Friday, February 01, 2008
The Session #12: Barleywine
When Jon over at The Brew Site announced that the topic for this month's edition of The Session was going to be Barleywine I became both excited and nostalgic.
The excitement stems from the fact that barleywine is one of those styles that should start any beer fan's heart racing. Big and bold, these are brews that go for the gusto. Barleywine gets my vote for the most likely to induce palate fatigue at a beer festival. About as far away from a session beer as you can get, barleywine is a true classic. The style has to be in the high gravity hall of fame.
The nostalgia comes from my first early encounters with barleywine. I was a student at Syracuse University and lucky enough to snag a spot in the school's semester abroad program in London. My first time on an airplane was a flight on TWA from JFK in New York to Heathrow in London. It was a great experience in many ways and I came to understand and enjoy the British pub culture and bitter. I also saw the strange nip bottles behind the bar and sampled something amazing called barleywine. The most widely available were two Watneys' brands, Stingo and Gold Label. The flagship Watneys Red Barrel was not well liked by the locals, but they did appear to enjoy Stingo towards the end of the evening.
I decided to gather three different barleywines for this edition of Beer Blogging Friday, hopeful that I might contribute at least one unique brew to The Session. Here are my picks:
Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot Barley-Wine Style Ale: This Easton, Pa., brewery produces a very impressive set of beers. Blithering Idiot has one of those great barleywine names that sticks. A slightly cloudy and almost cider-like color, Blithering Idiot is 11.1 percent alcohol by volume. It has a fluffy head to start and a sweet nose. You get hints of tart citrus and perhaps a little sweet cherry in the flavor profile. The alcohol is present, but it is a fairly smooth drink.
Talon True Style Barley Wine Ale: I picked this one over a trio of other great options from Victory, Left Hand and Avery because it is brewed at Mendocino's brewery in Saratoga Springs not far from where I used to live in Upstate New York. If you ever find yourself in Saratoga Springs, especially if you have dropped money at the Saratoga Race Course or the nearby racino, head to the brewery's tasting room for one of the best deals in town. For $2 they will pour you a pint of any of the beers they happen to be making at the brewery -- there are usually about 10 beers on tap -- and they let you keep the glass. They limit you to two beers, but if you are drinking Talon, that's all you'll need. Talon is a dark reddish hued, malty brew with 10.5 percent alcohol by volume. The bomber bottle I poured from delivered a very thin head, but the body of the beer made up for it. While I would say the beer has sweet notes, it also finished fairly tart and dry. The ale yeast in this beer is clearly present and defines the overall fruity character.
Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine: Brewed at De Proef Brouwerij in Lochristi-Hufte, Belgium, for a pair of Danish homebrewers, Big Worse is 12.0 percent alcohol by volume. The beer is dark red, with a thin head. The brewery uses candy sugar as part of the recipe and the initial nose has some sweet, floral and herbal notes. This is a bit more hoppy than most barley wines and I would say it is a touch less complex than the two others in this tasting. While it was the most alcoholic of the three barleywines I tasted, the alcohol was cloaked. Certainly, the average drinker would know it was something more than a lager, but perhaps not think it much more powerful than a good solid IPA.
Hey did I remember to thank Stan over at Appellation Beer for starting The Session? We all should.