[Ed. Note: Kyle is a friend I met on Twitter (@KyleWDavis) and is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced barley wine fanatics I know. I have been trying to do more educational posts on different styles but get busy with a billion other things. So I figured this would be a great opportunity for Kyle to step in and help us learn about barley wines]
Barley Wine History
A barley wine is an alcoholic beverage dating back to ancient Greece, but the current offerings from breweries on both sides of the pond draw inspiration from England in the late 18th century. This is when British aristocracy began to celebrate a desire for any food or drink that weren’t readily available or affordable by the middle and lower classes. Barley wines require larger amounts of ingredients and take more time to produce than most typical beer, which made them just decadent enough to be held in high regard.
Currently, barley wines can be broken down into two sub-categories: American-style and English-style. American barley wines are generally more hop-forward and consequently more intense when fresh. To balance the incredible amount of hops, the malt bill is equally immense. English barley wines focus much less on hops and more on, well, barley. A lot of common flavor profiles include toffee, figs, dates, and some other dark fruits. Some barley wines that are usually easy to find include Old Foghorn by Anchor Brewing (English-style), Hog Heaven by Avery Brewing (American), and Old Guardian by Stone Brewing (American).
Ageing Barley Wines
Any beer can be drank fresh, but barley wines are great candidates to spend long periods of time in your dark, cool basement prior to consumption. When stored properly, the flavors tend to combine and the overall taste generally smooths out. The intensity of American-style barley wines usually takes quite a bit longer to mellow out compared to that of an English-style. When you buy some for yourself, I suggest you buy at least two of whatever you choose. Try one now, and make your own notes. In about a year or so, drink the second bottle and try to notice any differences.
I won’t wander too far into the argument of whether or not it is correct to store bottles upright or on their sides. Lots of articles already exist online in regards to this issue, and they generally skew slightly in favor of upright storage [Ed note: Here are our tips for cellaring]. I store beers both ways, and I’ve yet to encounter a problem with any beer I’ve aged. I keep several empty cases full of single, upright 12-ounce bottles. I also have a small wine rack where I store 22-ounce bombers and other large bottles stored on their sides. Before I drink a bottle that’s been stored on its side, I gently agitate the bottle to make sure any sediment will settle to the bottom of the bottle before I put it in the fridge to chill.
Lastly, this is a great style to share with friends. Beer should be communal, and one of my favorite days every year is when several of my friends come over, and we sample six or seven different varieties of barley wine. Head to your favorite local bottle shop with a friend, and you can each get a couple bottles of barley wine. Enjoy some now, together, and reconvene at a later date to try the rest.
Stone Old Guardian Review
Bottle Date: Spring 2013
Drinking Date: Early Summer 2014 (Bottle roughly 15 months old)
Coriander, grapefruit, lemongrass, and some booze heat as the beer opens up.
Caramel, candy apple, maraschino cherry, lemongrass, and some dates.
Mouthfeel: Full-bodied but not lingering, hints of dryness, and medium carbonation levels. The dryness adds a nice amount of crispness.
Overall: It’s still a bit young, in my opinion, but it’s aging nicely. I like the dryness, and too much more would be too much. It definitely gets a bit boozy as it warms. That’s not good or bad, but it’s there.
A few words on words
This section is written by Tom not Kyle. In the course of talking to Kyle about this post he kept using the words “Barley Wine” and I kept using the word “Barleywine.” This got me to thinking about which is correct. The bottom line is that neither is correct and both are acceptable but I’d rather be more definitive.
Luckily Google is awesome and has this thing called the Ngram Viewer. It let’s you search all the books Google has indexed. So here is the comparison for “Barleywine” vs “Barley Wine” over the past 210 years:
I also took to social media to see what all of you think. Twitter and Facebook were decidedly in favor of 1 word without a single person voting in the 2 word direction. I like the way @cincybeernick put it:
Being a Google Zealot I have to side with the search results and will be using “barley wine” going forward. What do you think? 1 word, 2 word, screw it all together and just give me a beer? Leave a comment with your vote and any unanswered questions on barley wines.