Defining The Craft is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.
What is a Barleywine?
A Barleywine is a strong English Ale, typically of higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than most other dark ales of similar appearance or taste. The name makes you think wine, but it’s actually one of the most intense beers you’ll encounter. Its name comes from England and was dubbed “barleywine” because it was an alcoholic beverage whose ABV ran parallel with wine, but was made with malted barley. A Barleywine is typically a dark, ruby red or chestnut color, full-bodied with elements of fruity, sweet, and bittersweet in its taste. A Barleywine is the perfect beer to savor, in the colder months but equally as enjoyable around a campfire on a warm summer’s evening.
The ABV on Barleywines typically climbs above the 7% mark, making this a beer you want to thoroughly enjoy, but drink responsibly. This particular style of beer has stood the test of time, as the ‘strong ales’ were brewed with higher alcohol content to aid in preservation before the days of refrigeration, thus helping avoid the beer turning to vinegar in the hot summer months. In some cases, Barleywines were utilized for mixing with weaker-brewed beers of lesser ABV. Barleywines can be cellared for years and age like wine, and many brewers are aging their Barleywines in bourbon barrels to add a new level of complexity to the overall package.
Barleywines are extremely complex and offer a serious challenge to your taste buds. But…that’s what it’s all about, right? Be prepared for a higher ABV, as mentioned before, but also grab hold for rich aromas of fruits and hops.
The two known styles of Barleywines today are English and American, with both offering different variations. Per Beer Advocate, what sets them apart is the fact that American versions contain a high level of hops to make for a more bitter and hop-flavored brew. While English versions offer more balance between malt and hops, with a slightly lower alcohol content in some cases.
Imagine that…American brewers hopping the hell out of a beer? LOVE. IT. ‘Murica… 🙂
On a personal level, I’m still expanding my palate when it comes to the Barleywine sector. Like all beer styles, it truly comes down to tasting and deciding for yourself whether it’s up your alley. I will say I enjoy Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Ale Barleywine (pictured left), as well as DuClaw’s Hell On Wood. This merely scratches the surface, but both these offer a solid take on the American Barleywine style. Venture forth and see if the complexity of the Barleywine is one you’ll come back to in the future. And as always, share your favorites in the comments section below!