Tag Archive: Barley Wine


Wild Beer Co: Raconteur 3 Yr (England: Barley Wine: 9.9% ABV)

Visual: Very dark burgundy to black. Thin grey dash of a head.

Nose: Very vinous and heavy. Cider. Sour red wine. Malt loaf and raisins. Slight alcohol tingle. Sour white grapes. Sour black cherries. Sweet red cherries. Apple crumble.

Body: Bready. Alcohol feel at the back of the throat. Sour red wine. Malt loaf. Raisins. Sour grapes. Cider. Acidic tingle. Slight charred oak.

Finish: Sour red wine with sediment. Raisins. Soft vanilla and toffee. Cider. Sour air. Malt loaf. Sour apples. Brown sugar.

Conclusion: Ok, even more so than original Raconteur, this feels dominated by the oak ageing. Which is a lot. However considering that the base beer was already pretty much lost in the original – having more to play with actually does add to the beer here. However the adding of Modus Operandi to the mix has also done it a world of good . It has the Modus’ sour, slightly acidic character matched to lots of Somerset cider style acidic appleness and wine vinous sourness – lots of good elements, but not much of the base barley wine is there, even considering the original. So as a subtle, slightly oak influenced beer where you can appreciate both the base and the oak ageing, this is a bit of a failure; You get malt loaf and raisins as a solid base but that is a bout it. So, as an insanely oak aged beer? How does it do as that?

Well at its base – probably due to the modus influence – it feels close to the more sour end of the Flemish bruin style – it has that harshness and soft acidity at the back of the throat. That is then emphasised by the sour, acidic, cider character that is laden throughout. The sour red wine character, which normally is one of the booming elements, actually kind of grounds the beer here. This really does not feel like a barley wine – however if you take it as an unbalanced barrel aged Belgian bruin – it is rough but actually works pretty well. The harsh characteristics are actually a benefit, not a flaw if looked at like that.

So, it completely overshoots the style it aims for, and ends up as a good example of a completely different style. Genius or madness? You decide.

Background: I found the original Raconteur ok, but very dominated by the oak ageing – so, was unsure if to grab this- which has spent a mighty three years in the oak- from Independent Spirit. If you can’t guess from the fact I am doing notes, I relented and bought it. Hopefully that was fairly obvious. Anyway this has spent time in Somerset Cider and Burgundy wine barrels and some Modus Operandi has been blended in with the resulting beer. Drunk while listening to Gogol Bordello’s Trans-Continental Hustle. With all the anti immigration shit going on at the moment Immigraniada has become a bit of an anthem for me.


Kees: Barrel Project 06/2016 (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 12% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Thin off white head.

Nose: Creamy vanilla and very evident bourbon. Very smooth. Caramelised brown sugar. Chocolate liqueur notes. Fudge.

Body: Treacle. Cherries. Vanilla. Soft fudge. Massive bourbon. Very smooth. Malt chocolate. Caramel. Soft alcohol presence with a slight tingle. Brown sugar. Chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Toffee. Vanilla. Golden syrup. Smooth bourbon. Chocolate liqueur.

Conclusion: Ok, this is both smooth as sod and bourbon backed to buggery. This is nice is what I am saying. Despite the darker colour it does not lean away from the intense sweetness of the traditional barley wine – though it does express it with more chocolate and fudge as well as the more excepted golden syrup style. Still, very recognisable straight out of the gate.

If I had to dig into what exactly is the major sweetness here I would say it has a lot of caramel, backed by huge amounts of vanilla – it is delivered with the slightest amount of alcohol prickling, but in general it slips down like quality liqueur. Or, considering the range of flavours, more like a blend of liqueurs – aged in a bourbon cask of course, you cannot deny that influence at any point. Seriously this is possibly one of the most clearly and evident defined beers for showing the bourbon ageing’s influence. It has all of the vanilla, that rugged sweet undertone and slight sour mash notes – all so very clear.

It is only because the base beer and the ageing are so in line that the ageing doesn’t overwhelm the base beer. While the base beer has a lot of flavour it is not so epically big to overpower the bourbon ageing, instead it relies on the base caramel and chocolate complementing rather than fighting the bourbon notes.

So, I enjoy this massively – thought not quite enough for it to be one of the rare “my favourites”. It is classy as all hell – smooth and with full flavour – the only thing it does not have is that unique element that pushes it to the very top and makes it an all time great. Still, that is possibly the weakest criticism there is. It is still great.

So, genuinely great, even if not an all time best, but there is no way you will regret this if you are a fan of bourbon and barley wines. Full on bourbon. Full on barley wine. Full on beer.

Background: This is the third of the Kees Barrel project beers I grabbed, and probably the one I was most looking forwards to. You seem to get less barrel aged Barley Wines over here, so this – aged in Barton Bourbon barrels looked like just the thing for me. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, it was drunk listening to the every energetic indie pop electronic tunes of Grimes for a bit of extra fun.

Weird Beard Hanging Bat Jack's Rye Smile

Weird Beard: Hanging Bat: Jack’s Rye Smile (England: Barley Wine: 11% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy dark red brown. Large inch of creamy brown froth head.

Nose: Roasted nuts. Chocolate cake sponge. Bourbon. Orange. Tart raspberry crème. Lightly milky. Coffee cake. Light cellar’s air.

Body: Malt chocolate. Coffee cake. Vanilla. Bourbon. Orange. Slight sour lime spirit. Slight rye crackers. Tingling alcohol feel. Custard slices. Golden syrup.

Finish: Sour lime liqueur. Vanilla toffee. Bourbon. Sour dough. Malt chocolate. Light pepper and spice. Alcohol air. Caramel. Coffee cake.

Conclusion: I’ve really been working my way through the different adjunct wines recently. This one is probably one of the better ones to have come out of my recent flirtations with the styles. If I had to say why, I would say it is because the base beer seems to match the barrel ageing so well.

The rye influence makes this taste a tad black barley winesque, albeit this is smoother than most black barley wines I have had – it plays with soft coffee cake, nuts and malt chocolate. There isn’t as much rye spice character as I would expect, possibly because of the big sweet malt dose, backed up by the barrel ageing. There is a lot of big flavours to overwhelm more subtle spice.

Speaking of the barrel ageing, it comes across very clearly, without dominating – they instead seem to complement each other very well. There is lots of vanilla, and in fact more raw “Bourbon” feel than almost any barrel ageing I have encountered. I think this may be because the base, whilst big, is less dominating that say an Imperial Stout, so it really seems to let that spirit character play. It adds a distinct alcohol air to it all in a boozy fashion.

The two work very well together, with vanilla backing the coffee cake, and the bourbon air lasting out over the slightly peppery finish. The bourbon ageing also seems to bring some of that orange spirity notes into play as well – at least I think it is the bourbon, it seems to have shown up in a lot of American wood barrel aged beers recently.

While not superlative, it is good. Unfortunately the high golden syrup sweetness plays away from its strengths. The main core of sweetness is average, all the fun comes from the more mellow surrounding notes. However there is a lot to recommend in the surrounding notes. If the alcohol had been a tad better hidden this could have been a very luxurious, sipping, malty rye ale. As is it is still very welcome and with a hell of a lot of character.

Background: Grabbed from Independent Spirit this is a rye wine that has been aged in bourbon barrels – and from the name I would guess Jack Daniels, but that is just a guess. I ended up losing half of the bottle in a slight mishap, so this was based on about 300-400 ml worth, which I figured was more than enough for a set of tasting notes. Drunk while listening to the Jet Set Radio OST, which is fantastically funky and awesome, even if it does miss out my two favourite tracks from the game.

Moor Benny Havens Scotch Whisky Barrel Aged

Moor: Benny Havens: Scotch Whisky Barrel Aged (England: Barley Wine: 10% ABV)

Visual: Deep bruised apricot skin. Coffee froth beige head. Much creamier and larger head on second pour.

Nose: Apples. Pepper and ritz crackers. Gooseberry and grape skin. Brown bread. Dried apricot. Blended whisky. Musky. Very milky coffee. Paprika.

Body: Golden syrup. Cloves and pepper. Aniseed. Pear drops. Fairly smooth texture but spicy. Apricot. Cinnamon. Brown bread. Lightly spirity. Toffee. Blended whisky. Apples. Caramel.

Finish: Light charring. Milky chocolate. Aniseed. Mulled wine. Light gin. Toffee. Greenery. Smoke. Apple. Honey. Hop oils. Dried banana.

Conclusion: Bit of a mixed up wee beast this one. Can’t say I disapprove. This leans towards the good side of disorganised, but because of that it does lack a lot of polish.

So, let us rewind a few moments and let’s try to break this down. Note one is that this is spicy – a fact that I would, at a guess, put at least part as whisky influence, but it is hard to say – depending on the region the whisky is from, a barley wine can push a lot of similar notes to a whisky. This feels half way between a Highland whisky and a European peppery noble hopped beer. I am going out on a limb by saying that as I have no idea if either were used to make this -it is just the flavour impression it leaves. The whisky feels a tad spirity in a blended whisky way, but that could just be the already high abv of the beer.

At the base, under all that, is a heavy honey to golden syrup barley wine – a tad rough but with a smooth mouthfeel. Around the edges you get fruitiness, from apricot to gooseberry, rounding notes and most probably the most subtle part, especially compared to the whisky, hop oil and spice punch. Late on a large apple character does grow out of it though to surprising prominence.

So, yeah, a mix of barely related notes – it isn’t one I’d recommend as high art, but there is something to its eclectic mix that I enjoy. So, not polished, nor near the high end of the barley wine style, but it definitely has charms. Decide from the notes if you think that means it will be one for you.

Background: Been far too long since Moor have graced these pages, so here it is, grabbed from Independent Spirit (I promise drinks form another source will turn up soon!). This is scotch whisky barrel aged – I am unsure if all Benny Havens is barrel aged or not, so I listed it in the name – if anyone knows please comment and let me know. Drunk while listening to a bit of a mash up – Erock’s excellent Mad Word meets metal and Rise Against’s Help Is On The Way being the stand outs. I seriously love the song Mad World – one saw a busker doing it on the London Underground and hung around for the entire song. I may have been mildly drunk at the time, but it was still cool.

Hawkshead Wild Beer Oat Wine Cider Brandy Barrel Aged

Hawkshead: Wild Beer: Oat Wine: Cider Brandy Barrel Aged (England: Barley Wine: 9% ABV)

Visual: Deep hazy dried apricot darkened body. Moderate dark brown bubbled head.

Nose: Oily and apples. Hop oils. Stewed apricot. Alpen – with raisins and sultanas emphasised. Dried banana. Raspberry tart notes. Syrupy.

Body: Raspberry. Malt chocolate. Fudge. Apple syrup. Vanilla custard. Hop oils and accompanied bitterness. Alpen. Peach.

Finish: Apple syrup and hop oils. Malt chocolate and fudge. Dry oats. Vanilla and vanilla pods. Raisins. Spicy rum. Greenery bitterness.

Conclusion: Oat Wine! Apple filled oat wine! Now, the original Oat Wine collaboration didn’t really grab me. This is similar, but the cider brandy ageing has had an interesting effect.

That base muesli style and those apricot fruit notes, are still there. In fact the pre hop styling greenery bitterness is kind of still there as well, but leaning towards a more hop oil evident character here.

What is added is a sweet syrupy character, very apple flavoured – though very artificial tasting due to the sweetness. It made me think of apple ice cream syrup, if there is such a thing. I have never encountered it, but if it does exist I would imagine it tastes like this.

Does the beer work? Hmm. Well, while artificial feeling, the sweetness of the apple adds a strong note that does help the beer early on. It adds an easily identifiable element at a point where the base beer was struggling to find itself – this strong character added to the Alpen like base does help sooth some of the flaws.

Later however it does become kind of wearing – the bitterness and oats mix in a slightly leaden fashion. However, overall I will say it is a slight improvement. It still feels like it doesn’t really do enough to leverage the strength of the oat style, but the early,bright, moments are pleasant.

Still weak, but less weak than before. At 9% abv kind of ironic, no?

Background: Not an auspicious start for this one. I had grabbed it at the same time as the standard Oat Wine, a beer which didn’t really impress me. Then I was warned by one commenter to avoid the Cider Brandy barrel aged version. Which I already had. Fuck. Ah well, I oft go against common consensus on beers so let’s give it a go anyway. Drank while listening to New Model Army: Thunder and Consolation. NMA are such a great band.

Bristol Beer Factory UnLimited Wheat Wine

Bristol Beer Factory: Un\Limited: Wheat Wine (England: Barley Wine: 10% ABV)

Visual: Apricot. Hazy. Thin white dash of a head. Still body.

Nose: Apricot and fruit sugars. Peach schnapps. Boozy. Vanilla. Bourbon. Banana. Cinnamon sticks. Raspberry. Toffee and toffee liqueur.

Body: Mildly bitter. Wholemeal crackers. Dried apricot. Ovaltine. Mild milky coffee. Bourbon. Chocolate and toffee. Light banana esters. Smooth. Custard slice with their pastry. Blackpool rock.

Finish: Bitter. Earthy touch. Mild charred oak. Coffee cake. Caramel. Bourbon. Chocolate toffee. Fresh pastry. Cane sugar.

Conclusion: This is quite a mixed up experience of a drink and it shows all its included ingredients well. I seem to be on a Adjunct Wine kick at the moment, and, so far, this is one of the most impressive of the set.

First impressions a a mix of raw bourbon boozy imagery and smooth banana and apricot ester notes. The intensity of that alcohol belies the actually very smooth body and the impressively subtle fruity notes. There is a bitterness to the beer, but it isn’t in a hop style. I wasn’t sure initially what it was, but over time it finally becomes identifiable as coffee like bitterness. Speaking of the coffee, the coffee influence is present but it feels like it is being used as a grounded base. It mixes with the occasional earthy notes and only really comes out near the end of the beer as it settles down.

As well as the house yeast that the bottle mentions, I’m guessing the wheat is what to thank for a lot of the light fruit notes and smooth character that very slightly calls to a very boozy hefeweizen. It is an odd mix of very smooth at the base, and yet boozy as hell when the bourbon hits. The flavours and alcohol of the oak ageing are very evident.

The odd stand out element is a very chocolate style character that seems to rise from the coffee influence. Maybe it comes from the coffee merging with the sweetness of the * Wine base, but it is unexpected. It gives a dark chocolate toffee sweet core that the rest of the beer can then hang off. It gives that base to a beer that otherwise would be a mix of good but unrelated notes.

Overall it manages to mix smooth character with quirky rough edges with compromising either. I’m impressed. It is literally just one “Je ne sais quoi” away from being one of my favourites, and as is it is easily in the top set of beers. A very good wheat wine.

Background: Bottled 2014, drunk just under two years later in 2016. Been a while since I tried what once was a regular to these pages – Bristol Beer Factory. So, grabbed this, with its long list of ingredients and twists. 75% wheat, uses triple strain house yeast, aged in oak bourbon barrels and blended with cold brewed coffee. Quite the mix up. Drink while listening to Dope: Life, which seems to have become a generic go to for music for a while. Probably because of the song Die Motherfucker Die. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit, like approximately 90% of my beers recently.

Hawkshead Wild Beer Co Oat Wine
Hawkshead: Wild Beer Co: Oat Wine (England: Barley Wine: 9% ABV)

Visual: Apricot, hazy bodied and with evident sediment, darkened under its large caramel touched head that leaves suds.

Nose: Peach melba or maybe peaches and strawberry. Creamy. Custard cream biscuits. Muesli. Nettles. Dried apricot.

Body: Thick and oaty. Nettles and greenery bitterness. Dried apricot. Hop oils. Peach syrup. Strawberry. Shouchuu.

Finish Greenery. Bitter. Tannins. Dry. Dried fruit sugars. Peach. Cheap sake. Muesli and sultanas.

Conclusion: Much better than first impressions indicated. Which may be an ominous dooming with faint praise, or possibly a prelude to raving about a new awesome beer. Suspenseful, no?

The aroma sells this as sweet and fruity, peach melba style, which initially isn’t really represented when you reach the body. The muesli tasting base seem to be laden with traditional pre-hop beer greenery bitterness and then leads into a disappointing finish backed by a shouchuu like alcohol character.

So, not good. Though time lets the fruit rise, the oaty base doesn’t seem to play well with it. The thick texture and light fruit seem like two separate entities that never mix or mesh. The best mixing element is where it feels like you get dried fruit sugar notes – kind of dried apricot and peach that seem to match the more restrained and less showy base.

The peach syrup grows late on and as it comes to dominate the beer becomes a thicker and much more fruity medley, but while this improves the beer, it feels like it does so by overwhelming the base rather than complementing the style. So, while it ends up a decent beer when it pushes that fruit up front, it does so by losing what makes it unique, so an ok beer at the end, but doesn’t make use of anything that makes it special.

Background: Now, Wild Beer Co seem to be a bit weak on Barley Wines, and while this is an Oat Wine, it still falls in the same ballpark. Then again this is a collaboration, so may be that they are learning from the main parter in it – Hawkshead. Any which way this was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Chelsea Wolfe: Hypnos/Flame, mainly because Warren Ellis had mentioned it in his weekly e-mail so I thought I would check it out

Arbor Steel City Hopcraft Argy Bargy

Arbor: Steel City: Hopcraft: Argy Bargy (England: Barley Wine: 10.4% ABV)

Visual: Black. Red hue at edges. Moderate brown head that is thin froth and large bubbles.

Nose: Thick ovaltine and malt chocolate drinks. Coffee. Alcohol tingle. Greenery and bitter hop character. Resin. Chocolate liqueur.

Body: Chocolate toffee. Bitter hop prickle. Thick treacle touch. Resin and hop oils. Chocolate fondue. Apples notes. Kiwi.

Finish: Riesen chocolate chews and fudge mix. Lightly woody. Chocolate fondue. Good bitter chocolate. Brown sugar. Gentle kiwi air.

Conclusion: Ok, this is one of those single minded but big in what flavours it does have kind of style beers. A smbbiwfidhkos beer if you will, as that will make it easier to say and comprehend.

It is thick, full of chocolate, resinous and moderately bitter. There, I just summed up the entire beer. But if I leave it at that I will not have done my job I feel. So I will go on.

The aroma is fairly gentle, but the body has that high level barley wine sweetness but done in a dark beer fashion, with many variants of similar but different chocolate style notes. It is probably the most barley wine feeling black barley wine that I have had, keeping that syrupy sweet character while shifting it to a darker style.

It also doesn’t push the hop character too hard. A lot of black barley wines seem to push that side, ending up like drier and higher abv black IPAs. Here it is happy to limit the hops to a resinous character which fits perfectly, and a little amount of green fruit on the flavour side as subtle backing notes.

Overall, while fairly one note, the green fruit does rise as it warms, and even simple as it is it does what it does very competently indeed. It doesn’t bother with any extraneous notes, just does what it sets out to do,

Sweet, simple and sorted. Not a world shaker but solid.

Background: Black barley wines are an odd one. I have found black barley wines I have enjoyed, but they often don’t seem really seem barley wine like to me. This one, from Independent Spirit caught my eye. I used to drink a lot of Arbor stuff but haven’t really done so for a while – they seem to have gone for a more craft beer look and style over the last bunch of years, so probably time for a new look. Drunk while listening to a bunch of old Warren Ellis’ 4AM music podcasts. Again, stuff I haven’t listened to for a while.

Wild Beer Co III

Wild Beer Co: III (Aka Three) (England: Barley Wine: 9% ABV)

Visual: Cherry touched red. Slightly hazy. Strawberry touched white froth head. Seemingly still body. Head leaves suds.

Nose: Jelly touched. Passion fruit. Light pencil shavings mixed with wet wood. Strawberry. Pomegranate. Orange jelly.

Body: Pomegranate. Tomato juice. Light oak. Orange. Sickly honey. Brown bread. Treacle. Orange liqueur.

Finish: Tomato juice. Brown sugar. Pomegranate. Brown bread. Petals.

Conclusion: Ok, first sip impressions here were majorly off putting. This tasted like a tomato juice beer – I’m not exactly a tomato juice fan at the best of times, so this was not exactly what I would hope for as a beer opening handshake. After a bit of time with the beer I have come to the conclusion that is probably the effect of the pomegranate. Well, that is a guess, it is made with pomegranate molasses -I have no idea what they taste like, I presume like sweet pomegranate. Anyway, actual pomegranate notes also become evident later on. Anyway (again), the tomato is not pleasant here and lasts a very long time.

So, I said “first sip impressions” – does that mean that the beer gets better over time? Slightly. It lets more notes come out – light wood, and a bready base that helps ground it. It makes it more balanced so that it isn’t an actively painful beer. Wow “ it isn’t an actively painful beer” – that is damning with faint praise if ever I did so.

Ok, let’s be less harsh – I can see what they are doing – unusual fruit against a less sweet barley wine background than usual. It should all mix to create a kind of unusual and floral mix in a soothing and fruity way. It is a nice idea, and there is a floral character in the finish. Unfortunately here the beer just makes for a clash between the floral, the fruit and the few sweet notes that manage to break out, ironically too sickly sweet where the rest of the base is too dry.

Overall – nope I am not a fan. The fruit tastes like tomato juice and the base has no spark, with the occasional spurts of sweetness misplaced. For all their skills, Wild Beer Co seem to be weak with barley wines. Leave this one be says I.

Background: Wild Beer Co’s third anniversary beer, innovatively named, well, three. Usually I am a huge fan of Wild Beer Co, however their past attempt at Barley Wine was not particularity impressive. Still, grabbed this from Independent Spirit as always willing to give them a go. This particular barley wine was made with caramelised orange zest and pomegranate molasses. I have to admit I did not know that pomegranate molasses were a thing. You learn something new every day. Drunk while listening to Electronic Super Joy’s OST for some non intrusive upbeat backing music to my drinking decadence.

Brewdog Mashtag 15

Brewdog: Mashtag 15 (Scotland: Barley Wine: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Good sized coffee froth style dark bubbles.

Nose: Peanuts. Roasted. Malt chocolate. Lime touch. Dry liquorice.

Body: Bitter front. Bitter chocolate. Aniseed. Liquorice. Traditional lemonade sweet touch at back. Froths up easily. Vanilla toffee undertones. Roasted hop feel. Brown sugar. Dried apricot. Cherries. Kiwi fruit. Coffee.

Finish: Liquorice and bitter malt chocolate. Coffee touch. Roasted hop character. Moderate bitterness.

Conclusion: The level of roasted character in this black barley wine actually makes me think a lot about a stout, as does the chocolate notes laden throughout. However , before anyone thinks I am accusing this of being a stout in disguise I will say that the rawer sugary character at the back definitely reinforces this barley wine’s base as true to the style.

It plays the heat changing game, rawer and more bitter when cool, it gains a treacle sweetness and brown sugar notes as it warms, along with some subtle hop fruit flavours coming out. It is definitely a better beer when warmer – the coffee and chocolate notes still calling to a stout, yet there is this brilliant traditional lemonade freshness right in the middle that you would never see in a stout. It just hits the right notes, fresh, sweet yet deep, and with so many layers to dig through. The hops start out rough but end up the rounding mellowed fruit which is just right.

It has a little of everything. Considering how many special ingredients and strong flavours it had brewed in I was originally worried it was going to end up a mess, pulled in every direction. What we get instead is a beer that has managed to work every element in its place.

So, flaws? Well, mainly the liquorice flavour. Initially it fits pretty well into the flavour profile, but by the end it is a bit wearing. Still, overall the beer is a hell of a ride. So I can forgive a few slip ups. So, erm, go democracy!

Background: Democracy! The worst system apart from all the other ones we have tried! here tried by Brewdog to see what the general public would vote for in a beer. I’m sure there is no way this could go wrong. In this case they voted for a black barley wine with oak chips and vanilla, and 100 IBU US hops. Of course! As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer. Drunk while flicking through Miracle Of Sound’s music selection for a bit of fun.

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