[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.
I have two biases that I want to clear out-of-the-way before we get moving along:
I love every Victory beer I’ve had. Why? Because they make lots of delicious beer.
I have yet to love a barleywine. Why? No idea but I keep trying them and waiting for that to change.
I really don’t know why I’m not a fan of barleywines. Lots of people seem to love them but I just think they are OK at best. I’ve contemplated that my disinterest could be related to the name, though I know quite well that this beer has nothing to do with wine. Wine is fermented from the juice of grapes, beer is from barley. A barleywine is only wine like in its strength (ranging from 8 to 12%). I find that unlikely and really think that I just haven’t had one that I really “grabs me”. I continue to persevere and assume that one day my palate will change and I’ll fall in love as has happened with stouts and sours.
Back to #1 and my love of Victory beers. They make quite a few delicious beers all of which I’ve had (those of which make it to Ohio) and enjoyed. Somehow I missed this one before and then they took it out of rotation 2 years ago. Luckily they’ve brought it back this winter and I picked up a bottle as soon as I could find one. Here’s what Victory says about Old Horizontal:
As much as we love to see you here enjoying our beer, we encourage you to buy a bottle of this one and head home to savor it within the comfort and love of your own retreat. There you’ll discover why ‘horizontal’ is in the name.
Massive amounts of barley malts, combined with fresh harvest American hops make it aromatic and spicy on the nose. Floral, fruity aromas slide into honeyed malt depth with lingering sensations of candied and citrus fruit. Late warming alcohol brings all of these flavors into wonderful harmony to finish.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my drink reviews, it has long be established that I am far from an expert. There are plenty of very good and informative beer reviewers out there who know what they are talking about. I am here to give the enthusiastic amateur’s opinion about drinks. In Episode Seven of The Charlie Tonic Hour I tell the story of how I met the Schlafly social media coordinator and was given two bottles of their reserve to try. So full disclosure, my opinion my be swayed by the presence of free alcohol.
Schlafly beer produces over forty varieties of beer in their Saint Louis brewery. Some, like their pale ale and their kolsch, are available year round, but they also make a large number of seasonal beers. The Schlafly Reserve is an oak-aged barleywine ale that they produce once a year. Barleywine is a traditional English ale. It’s called barelywine because it is a wine-strength beer, usually 8-12% alcohol by volume.
I am not a huge beer drinker; I like the taste of a lot of beers but usually the heavier and darker ales put me off. As much as I love their advertising, I’ve never been able to develop a taste for Guinness. So I was a little worried that I would be in the awkward position of hating the first beer that I’d ever been given to review. Luckily this was not to be the case. Oak-aging brings out the sweetness in beers, something that I’ve gone on record as adoring, so I shouldn’t have been worried. This ale had a lovely sweet, malty start that was nicely balanced by an assertive hops flavor for the finish. It was a thicker ale, cloudy amber in color, with a heavier mouth feel than lager but not as heavy as a stout. In the end the sweet/hoppy combination really appealed to me, similarly to the way that I love sweet/salty combinations. Schlafly’s Reserve has too strong a flavor for this to be something you drink casually but I think this would pair really nicely with a good wood-fired pizza. This particular bottle was a 2008 vintage. I would be interested to a different year and see how they compare.
Schlafly’s beer is available in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Western Mississippi, North Virginia, and Washington, D.C. so our local readers will have to go across the border to get themselves a bottle. While you are at it I would recommend picking up a six-pack of the Schlafly Pale Ale. I had a glass during the 5B conference and enjoyed it very much. I have been carrying a grudge against Missouri since experiencing a series of misadventures every time I have traveled through the state. I am pleased to say that Schlafly’s has me rethinking my previously low opinion of the show-me-state.