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

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