I blog primarily over at "geosciblog" (http://geosciblog.blogspot.com), I am doing this one for fun. It is inspired by 30+ years of beer can collecting and having tried more than 3,000 different American beers during that time. “. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Barleywine - The King of Ales

Barleywines, they're big, robust, and malty. They are meant to be savored sip by sip, after the kids are asleep. Or during some other quiet, contemplative moment.

This bottle is a Scottish barleywine called "Traquair House Ale" and this particular bottle has been quietly aging in my basement for 8 to 10 years (the bottle doesn't have a date, but I started saving heavier ales for aging back about 1993 or so). After all this time, it is still crystal clear, a deep ruby amber in color. The aroma is sweet and pungent, similar to other aged ales. If it had tasted as it smelled, it might have been unpleasant, but fortunately, the flavor is smooth and mellow, quite enjoyable.

The alcohol content is not listed on this bottle, but it is probably about 11 to 12%. I actually purchased this bottle in Georgia, before this strength ale was legal. In the past, once in a while, particular ales with higher than legal alcohol contents would "sneak" into the state, because there was no listed content to give it away. It was also on sale in South Carolina for a year or two later, where the legal alcohol content was also 6%. I wish I had saved more bottles of this. It is now, legally on sale in a nearby liquor store, but it would take years of aging to reach this point again.

The idea behind aging, as told to me by a wine expert, is that you give up freshness in exchange for more complex flavors and aromas. Aging can also take the sharp edge off of some ales. Extreme hop contents can produce a "bite" when fresh and the high malt content of barleywines can make them bitter when young.

It doesn't always work. I opened a bottle of 1992 Thomas Hardy Ale a few nights ago and was disappointed by the flavor. The alcohol punch was still there, but the flavor was oddly tart and unpleasant to me. The Traquair House Ale was stored under the same basement "brauskeller" conditions. Last weekend or so, I tried a 2002 bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, but it had lost too much of its hoppy character was was also a disappointment.

Barleywines generally range in alcohol content from about 7% to 15%. The British/Scottish barleywines are generally maltier and have a lower hop content than American barleywines.

Among my favorite American barleywines are Anchor Old Foghorn, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Rogue Old Crustacean, and Avery Hog Heaven.

The now-defunct Dogwood Brewing Company from Atlanta had a good, smooth barleywine ("Excellent Adventure" was the name) "waiting in the wings" when the brewery closed. As far as I know, the labels were never delivered and the barleywine never made it to market (sob, sniff!). I did get to try a "short-fill" bottle. As it was already smooth, there were not the rough edges to be removed by aging. I just wonder what happened to those bottles.

It has been several years, but I also seem to remember liking Dogfish Head Immort Ale, from New Jersey. Another tried years ago was Old Dominion Millenium. The remainder of those listed above are from western states.

When putting aside ales for aging, they need to be stored in a cool, dark place, safe from temperature fluctuations. Aging will take place in a refrigerator, at a slower rate.

Each person has their own likes and dislikes, but personally, I didn't like Flying Dog Horn Dog, but I understand they had a 10th (or maybe 15th) anniversary limited-edition Wild Dog barleywine that was better (only on draft), but I missed it. Drat. Others that I didn't care for were Abita Andygator and a few years ago I had another brand (John Barleycorn, I think) that was flavored with a different spice each year. That particular year, it was cardimom (sp.?), which was kind of a strange flavor.

The Traquair House Ale has partially erased my memory of other barleywines tried before. I may add more info as memories are refreshed.
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