Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Barleywine Tasting!

Barleywines have never really been my favorite style. I'll enjoy one I've heard good things about from time to time, but it's rare that I find myself in the mood for a barleywine. So when I peeked into my collection a few weeks back and noticed that I had somehow accumulated a crapload of barleywines throughout the years, there was only one thing to be done- a giant barleywine tasting. Luckily I have some adventurous friends who were happy to hang out and help me down my collection. On Friday, we finally got together and tried most of them. Here's what we tasted and how I would rank them.

10. Hair of the Dog Brewing Company - Doggie Claws (2010)

Doggie Claws pours a hazy burnt orange color with a thin white head. I picked up notes of candied tangerine, orange, cedar, and some faint spearmint on the nose. Definitely different, but not at all bad.

The taste was definitely way sweeter than I'm used to in barleywines. I got big notes of dates and brown sugar with just a hint of earthy hops. I've been holding onto this beer for a few years and I was really hoping my patience would pay off. The sweetness really got to me though and the beer felt a tad under carbonated, making it syrupy.  I'm still a big Hair of the Dog fan, but this is probably the worst I've had from them.

Final Grade: C

9. Uinta Brewing Company - Cockeyed Cooper

Cockeyed Cooper pours a deep chestnut color with a thin tan head. Being bourbon barrel aged, I was expecting a lot of bourbony goodness on the nose, but I was met instead by a huge malty aroma with notes of plum skin, orange oil and some overripe mango.

The taste was pretty dry for a barleywine with a lot of sticky, earthy hops. I picked up a good amount of grapefruit pith, toasted oak and some booze. With the exception of the toasted oak, I really didn't get any bourbon barrel notes at all, which was a bit of a letdown. I liked the beer, but I was hoping for a bit more from the barrel.

Final Grade: C+

8. Marin Brewing Company - Old Dipsea Barleywine Style Ale

Old Dipsea pours a deep, dark brown color with a thin tan head. I tried for a while, but it was hard to coax much of a smell out of this one. Even after it warmed up, it was faint, at best. I got some faint plum and tootsie roll from this, but not much else.

This wasn't a bad beer at all, but it was definitely pretty straightforward. I got a ton of malt throughout, with notes of wheat bread and some dark fruit coming through. This beer was noticeably light on the hops, but it wasn't bad.

Final Grade: C+

7. Stone Brewing Company - Old Guardian (2012)

Old Guardian pours a hazy, burnt orange color with a thin white head. The nose carried a ton of citrus, with big notes of candied apricot and tangerine rind alongside a lot of malt and some wood.

Similar to Old Dipsea, I thought that Old Guardian was a pretty straightforward barleywine. But instead of being malt forward, this one focuses mainly on the hops. A sticky citrus hop presence carries through the beer. Rich malt and booze are present as well with a dry finish that brings a bit of an aspirin flavor.

Final Grade: B-

6. Alaskan Brewing Company - Alaskan Barley Wine (2009)

Alaskan Barley Wine pours a ruddy brown color with a thin tan head. This beer has been aged a few years, and the smell has definitely moved towards the malty end of the spectrum. The smell is full of rich malt, grain, barley, almond meal and some toast.

The taste was full of malt, with some big notes of Grape Nuts, fig and raisin skins. The finish brought a bit of sweetness with a hint of honey. This was my first experience with this beer and I came away pretty pleased with the experience. It wasn't a mindblowing barleywine, but it was tasty, nonetheless.

Final Grade: B

5. Hangar 24 Brewery - Barrel Roll No. 4- Hammerhead

Hammerhead pours a hazy dark brown color with a thin, off-white head. The smell had notes of burnt brown sugar, toffee, some faint sticky citrus hops and a touch of barrel.

The taste was pretty aggressive, with notes of burnt raisin skins, bourbon, burnt wood, vanilla and some oak. Clocking in at nearly 14% ABV, this is a beast of a beer, but it didn't really taste like it. It wasn't nearly as good as Hangar 24's Pugachev's Cobra, but this was definitely a solid barleywine.

Final Grade: B

4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2012)

Bigfoot pours a deep copper color with a nice and fluffy cream colored head. On the nose, I got a lot of toffee, burnt caramel, brown sugar, cake batter and some faint grape skins.

The taste is full of sticky and earthy hops tamed by an enormous malty backbone. I also picked up some grapefruit pit, pine resin and some caramel before a bitter finish that was full of more pine resin. This beer was a year old and it mellowed terrifically. I can only imagine what this would taste like with a few more years under it. I'll have to find out at some point.

Final Grade: A-

3. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Olde School Barleywine (2006)

Olde School Barleywine pours a super cloudy orange-ish brown color with almost no head whatsoever. I picked up notes of buttery toffee, hazelnut, some faint citrus rind and smooth caramel. The smells all melded together really nicely.

After six years of aging, this 15% monster tastes absolutely fantastic. The taste is smooth and malty throughout with some notes of dark fruit and just a hint of earthy hops. A big thanks goes out to my buddy, Luke, who found this for a me a few months back. This was really a treat to try.

Final Grade: A

2. Pelican Pub & Brewery - Mother of all Storms (2011)

Mother of all Storms pours a deep brown color with a slight ruby tinge to it. On the nose I got a lot of wood and bourbon as well as some caramel, toffee and dark fruit.

The taste is full of toffee, raisin and bourbon. I also got some brown sugar, faint oak barrel and some unsweetened baking chocolate. This beer has a fantastic reputation and it's very well deserved. It was definitely one of the best we tried. A huge thanks to Beau for sending me this bottle last year.

Final Grade: A+

1. Firestone Walker Brewing Company- Sucaba (2012)

Sucaba pours a dark brown color with a very thin tan head. The nose brought notes of toasted toffee, caramel, brown sugar, bourbon and toasted marshmallow.

The taste opens with a lot of bourbon and some sticky malt notes. Some notes of maple and oak barrel follow before a finish that's sweet and warming. I don't know exactly what goes on in Firestone Walker's barrels, but everything they throw in there seems to turn into gold. Sucaba is no exception. It's a fantastic beer and, I would say, the best of the tasting.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 110

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