Friday, February 1, 2008

Session #12 - Barleywine

I was really looking forward to this one and glad this is our first Session post. I truly enjoy barleywines for their complexity and their soothing nature. I find it hard when drinking a barleywine to be stressed about anything. It really slows your life down and makes you want to go to your study, if you have one, set in a big leather chair, grab a stoogie and just sip and discuss the meaning of life. Along with all that wonderful stuff they are also great for warming the belly when it is freezing outside like it has been lately around here. So perfect timing on this one.

This Session is sponsored by The Brew Site, so be sure to visit the recaps of all the sessions from all over the world and see how different people tackled this topic.

I wasn't sure how to go about this at first. I really wanted to get my hands on a local, in state, barleywine, but I was unable to get away to grab some of Upstreams widely successful barleywine. So I decided to look in my fridge and cellar and see what I could come up with. Well, I have been sitting on a 2006 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and some 2007 Bigfoot. This barleywine is probably the most widely available one on the market in the US. Then I thought, hey, I have a year old, homebrewed, barleywine sitting in my fridge waiting to be drank and compared to commercial versions. So what I did was I took 3 days this week and enjoyed a barleywine a night, taking notes on said barleywine and then compared the results. So, without further ado, the results. I found them very surprising, I hope you enjoy them.

I first drank the 2006 Bigfoot, the Bigfoot comes in at 9.6% ABV. This poured a nice amber brown color with a slight green tint to the head, you know what that means. It had a nice malty sweet aroma, some slight alcohol notes and the distinct wonderful hop aroma of citrus and pine woodiness, love the aroma. It is initially sweet but quickly becomes intensely bitter with a strong hop flavor that almost overpowers the malt complexity. It of course leaves a nice warming flavor. The mouthfeel was less than I expected and almost finishes dry, mainly from the bittering hops I imagine. I would have expected this beer, as it is the 2006, to be less bitter. I wish I had taken notes of the 2006 in 2006.

Then I drank the 2007 Bigfoot, it also comes in at 9.6%. It has a similar appearance but does not have the slight green tint in the head of the beer. The aroma is similar, as you would expect, but is has more of an upfront hop aroma, where the aroma in the 06 was more balanced. This beer is very similar in the taste with a nice sweet flavor up front, a bitter finish but it doesn't finish as dry. The mouthfeel is thick and big and definitely what I would expect for the style. I personally liked this one better than the aged 2006. I have plenty of this left so we will see next year what I have got.

Finally it was my Old Krusty the Klown Barleywine's turn. My beer I brewed back in December of 2006 and it came it at a whopping 11.5% ABV!! It pours more on the brown side than the amber color of the Bigfoots, with a small head. I think this had more to do with my glass and the temperature of the beer, 20 degrees. I of course let it warm up before proceeding. The aroma is full of bourbony, sherry, malty notes with a fairly distinct alcohol note, but at 11.5% that can be expected. It also has some nice pine resiny notes as well as some vanilla and raisin. LOVE THE SMELL OF THIS BEER! It has a terrific balance in the taste. A nice raisin sweet initial flavor with a balanced bittering finish with some good ole warmth. The hop flavor is distinctly American but not overwhelming. The mouthfeel is in between the two Bigfoots but seems appropriate. Overall I found this beer the best of the 3 and would probably be closer to an English barleywine if it weren't for all the American hops in it. I can't wait to keep trying this for years to come.

Overall, I found that I enjoyed mine the best, surprise. LOL I personally enjoy the malt complexity of a barleywine and often feel that the American versions have blurred the line too closely with the Double IPAs that are out on the market. While I enjoy the double IPAs, a hop bomb is not what I want my Barleywine to be, I realize now that I enjoy a balanced barleywine with a bit more of a lean toward the malt. I imagine that I would enjoy the English style barleywines better but I will say that the citrus and pine hop flavors that come through in my barleywine would be missed. I guess I need to go grab an english barleywine and make the decision. Oh what we do in the name of research.


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