Monday, August 8, 2011

Barley Wine 101

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While I can't speak for every writer at WestToast, I like to pride myself in the fact I've been writing long enough that people actually think I know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I even do! Today I'm going to impart some of that knowledge onto you in a rare, but educational experience where I share both the basics and my opinion of Barley Wine. You know, because I'm a respected online beverage journalist.

Barley Wine is perhaps the most under appreciated beverage on the market and I think most of that stems from the name alone. Barley Wine isn't wine at all, but beer! Originally brewed in England, it got its name due to its relatively high alcohol content that hovers around 8-14% ABV. As such, one typically drinks Barley Wines in the same quantities and fashion as you would a wine. Some, however, ignore this advice and end up on the floor.

Barley Wine holds a special place in my heart and palate due to its unique flavor profile that is typically not seen in other styles of ale. Regardless as to the style or brewer, almost all barley wines will exhibit undertones of brown sugar, nuttiness, raisin, and other familiar tastes that one would expect from a brown ale. These are undertones though, and none of these flavors are the shining star.

Where it gets interesting is if the brewer decides to go the American or English route. This is a gross oversimplification, but most American-style Barley Wines go with a primarily citrus hues (usually grapefruit) and most English-style Barley Wines go with a raisin/apple combo. My preference heavily leans towards English-style varietals, but that's just a personal preference due to the raisin hues not completely overpowering other flavors as well as an increased ease of drinkability.

The other phenomenal aspect of Barley Wines is that many of them spend at least a portion of their life in a cask. This mellows them out and makes the mouth feel increasingly smooth, which is critical for any high alcohol ale. My ideal Barley Wine is one that has spent most of its life in a cask and is then poured straight into my glass. While I can't replicate that last portion in my living room, what I can do is offer a review my absolute favorite Barley Wine.

Mirror Mirror is the barley wine rendition of Deschutes' Mirror Pond pale ale. Odd in concept, I know, but delicious in execution. This 11% masterpiece is aged in French oak barrels and real eased only when Deschutes feels like it. Unfortunately, this means Mirror Mirror is seemingly random in its availability and comes with a rather hefty price tag. This brew is rich in raisin and oak with a hint of citrus that ties everything together into a beverage you wish would never end. Thankfully, it does end because if it didn't, you'd end up on the floor as mentioned previously. If you can find it, stock up.

Are you a home brewer and want to take a shot at making your own? Deschutes has kindly released their recipe for Mirror Mirror clone.

If you're like 99% of customers and can't get your hands on Mirror Mirror, my go-to Barley Wine is Full Sail's Old Boardhead. Not only is it available almost year-round (Full Sail brews this every year), but it's also on the opposite end of the price spectrum at around $6/bottle. I would highly recommend picking this one up if you're new to barley wine and want to give it a shot.

So what are you waiting for? Stop by your local bottle shop and pick up some barley wines. You may just find a new favorite beverage.

1 comment:

  1. I recently found a barley wine from Pike's Place brewing that I'll dive into soon and give a full report :)