The word alone will make a beer nerd salivate and a macro beer drinker cringe. These big aggressive beers have a long history and a have become one of the more sought after styles of American craft beer. The term barleywine dates back as far as the 18th century when it was used by European brewers to attract wine drinkers to their brews.
It was not until 1903 that the term was commercially used when Bass No. 1 became the first mass produced barley wine.1 As with so many other beer styles from years past American craft brewers have adopted the English style ale and have made it their own. The first stateside brewery to release their take on the style was Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, Calif. when they released the craft beer classic Old Foghorn.
Since 1976 Old Foghorn, has inspired countless brewers across the country to forge their own interpretation of the style with an ever broadening range of results.
Today’s barleywines have come to be divided into two specific groups; English and American. These monikers have little to do with what country they are brewed in currently but rather whether are brewed in a more traditional manor that brings out a lot of sweet caramel, leather and dark fruits as opposed to the American style of big assertive hoppyness. Both styles are generally high in alcohol and flavor and tend to age well.2 How long these beers can be aged for is a debate for another article but today I have an American barleywine that was brewed in late 2013 waiting to be cracked. An American style barleywine from Epic Brewing Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. The beer is known simply as Barley Wine. It is brewed with Maris Otter, Two Row Brewers Malt, Two Row Caramel Malt 60, Munic Malt Type I, Two Row Chocolate, and Roasted Barley and contains a generous amount of Columbus hops.
The beer pours a murky brown that turns a burnt amber color when held to the light. A small off white head forms then quickly dissipates. My first sniff of the glass is fairly typical for the style. A rich sweetness reminiscent of caramel and molasses along with raisins, some sherry like notes and old hops. There is also a noticeable amount of alcohol on the nose as well. Overall a very pleasant aroma but nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary for a 10+ percent barleywine that has been laid down for close to two years.
The taste has a lot of the same malt driven flavors as the bouquet. A big rich sweetness with toffee and molasses along with alcohol soaked raisins and toasted bread. There is also a very noticeable sherry like flavor that I feel was enhanced by the aging and oxidation of the beer. The finish is much more bitter than I would have expected based on the smell and initial taste of the beer. Combined with the bitterness is a very noticeable alcohol character and the flavor of burnt caramel.