As I enjoy the warm winter of Florida my friends and family back home in Pennsylvania are digging themselves out of 20+ inches of snow! My last post was about the heart-warming feeling of stouts but this week we need to get SOUL-warming with a heavy, high-alcohol barley-wine. This beer style will be sure to get the feeling back in their fingers and toes and help them to forget that though the calendar says spring is here, winter isn't quite over yet.
Barley-wines date back to the eighteenth century (the term "barley-wine" was not coined until 1903 by Bass Brewery) and was born out of a style of brewing called parti-gyle brewing. Parti-gyle brewing was a process of brewing two or more beers from the same mash. Each beer would have less alcohol content than the beer before it. Think of making two or three cups of tea from the same tea bag. The first beer (strong ale) out of the mash would be the highest in alcohol as it had the most fermentable sugars. Then the second runnings (called the "common beer") would have less alcohol and if a third beer was run it would be very low alcohol and called the "small beer". The lower alcohol beers would be consumed first as they would spoil the fastest but the first beer could be saved as it had a longer shelf life due to its high alcohol content. This style of brewing has since gone by the wayside but the beer style has stuck around. The barley-wine is usually the highest alcohol content beer that a brewery will offer and is typically aged prior to being released for consumption.
Barley-wines are characterized by a malty sweetness that resembles dark fruits, figs or dates, with a toffee/caramel aroma. Don't be fooled by your sweet tooth as these boozy beers will pack a punch with an ABV between 8-18%! These beers are copper to dark-brown in color with an IBU between 40 and 100.
There are two main styles of barley-wines: English & American. English-style barley-wines tend to be more rounded and balanced with slightly less alcohol content and less bitterness. Is it any surprise that the American barley-wine is more bold and brash?! American barley-wines tend to be more hop-forward but don't expect an IPA bitterness as the sweetness of the malt will balance out the hop bitterness. Because of the complexity and alcohol level of these beers they age very well. A lot of breweries have taken a liking to aging barley-wines in bourbon barrels.
You may be wondering why it is called a barley wine and I do get this question a lot at the brewery I work at (our brewery won a gold medal at the 2016 Best Florida Beer Competition with our barley-wine: Twisted Cap. While the name can be deceiving there are actually no grapes used in the fermentation of this style (some have recently begun to add a little bit of grape juice to the fermentation to form a beer-wine hybrid, however). It gets the name barley-wine because it is similar in alcohol content to a wine (8% to 18% ABV) but brewed with malted barley.
Barley-wines should be served in a snifter between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, any colder and the aromas and complex flavors will be suppressed.
Nick's Picks and Pairings
These amazingly complex, intense, and high-alcohol beers will need equally complex and intense food to pair with. Barley-wines can easily over-power most meals but can work wonderfully before or after a meal. Try some of the following pairings with your next barley-wine:
Barley-wine Cupcakes with Barley-wine Chocolate Glaze
Makes 24 cupcakes
Let sit for at least an hour before serving, or serve the next day!