Style Profile: Barley Wine

Posted on 12.03.07 7:03PM under Barley Wine, Style Profile

Seabright's Perhaps the biggest misconception about beer is that it is a simple drink; fizzy yellow swill. Many people (presumably the half of America that prefers Bud) believe that beer should be low in flavor and high in “refreshment”. People from all walks of life believe that complex flavors and deep rich alcohol pleasure are reserved for wine and spirits. Perhaps that’s why the beer style creators called this one Barley Wine. It’s like a way to say to everyone who sees it: this is big and sophisticated. It is unfortunate that we have to call our beloved beer a “wine” in an attempt to garner respect, but no matter what you call it, a barley wine is a thing of beauty.

One characteristic that good barley wines indisputably share with fine grape wines is that they age very gracefully for a number of years. The bold combinations of roasted malts, fruity esters, and alcohol presence found in all barley wines only become more mature and well-blended with age. Some barley wines, especially American ones, are heartily hopped to go along with the rest of the intense flavor profile. Even these high-hop barley wines tend to age well, as everything melds together to become more than the sum of the parts. Another practice with barley wines is aging them in or on oak. This increases the depth of complexity and diversity of flavors that will greet you when you treat yourself to a glass of this excellent beer style.

Winter is the perfect time of year to enjoy a great barley wine. A barley wine is a classic winter style. It doesn’t rely on fancy holiday spices to make its mark, it just relies on good old fashioned brewing art and science. Most barley wines are made with traditional ingredients, that is, malt, hops, water, and yeast. To make a good, well balanced barley wine requires utmost attention to the effects of all brewing ingredients. Too many dark malts, and roast or sweetness could overwhelm the flavor. Too many hops, and it could become abrasive. Fermentation is critical – too hot and it will be too fruity, harsh and alcohol-flavored; too cold and it may not fully attenuate, or may lack some character.

If you’re as thirsty for a barley wine as I am after writing this, you might plan to spend a while with it sitting by the fire. Feel free to bring along some wintry nuts and fruits to complement the roasty and fruity flavors of this beer style.

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  1. Posted by Brainard Brewing » Blog Archive » The Session #12: Barley Wine on 02.01.08 6:49 PM

    […] I’m happy to be participating in my third installment of the session: group blogging. This month is about Barley Wine. […]