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Rose to Cicerone: Barleywine Comparison Tasting

I was thrilled to arrive at the barleywine chapter of my Road to Cicerone American Styles Course. Of all the styles, I know I had the most to learn about this one. With a history as rich as its flavors, I was ready to get started. I opted to space these tastings out over the course of three nights as these beers really do pack a punch!

My mom asked “why is it called wine though?” and I had to look that up; turns out the style gained popularity in England during a time when England had little access to wine-producing countries of Europe, so this became their substitute. I have a feeling there’s more sass to this story but that may be best saved for another night. The style gained popularity early on in the American Craft Beer scene and is one of the “OG” styles. The BJCP calls it “luscious” and I can’t think of a sexier descriptor.

Barleywine characteristics include:

  • High ABV of 8-12%
  • Gold/Dark Gold to Amber/Dark Amber color
  • American hop characteristics (pine, resin, citrus, sharp flavors)
  • Strong balancing malts (caramel and toffee)
  • Barrel-aged flavors and low carbonation

The first example I found was a collaboration style made by Urban Roots and Sun King Brewing, called Summer Life BBA Barleywine Style Ale. Yum! I am always automatically into a collaboration and was very curious to know what makes a “Summer” barleywine? At 12% ABV this beer was very drinkable and held strong bourbon-barrel-aged characteristics. The bright hops and caramel malt flavors were strong as well. The color was a beautiful amber, with a prominent red color. The profile gave me ZERO clues as to what makes a “Summer” barleywine so my best guess is that this would be absolutely drinkable even on a summer’s day.

 

The second style was a local example, yay! Silver Medal-winning Big Game BBA Barleywine from Bravery Brewing was in the house! Bitterness and caramel were well-balanced with West Coast hops and a hint of coconut and moderate barrel-aged characteristics. At 13.4%, it was by far the highest ABV but with all of the other flavors, the warming alcohol sensation was not overwhelming. Congratulations to Bravery on their silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival!

 

In my workbook, I had read about Wheat wine, a sister style to barleywine, and since this was the first I had heard of this style I resolved that I would probably not find it. I was pleased to be proven wrong and find one! Basically, wheatwine is everything I like about barleywine (bold hop flavors, low carbonation, high ABV), plus it’s on the maltier side due to the grist being at least 50% wheat instead of barley. I was thrilled to bring home a bottle of Jackie O’s Brewery’s Wood Ya Honey BBA Wheat Wine with Honey. Besides the lower bitterness and hoppiness, I expected the color to be on the lighter side. This beer poured darker than I expected, an amber hue. The honey and bourbon-barrel-aged characteristics were prominent, aligning well with my personal preference.

These high ABV beers were the perfect complement to our 65 degree harsh LA winters 😆. I definitely recommend picking them up if you can find them!

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