As seen in the Burlington Free Press http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/03/04/barleywine-beer-cellar/81181804/
Barleywine: Is it a beer, or is it a wine?
The name “barleywine” can cause some confusion at first, but all you have to do is dissect it: strong like a wine, but made from barley instead of fruit. This style of strong ale dates back to the mid-1700s, and was originally brewed for British aristocracy. Requiring heaps of ingredients, these ales were of massive heft and alcohol percentages compared with standard brews.
Barleywines can range from about 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) up to 14 percent ABV. To reach this dizzying height, extra malt is required, and sometimes sugar is added, too.
“This style is notoriously hard to brew as it pushes the limits of both the brewing equipment and the yeast. First there is the question of whether all of the grain you need to make a beer this strong will fit in the mashing vessel,” writes Steve Parkes, brewmaster at Drop-In Brewing (Middlebury), in a blog entry about the style.
Fermentation can also be troublesome, Parkes notes. “The yeast we ferment with is somewhat shocked to find itself immersed in wort so strong. It struggles to adjust and then starts to grow very fast. We have to carefully control the temperature or the beer will end up with a lot of boozy alcohol heat and very fruity flavors.”
After many months, and sometimes years, of aging, “[a] great barley wine has all the depth, complexity, smoothness, body, and power of the finest tawny port,” according to Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster’s Table. “The aromatics are a rich swirl of deeply toffeeish concentrated malt, warm spices, dark fruits, and sherry.”
To help me write this column, I grabbed a vintage bottle of Stone Old Guardian Barleywine from February 2015 and cracked it open. A deep mahogany amber in the glass, it offers up rich notes of dark cherries, tanned leather, shade-grown tobacco and toasted wood. The palate is big and expansive with caramel, toffee, sherry, dried figs and dates up front, with some woody hops on the long, gripping finish.
These bold earthy and leathery fruit flavors are part of what allow barleywines to age so nicely. Gentle slow oxidation will increase the warm leathery notes and add more depth of character. The high alcohol content, residual sugar, and aggressive hopping help to protect the style from the negative affects of aging in the bottle. Barleywines form the cornerstone of my personal beer cellar, as well as the cellars of serious beer bars across the globe.
Now, you might think that such a big bold brew will have to excuse itself from food pairing. But barleywines can be an excellent accompaniment to strong cheeses. Blue cheese is the classic pairing. According to Oliver, “American barley wines are big enough to tangle with these cheeses, wrapping malt sweetness around the bold mold, lifting the fat with carbonation, and then exploding on your palate.” Look for Jasper Hill (Greensboro) “Bayley Hazen” or Plymouth (Plymouth) “Big Blue.”
Blue not your bag? Seek an aged goat milk cheese such as Consider Bardwell Farm (West Pawlet) “Manchester,” an aged raw goat milk “peasant tomme.” Maybe have a little Sidehill Farm (Brattleboro) fig jam and a seeded baguette from Red Hen Baking (Middlesex) nearby, too.
There are some world-class American barleywines available on Vermont beer store shelves right now if you’d like to add some to your cellar or do a little of your own pairing work.
From California we see Sierra Nevada “Bigfoot” (both 2015 and 2016 are currently on shelves), 21st Amendment “Lower De Boom” and the aforementioned Stone “Old Guardian.” Brewed closer to home, there’s the iconic “Vermonster” from Rock Art (Morrisville). Drop-In Brewing recently released “Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom” on draught and at their tasting room, which clocked in at a massive 12 percent ABV and 100 IBUs! Queen City Brewing (Burlington) is set to release a Chardonnay barrel-aged barleywine any day now.
Have a favorite barleywine or a successful food pairing? Let me know about it on Twitter!
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf