Barley Wine: Typology Tuesday #1

This is my post for the first Typology Tuesday: A Session About Styles, the brainchild of none other than Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin. The first topic is Barley Wine. [I would have hoped to do better than this post but I only learned of Typology Tuesday today. I now have the next couple scheduled in Google Calendar.]

Typology Tuesday logo

Let me begin by stating that barleywine is one of my favorite styles, although I much prefer mine to the English-end of hopping. As Derrick Peterman wrote at Ramblings of a Beer Runner:

“I’ve had some good American Barley Wines, but found a fair share of them to be either unbalanced palate assaulting monstrosities or bloated, muddled concoctions struggling beneath the weight of all their heavy flavors.”

This past weekend I had the good fortune to judge at a commercial craft beer awards. On the second day, Sunday morning at 9 am, out came the American Barley Wines (BJCP 22C). “Well. Alrighty then. Glad I didn’t get too buzzed during Saturday’s judging and that I had a good breakfast,” said I.

We were told there was another table doing American Barley Wines so we had decided we only wanted to advance three. We had initially been brought four but they were cold still so we asked them to go ahead and decant any others and bring them to us. Not long after we got five more.

Score sheet and small plastic cup of barleywine

After a short break to let the first four warm up some we dove in. We couldn’t find anything particularly wrong in any of the first three, except some oxidation; something all of us preferred but were they within guidelines? “Flavors will smooth out and decline over time, but any oxidized character should be muted (and generally be masked by the hop character). (BJCP 2015)” We also did not find them exceptional.

Thus, beginning with the first one we set them aside until we had a few more under our belt. We did this to the first three. Finally after the fourth one we started narrowing them down. We had one or two that were too heavily oxidized and one with DMS and diacetyl. We, of course, had to retaste the first three. After getting to the ninth one and having weeded it down to a potential three we got brought four more.

OK. We quickly had them verify that we were in fact the only table with barley wine and that there were 13 in total. When we finished we thought we had passed on five to the medal round but it turned out to be only four. We got fresh pours from new bottles of all of them and got to work.

One was easy to remove as it was certainly odd man out and pushing the style guidelines in a couple ways even though we all quite enjoyed it. From there we moved on to ranking the other three and while third came easy, ranking the other two was much harder.

When we were done (thankfully that was the entirety of our morning) I found myself still sipping the odd man out. Realizing this I had one more sip and added it to the dump bucket. There really was no good reason to be putting more barleywine in my body!

Except for a couple of these, they were all quite drinkable. Some were not to my preferred palate in a barleywine but they all made you want another sip. They were mostly all well-executed although some more than others, of course, and the one I preferred the most was not exactly to style. Such is life.

Some were more heavily oxidized than others but that is how I prefer my American barleywines! I am one of those folks who age these beers at least 9-12 months before opening. I also age them no more than about two years as all that staling hop character can get unpleasant quickly. English barleywines need little aging and can last years and years, in my opinion and experience.

I will never judge barleywine (or any other style) at GABF or the World Beer Cup, as Jay Brooks has, but I feel privileged nonetheless and learned a lot from the other two more experienced judges, one a long-time homebrewer and one a long-time homebrewer and professional brewer.

A few barelywines wrap themselves sinuously around my soul while doing their utmost to fire the hell out of my pleasure receptors in a profound and spectacular way. Generally the ones that do are less bitter than those that don’t. But if I must have bitter bombs on occasion I could do far worse than American barleywine.

I am so very glad they exist as a style.

My 5-star checkins of the style per UnTappd are (I have had at least 60 distinct Americans):

  • Firestone Walker 2012 Sucaba
  • Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws 2013
  • Dogfish Head Olde School 2009 (~4 years old when drank)
  • Amnesia 10th Anniversary

I also see Firestone Walker Helldorado 2015 there but that is not an American barleywine, folks.

My favorite English barleywine (per Untappd) and only 5-star (Helldorado belong here too) is Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2009. And, honestly, I’ll take the infected or non-infected version. Have only had the infected version now, twice. Delicious. We really need to try one of our 2014 Mirror Mirrors soon.

Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2014 release

Today is release day for Deschutes much-anticipated Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barrel-aged barley wine. It has been 5 years since it was last released. This past Dec 20th I had some of the 2009 Mirror Mirror at a Solstice Barley Wine Night party we had at our place and it was quite tasty so I was definitely looking forward to this release.

Mirror Mirror 2014 Release barley wine at Deschutes Brewery barrel works

Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barley wine at Deschutes Brewery barrel works

The same friend who brought the 2009 Mirror Mirror to our barley wine party, the ever personable Jon Abernathy, invited me as his +1 to an invitation-only media event held yesterday at Deschutes barrel works, celebrating the release of the Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve. We got to chat with founder Gary Fish and barrel master and brewer Ryan [sorry, failed to catch his last name].

Deschutes founder, Gary Fish, and barrel master/brewer Ryan, talking to us about the Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barley wine

Deschutes founder, Gary Fish, and barrel master/brewer Ryan, talking to us about the Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barley wine

They talked about Mirror Mirror, the Reserve Series, the new Pub Reserve Series, the barrel works, upcoming plans for beers, and answered questions while we sampled the new 2014 Mirror Mirror. Next we tried some of the first Pub Reserve Series beer Big Red. And finally we got to try some future Not the Stoic right out of the rye barrel it is aging in. It was a grand time, the beers were all world class, and I learned a lot. Thanks, Deschutes and Jon!

Deschutes Brewery barrel works, cold side

Deschutes Brewery barrel works, cold side

Deschutes Brewery barrel works, warm side for sours and those beauties needing warmer temps of 70 degrees

Deschutes Brewery barrel works, warm side for sours and those beauties needing warmer temps of 70 degrees

Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve Barley Wine was the first of the Deschutes Reserve Series and was previously released in 2005 & 2009. It was “born of a double batch of Mirror Pond Pale Ale, [and] is an inspired barley wine ale layered with intriguing nuances. Explore the latest incarnation and enjoy its delicious complexity in every sip.” It is 11/2% ABV and has 53 IBUs. It is brewed with English malts and Cascade and Millennium hops. Fifty percent was aged for 10 months in oak barrels that once held Oregon Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Malbec wines. [All info from the one-sheet they provided.]

Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barley wine

Mirror Mirror 2014 Reserve barley wine

I hope to get about 5-6 bottles of this and sit on them for 6-months, 1 year, 2 years through to 4-5 years. I expect quite delicious things to develop. I suggest you get to one of the pubs and try this fresh on draft and then put aside a bottle or two for at least 6 months. Keep in mind that even Deschutes recommends waiting a year as the bottles have a “Best After” 24 February 2015 date on them. I’m willing to “sacrifice” a bottle at 6-months to see how it is developing but my main interest in this vintage is in the 1 to 5-year-old range.

The Pub Reserve Series was quietly released at the end of last year. These bottles are only available at both of the pubs and the breweries’ tasting room. “It’s no secret that our brewers love to experiment in the pub brewhouses, and this new series celebrates that passion with some never-seen-before, single-batch brews. First up is Big Red, a double Cinder Cone Red, aged in Cabernet and Syrah barrels. The next pub Reserve beer will be Planète Rouge, a blended sour red ale – releasing March 24, 2014.” [All info from the one-sheet they provided.]

The Big Red, an Imperial Red Ale, is shaping up quite nicely already. We had a sample at the Deschutes Pub on 31 December when it was released and picked up a bottle for some light aging. It has a “best by” 1 Dec 2014 date and based on how it has already matured I think I’ll give it another 3-4 months. If you are interested in this you had best grab it soon at either of Deschutes pubs in Bend or Portland or at the tasting room at the brewery.

After they discussed the Pub Reserve Series, I asked Gary and Ryan if the Portland Pub beers would be available at the tasting room. They clarified that these beers are brewed in both pubs, in this case barrel-aged, and then shipped to the brewery where they are blended and then bottled for sale. So they truly are a collaboration between the two pub brewers. I know I need to learn more about the Portland pub brewer but we adore Veronica Vega and her Bend pub beers!

The Not the Stoic will be a barrel-aged, Belgian-style quad, due in April if I remember correctly. It is aging in several different barrels and we got ours straight out of a rye barrel. I hope once it’s blended some of those rye notes remain, along with whatever other intriguing notes they get from the other barrels.

Not the Stoic straight out of the rye barrel

Not the Stoic straight out of the rye barrel

Again, thanks so much Deschutes Brewery and Jon for including me.

Oh yeah. We each got to bring a bottle home.

And as final photo teasers here are some true beauties to salivate over in your dreams while we wait for some future release:

The Abyss Imperial Stout. But is this 2014 or 2015?

The Abyss Imperial Stout. But is this 2014 or 2015?

 

Pub Imperial Bitter sitting in a spanish sherry cask. OMG! Please let me find this at the Bend pub whenever it is released.

Pub Imperial Bitter sitting in a spanish sherry cask. OMG! Please let me find this at the Bend pub whenever it is released.