A newcomer to the craft beer world, still exploring beer styles and flavors, might find themselves wandering the beer section of their local spirits store with only a small breadth of knowledge concerning basic types and breweries. It’s always a good thing to keep in mind that without a helping hand, certain craft beer variations can throw visitors for a loop. One of the most common misunderstandings that I see as guests start to branch out from the typical styles is the infamous confusion surrounding a particular beer style known as Barleywine (or Barley Wine). “Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Ale…!” someone might exclaim upon discovering the high ABV beer amongst common styles like IPA and Stout, “But wait, Sierra Nevada Brewing makes a wine?”
Barleywine-style ale is indeed a beer, and an intimidating one at that. These monstrous ales can range anywhere from 6% to 12% (or beyond) ABV, and their flavors, whether intensely saturated by fruit and spice (as many English Barleywines are), or hopped up as with the American style, are always packing a punch to the palate. The only thing that’s “weak” about this beer style is the confusion surrounding its name; the term “Barleywine” was brought about by an English brewery that created this style of beer as a substitution for the English-popular fortified wine such as sherry and brandy. Adding “-wine” to the name implied that this style of craft beer was as strong as wines like these.
The Barleywine style is as intense as a wine with all the characteristics of a beer. It’s an exciting style to try—a high ABV, plenty of aromas and flavors, and a style with a long, rich history. This strong ale has been around since 1870 and was created to compete with wine for a place on the dinner table. Beer geeks rejoice in its complexity and newcomers, once grasping the idea of this style, always take a great interest in trying different Barleywines. No matter if you’re a hop-head or if you’re looking for something rich for your home cooked dinner, you’ll be sure to enjoy trying a Barleywine.
Makenzie Ladd, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Beer Consultant and Tobacconist – Sarasota