Written by Tyler Hooley
It’s big. It’s bad. It’s delicious. That’s right! It’s barleywine. One of the oldest beer styles still in existence, the first known recordings of a barleywine go all the way back to Ancient Armenia. Despite it’s Armenian roots, the barleywine flavor profile that we’ve come to know and love first emerged in 15th century England. The English aristocracy wanted an alternative to wine that offered the same alcoholic strength, and thus the English barleywine was born! The first iteration of a packaged barleywine, No. 1 Ale from Bass Brewing Company hit shelves in 1870. Ranging from a golden hue to a dark amber, this style clocks in at around eight to twelve percent ABV, making it the perfect wintertime sipper. Packed with malty richness, dark dried fruit characteristics and caramel and molasses notes, it’s no wonder that barleywines have a cult-like following in the craft beer community. A perfect style for aging, after some time, these big beers take on a port-like flavor and vinous quality.
And while the English barleywine has been around for centuries, the American barleywine didn’t hit the scene until 1976, when Anchor Brewing Company first released Old Foghorn. The most widely produced and largely known barleywine, Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada, followed shortly in Old Foghorn’s footsteps, hitting shelves in 1983. Like its English brethren, the American version also packs a punch at eight to twelve percent ABV. The biggest difference between the two versions is the assertive hop character that the American barleywines bring to the table. This balance of high alcohol and hoppy bitterness combine to leave a strong, long finish on the palate. Not as dark as the English version, the American barleywine ranges from light amber to a dull copper tone. Both styles make for great winter beers but the die-hard barleywine drinkers crack these open year-round, because, after all, #BarleywineIsLife.
Interested in dabbling in barleywines? Stop by and grab some the next time you’re in. We have plenty to choose from including:
Listermann’s Lavish Life
North Coast’s Old Stock Ale
Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot
JW Lees and Co. Harvest Ale
Great Divide’s Old Ruffian
Against the Grain’s London Balling