When it comes to hyped-beer styles, the hazy IPA and adjunct stout are definitely the top of the list but one of my favorite styles of beer, the English barleywine is securely in the second tier of the craft beer hype pyramid.
Whenever a brewery puts that malty style into a barrel for a while it starts to infringe on that top tier for many beer nerds, myself included. Some of my favorite beers of all time fall into the barrel-aged English barleywine category including Anchorage’s A Deal with the Devil, Firestone Walker’s §ucaba and Mother of all Storms from Pelican, so I am very excited about today’s review.
Dissenting Opinions is an 11 percent English barleywine aged in bourbon barrels brewed by Ellison Brewery + Spirits out of East Lansing, Mich. Ellison opened its doors back in 2015 and this beer is a special release that was most recently released for there most recent anniversary party in late 2019.
The beer pours a murky brown with marmalade highlights when held to the light. There is a large amount of suspended particulate in the beer that seems way more than normal. It is reminiscent of that last bottle of homebrew you are tried to squeeze out of a carboy that ends up with an inch of trub in the bottom of the bottle. The aroma starts out like a classic English barleywine with notes of burnt caramel, brown sugar, molasses, oak and noticeable alcohol.
My first sip of Dissenting Opinions hints of the flavors one would expect from the style with booze-soaked raisins, sweet caramel malts and bourbon but then a sharp booziness shows up. There is a bit of a metallic character as well but as I swirl the sip around the booze becomes stronger drowning out the original pleasant notes. I poured the beer at roughly 55 degrees and as it warms to room temperature the booze becomes overpowering and there is a weird bitterness that when mixed with the drying alcohol it becomes unpleasant. The finish is solventy and leaves a lasting unpleasant taste that sticks on the palate.
It seems that something is definitely wrong with this beer. As the beer continues to settle, I now have a solid inch of spent yeast at the bottom of the glass. My first guess is that there is an infection of some sorts but I am neither getting the telltale flavors of a brettanomyces infection nor the tartness I would suspect from the presence of bacteria. The beer isn’t showing any signs of oxidation or autolysis but there is definitely a quality control issue with this one.