Barleywine, aka “life” aka “Barleywine is Life (#Bil)”, is one of the most unique beer styles available. A first time beer drinker (or even a regular light beer drinker) may try barleywine and think you’re crazy for calling it life. Sooner or later your taste buds will become advanced and you will understand why this sweet nectar is called “life”.
What is a barleywine
A barleywine is not a wine, it is not made with grapes and is not a fermented juice. Don’t let the name fool you there. The main reason it is classified as a wine is because of its strength in alcohol by volume (ABV) and its complexity in smell, taste and overall brewing process.
Some History: When beer was first being brewed, it’s ABV stayed at a pretty low/consistent 4-5%, way before imperial stouts or big and bold IPAs had been created. Something, specifically a barleywine, with an ABV of 8%-12% was considered at the same level as wine, thus one part of the name.
There are two types of barleywines: English and American. I firmly believe English barleywines are highly superior to American barleywines, but feel free to come at me bro if you wish. Barleywines (or barleywine adjacent beer styles) also have several names like Old Ale or Stock Ale.
The main difference is in the malt. English barleywines use an English malt whereas American barleywines use an American two-row or pale malt. Check out this post if you’d like to know more about barleywine brewing and ingredient specifics.
Some of the best barleywines are barrel aged, which means the brewer lets them sit in a barrel (typically a used bourbon barrel) to allow the sharper flavors to round out. During this process the beer develops complex flavors that blend together with the bourbon barrel flavors.
What does a Barleywine Taste like?
Heaven? Barleywines can have extremely complex flavors and I’ve found each person that drinks them tends to stick with one base flavor profile while getting hints of others. Personally, I get dried fig time and time again. This could be due to the fact that I ate a lot of figs growing up. I recently asked another buddy and he said he dominantly tastes raisins from barleywines.
Barleywines have been noted to have the following common flavors: caramel, honey, dried fruit, tobacco, molasses, toffee, vanilla, dark bitter chocolates, bourbon notes and many more.
You will also notice that barleywines (along with higher ABV stouts) will have different flavor profiles straight out of the fridge compared to being warmed up a bit. Pro Tip: a common practice is to hold your hand around the glass to warm it up faster.
Trying to identify complex flavors of barleywines makes up half the fun in trying them.
What are our favorite barleywines?
While I am relatively new to barleywines, I have been quickly hunting for as many as I can get my hands on. Here are some of my most recent favorite barleywine breweries:
- Barreled Souls
- Barreled Souls was one of my first life bottles I had and I enjoyed it. Barreled Souls reeled me into life!
- Revolution Brewing
- Based in Chicago, Revolution churns out a great variety of barleywines at different levels of complexity.
- Anchorage Brewing
- Anchorage is known for releasing some of the heaviest hitters in the market and I’ve been lucky to get to try several versions of A Deal With The Devil, one of the most famous beers in existence.
- Local Favorite: Hedgehog ATX
- They released one barleywine so far and it blew me away. Very impressive life for the first release.
- There are many more that I love, but these first 4 came to mind as my most recent favorites.
While this article just covered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to barleywines, I hope that it created some intrigue within you to go out and try some for yourself. Please let me know what barleywine you tried for your first or what's next in your lineup and what you thought! Comment below, send us an email or tag us on instagram @hazyboyapparel.
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