In one of my recent reviews I mentioned how Colorado does not get enough love in the “best beer state in America” discussions.
Well, for the second time this month I have another fine example of what Colorado has to offer the beer world. Old Ruffian is an American style barleywine from Great Divide in Denver Colo. Old Ruffian was first bottled and released back in 2004 where it quickly gained notoriety by winning a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005. It followed that up with gold in 2006 and a second bronze medal in 2009.
This classic example of the American barleywine category starts out as a very hop forward brew that clocks in at a massive 90 IBUs.1 When fresh this beer has a big fruity hop character but over time the fruity characteristics of the hops fade leaving behind sweeter malt driven flavors.
This particular bottle came off the bottling line in December of 2012 which makes it over two years old. I have had the opportunity to try this beer several times fresh but have never stashed one away for an extended amount of time so I am excited to crack this one open.
Once I open the beer and start to fill my glass the first thing that jumps out at me is the amount of carbonation in this beer. Generally for a beer over 10 percent ABV I expect minimal carbonation or many times next to none2 but, Old Ruffian poured with a large off white head that slowly faded in to chunky clusters of bubbles throughout the glass. The beer pours a dark burnt orange that is pretty opaque when held to a light. The nose is made up of sweet malts, burnt sugar, toffee and alcohol. A slight hint of oxidation is starting to appear in the form of a very faint cardboard like smell.
The taste follows the aroma quite a bit with a lot of the same characteristics. Sweet bready malts, burnt sugar, toffee, alcohol and figs are all present. The faded hops leave a bit of earthiness but most of the fruity or piney characteristics are gone. As I finish each sip the one thing that really jumps out at me is the lingering bitterness after each sip. While the flavors and aromas of the hops have all but disappeared the bitterness has not. I feel it is a tad unfair to penalize a hop forward 90 IBU beer that is over two years old for being bitter but, I feel that the finish distracts from the overall experience.