The Session #12: Barley Wine

Posted on 02.01.08 5:30PM under Barley Wine, Boden, Stories, Tasting, The Session

Session LogoParty Boy BodenI’m happy to be participating in my third installment of the session: group blogging. This month is about Barley Wine.

Last month was Doppelbock, and I had to cram hard for the final session post. I’d never been too into Doppelbocks, or even Bocks, or even lagers for that matter. But I dived in deep and made it happen. I learned a lot, not only from my own research, but from the work of others too. And now I love Doppelbocks.

Fortunately, I was well prepared for this month’s session.

Part of my seasonal beer campaign launched as soon as Oktoberfest was over (that is, November 1st) was focused on Barley Wine. It also included “Winter Warmers” and the like, as well as pretty much any big malty beer (like Imperial Stout). I had a lot of Barley Wine before this topic was even announced. Confident in my preparation, I waited until Tuesday night this week to think about “what the hell am I going to add to the session?”

I’m sure any barley wine that I tried and loved and didn’t already write about will be covered in the session’s other great participants. I don’t have a lot of old beer in the cellar to whip out a wicked vertical of some rare Barley Wine for the session. I realized I’ve never made a Barley Wine (mental note, brew Barley Wine soon, for consumption next winter). Eventually I realized the perfect topic I could contribute.

Beer and food is a hot topic these days in all sorts of media. From Garrett Oliver’s book “The Brewmaster’s Table” to the multitude of beer-and-food sites on the internet, people are finally starting to realize and acknowledge that beer goes pretty damn good with just about every food.

When I started working my way through Barley Wines, I found it a bit of a heavy pursuit. It’s hard to drink a lot of Barley Wine. They’re all so malty, and some of that sweetness gets to be a bit much. Not to mention the occasional oxidized thing that is there. I looked for a coping strategy. I needed something to go along with the beer. Dinners weren’t doing it. Cookies didn’t seem to quite match up. I finally found the perfect match.

My most perfect memory from this season’s Barley Wine excursion was the several nights of enjoying plates of crackers, cheese, broccoli, and Barley Wine. The crackers: ranged from saltines to some fancy poppy-sesame organic things. The cheese: ranged from deli American to sharp Cheddar to Maytag Blue to some stinky shit. The broccoli: raw. To me, the way the broccoli enhanced the whole thing was a big surprise here. The Barley Wine: well I haven’t had the Victory Old Horizontal yet. Don’t know why (mental note: go get that next time I’m at Gordon’s). I’ve had many other domestic Barley Wine offerings. Many. From the classic Anchor Old Foghorn to the massive Dogfish Head Olde School to the hop-laden Avery Hog Heaven to Sierra Nevada Bigfoot to Brooklyn Monster to Flying Dog Horn Dog to Hooker’s Old Marley to Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot. Maybe some I forgot about. If it turns out that one of these isn’t covered by the session, I’ll dig up my notes and add it as a bonus for you great beer blog readers.

But the thing that was almost even better than the way the salty, creamy blue cheese at the same time perfectly complemented and contrasted the Barley Wine, with the broccoli there to lift it all away just before a fancy cracker could wipe my tongue clean. The thing that was better than any beer and/or food experience in this whole Barley Wine thing, was what I learned about my son. Boden is two years old. He has a vocabulary that grows each day, but is roughly a few dozen commonly used words, including several varieties of growls and other mean monster sounds. But this kid loves fancy cheese. You can see a photo of him above after sampling some Barley Wine-related cheese. Maybe he actually got into the Barley Wine? Actually that’s just him at any given moment when I’m pointing a camera at him. I think he’s ready for Mardi Gras.

I would be sitting there pondering the beer and cheese and crackers and broccoli, and he’d be right there with me. Wouldn’t try the beer, but probably ate more cheese than I did. Sure, he still loves American cheese with ketchup, but he’ll dig right into the XXXtra sharp cheddar infused with garlic and aged for 18 months or the Clawson Blue Stilton (he doesn’t go for the Heinz with the cheddar or stilton, thankfully). Just the other day, he was up late, and I was trying to get him to eat so he wouldn’t wake up early the next morning. I get hungry trying to feed him, and I reached for a chunk of whichever blue cheese I had on hand at the time. I asked him, “Do you want some fancy cheese?” We call it fancy cheese, as opposed to flat cheese. Flat cheese is our code for American cheese. He didn’t want any, but as soon as I was wrapping the big piece back up, he almost started to cry (he does that a lot – he’s two) as he said something to the effect of, “me want fancy cheese”. Cool. He even tried intentionally mixing it in his mouth with the seedless green grapes we were eating.

So, in conclusion, Barley Wine is great. It is big and malty, with lots of alcohol, and likely fruity and/or black cherry flavors, with sherry flavors at times. Every now and then, they’re loaded with hops. They go great with a lot of different fancy cheese, especially blue cheese like Maytag Blue or Clawson Stilton. But the best is when your little kids share the love of any of this with you.

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