Left Hand released their ‘Big Mo’ series in February and although I’m a little late for the seasonal party with these, I still feel like having a nice, big, malty brew sometimes, so here we go. I feel like most folks associate Barleywine-Style Ales with seasonal brews, but I actually enjoy them year-round, especially an American style Barleywine because of the emphasis on the hop profile. I’d characterize the Widdershins as a pretty straight-up American Style Barleywine, which drinks like a classic barleywine up front but finishes with the bitterness of an IPA. The pour was uneventful, with a minimal head which settled quickly. On the nose there was an abundance of fruit, but not your typical raisin-fig kind of Barleywine fruit. This Ale has a distinct presence of apricot and peach, followed closely with more typical aromas of caramel and sweet malt. There’s a slight hint of citrus, leaning toward orange, mostly from the hops that manage to make their way through the nose. In the mouth there is much of the same, with the apricot and juicy semi-citrus taking the lead, followed by the classic barleywine malt sweetness of rich caramel, closing with a bitter bite. This Barleywine is also oak-aged, which doesn’t seem to play much of a role until the end, where the dryness of the wood and hop bittering play off of one another for a more complex-than-normal finish. The aftertaste again reveals the woody texture, as it lingers a touch longer than the sweeter, fruity flavors up front. Overall, it’s a ‘nice’ beer and a pretty solid effort from Left Hand. Even though I’d like to have a little more presence from the oak and maybe a notch down on the hops, the atypical fruit aromas of apricot and peach make this totally worth trying.
– score 3.5
Stone. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that they’ve made their mark as a brewery who’s not afraid to push the envelope. (see Ruination) The Old Guardian Barleywine Style Ale is a staple for Stone and just so happens to be a very well-respected brew among those folks who are into doing things like respecting brews. I, for one, happen to fall into that category. I respect. I’m a respecter. What I don’t quite get is the difference between a Barleywine Style Ale and a plain old Barleywine. What am I missing here? Honestly, I don’t think it matters all that much in the grand scheme, but if the style nerds aficionados want to shed some light I’d appreciate it. At any rate, on to the beer. The pour was like a barleywine should be – clean, amber with minimal head. The nose was a little on the subtle side, but there were nice hints of malty sweetness, caramel, fruit and spice, plus a hint of alcohol. The taste was a reflection of the nose for the most part, with a candy-like fruit sweetness leading the charge, followed by a rich toffee body and finishing with a distinct tinge of alcohol and hop bittering. It’s a nice, refined Barleywine (style) Ale, which a little age has served well. There is a mellowness to this particular bottle which I’m inclined to believe probably wasn’t there 8-10 months ago. Overall, I think this is a really great example of the style, but I’m not feeing quite as much hype as BA would have you believe. I felt like the omnipresent alcohol was a bit of a distraction, and both the mouthfeel and weight of the body were a touch on the light side to give it a full-on A+. It’s really good, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate at all to have some on hand regularly or recommend it to a friend.
score – 4.25
I feel like I should start by saying that Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite American breweries. Interestingly, none of their beers are truly my all out favorite in any category, but overall I really respect the quality, consistency and general coolness that defines the brand. Recently, the Anniversary Ale became my go-to Pale for everything from a burger-and-a-beer night to, well, lets-skip-the-burger-and-just-have-beer nights. Additionaly, I thought the Harvest Fresh Hop Ale was a nice effort and their flagship Pale Ale is just simple and solid. A few years ago I was in San Francisco and had a chance to try the Bigfoot barleywine on tap. Unfortunately, it was after several other beers that I had the opportunity to try, off various other taps. Let’s just say my “palette” was a little “compromised.” So when I saw that a 6-pack had appeared in my local bottle shop I felt like I had a chance to really see what the ale was all about. It would also be an interesting study since I’ve just finished a nice round of nights with the BBC barleywine which I think is a really outstanding effort. Ok, so that was a long intro – let’s get to the review.
The pour was beautiful. Minimal carbonation, a tannish thin head and a bold, garnet-colored body looked perfect as it hit the glass. I could tell as I brought it to my nose that this would be a different animal (terrible bigfoot reference) than the BBC, as a pronounced hop aroma came shooting off the top like it was a big IPA. Interesting… The first sip confirmed that this was, in fact, a bit of a hop-bomb. Although the hop presence was a bit of a surprise, they don’t totally dominate the flavor. Typical barleywine fruity sweetness and big candylike malts are definitely in the mix and there is a distinct presence of alcohol as well. The body feel is medium and the carbonation is appropriately minimized, but more robust than average for the style. I feel like this ale is similar to a young California cabernet in the sense that the bold, aggressive nature which makes it seem wild and unrefined in its youth are the same qualities that will eventually make it great. I mean, this *is* the 2008 vintage so what can we really expect – yet. Even with all it’s youthful angst, I really quite enjoyed drinking the Bigfoot. It’s only going to get better with age and I plan on trying one every few months for the next year or so to track the progress. The fact that it’s as good as it is right out of the shoot is going to earn some nice points from me right off the bat.
A few nights ago I was enjoying a Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout from the Bluegrass Brewing Company and I decided to check out their (recently re-worked) website for a gander at some of the other beers in their stable. I soon discovered that they have a winter seasonal offering called the Bearded Pat’s Barleywine. And since the Jefferson’s reserve has become a bit of a go-to stout for me recently, I thought I’d try and find a bottle somewhere in town. As luck would have it, my favorite bottle shop had a 4-pack, so I was on my way. The pour was a mid-brown with a hint of orange and the head was a nice off-white creamy color. I could smell it as it hit the glass as hints of rich caramel and fruit were present even before I took an *official* sniff. A more intentional study of the nose revealed some nutty raisin and fig overtones and a caramel candy dominance. The first sip was really the most obvious indication of the 11% abv, which soon became a non-factor in the overall scheme of the beer. The mouthfeel and carbonation were both relatively light and made the beer easy to drink. The most outstanding characteristic, however, is the terrific balance between the sweetness of the caramel and fruit notes with the bitter and thorough finish from the hops. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a ‘hoppy’ barleywine, but the pure bittering is very present on the finish and it serves the brew very well. As the beer warmed, it seemed to thicken up and improved even more. The silky and slightly oily nature on the tongue was a great compliment to the almost molasses-like character of the body. Overall, one of the most satisfying barleywines I’ve had and kudos to the brewery on this one.
I don’t know how I found this beer, but I did, and I’m really stoked about it. This was the 2004 vintage from North Coast and it pours a brownish deep red with a pretty insignificant head. The nose is rich and sweet, with nods towards tawny Port, fruit and a hint of vanilla. The flavor is awesome – exactly what I like in a barleywine style. You know, it’s hard to tell what you’re going to get sometimes with a barleywine and it can be a crap shoot to even get something drinkable. Actually, that’s not true, it’s always drinkable, but you get my point. That’s why I was so excited about this find. It’s an outstanding beer and is the perfect ‘closer’ drink at the end of an evening or even something you could enjoy with dessert. I shared this beer with my buddy, Jim, who compared it to the Wynkoop barleywine and felt like some vanilla bean ice cream would be a great paring and I totally agree. My only regret about this beer is that I couldn’t find more. If you ever see the 2004 vintage, buy it, then send me a bottle. Cheers ~G
– 4.75 (cause I don’t have a graphic for a 4.9)