We, the Average Joes at ACB, may not have full-time jobs brewing, selling, or judging beer, yet if you knew just how AWESOME some of our real jobs are, you’d better understand why we spend so much of our free time drinking beer. It all goes to show that we take our research quite seriously and wish to impart the wisdom we’ve stumbled upon, in the hopes of making your free time as rich as ours.
Without further ado, let’s drink in yet another chapter in our series, “What the Hell is a Barleywine?”
The existence of Barley Wine (its original spelling, used predominantly in England) goes way back to the days of Ancient Greece, predating the use of hops as a preservative. With such a short shelf life, one can only imagine the wild orgies that commenced as they frantically swilled their concoctions before expiration. Modern brewing and naming of the style occurred during the battles between England and France in the 1700s, as the English didn’t want to be caught quaffing Claret (their term for red wines coming from Bordeaux France). Thus Barleywines came into being, consumed mainly by the aristocracy.
The mass production of this huge beer, ranging between 8% and 12% ABV, began in 1870 when Bass marketed their No. 1 Ale as a Barleywine. Anchor Brewing was the first to introduce the style to the American audience with their Old Foghorn in 1976. The main difference between the English and American styles, other than the spelling, is the prominent use of hops and yeast character stateside versus the sole reliance on big malt flavors inherent in the English style.
It’s recommended that this style allow warming, closer to room temperature, enabling esters to better develop. The style is usually aged from 8 months to 2 years, sometimes in Bourbon or Whiskey barrels, and is usually served in smaller glasses for fear of patrons becoming better acquainted with the bar room floor.
See also: Wheat Wine, Imperial Barleywine
Barleywine Style Beers We Like and You Might Want to Try:
Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine Ale-One of the most popular craft beers today, this thick, boozy, and multifaceted behemoth might just beat your face in (12.1% ABV – English Style).
Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine – Don’t let the spelling fool you. This is definitely an American Barleywine with plenty of hop bitterness and flavoring to balance its rich caramel malt (10.2% ABV).
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale – Three-time gold medal winner at the GABF, this American version of the style is on the hoppier side (90 IBU) and the most common Barleywine found nationally (9.6% ABV).
Anyone who loves craft beer can find a style of Barleywine that suits their fancy. Sure, some don’t like the high alcohol content or boozy flavors you’re bound to encounter and we have a name for these people: chickens. Right now, we find ourselves at the height of Barleywine season, so get on your horse, go to your local pub/store/apothecary to help numb yourself to the horrors of modern society with a fresh glass of what the British aristocracy once bathed themselves in. You’ll feel like a million bucks.