Saturday, August 31, 2013

Barleywines: Warming Up to the Warmth

The first time I tasted Dogfish Head's Olde School Barleywine, which was also my first time tasting a barleywine, I thought it was a boozy mess; the high alcohol content overwhelmed whatever else was in the beer.  It was early in my craft beer experience and, admittedly, starting barleywines with a 15% ABV version probably wasn't the best way to develop an appreciation for the style.  Also, that Olde School was fairly fresh from the brewery (about a month old) and didn't have a chance to mellow with age. 
Almost two years later, I have a better appreciation for that beer and barleywines as a style.  Looking back on it now, I'd say that not only was my palate not ready for the high heat of the Olde School, it wasn't ready for barleywines in general.  It seems like a style that one has to work up to in order to appreciate, though no one should shy away from giving it a try.  As a style, it's typically fairly high in alcohol, with ABVs checking in at over 10% for many, and the alcohol taste isn't generally as muted as it can be in IPAs and stouts.  They can also be fairly sweet and syrupy (for a beer), with tastes like cherry and other dark fruits coming through strong, and they're not really reminiscent of anything the macro brewers are producing.  In fact, you might find something in the liquor section that's closer than what the macros have (and, in case you're wondering, even though "wine" is in the name, there's nothing really "wine" about the style other than perhaps the ABV). 
My recommendation for someone new to barleywines (or new to craft in general) is to try one now, take note of what you think about it, and try it again down the road after trying many different beers to see how your palate has changed.  Barleywines are definitely a good candidate for aging, so you can buy a four-pack (or multiple 22 oz btls) and stash the leftovers for later. 
One worth seeking: Firestone Walker §ucaba 
The non-barleywine beers that are quite close: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Burley Oak Rude Boy

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