carbonation fades, a rounded caramel sweetness emerges providing a slick and refreshing, gulpable brew. Lots of flavors for a fairly small beer!

Long live the Easy-Drinking Lagers!


Quote: "In wine there is wisdom. In beer is strength. In water is bacteria." - German saying