Tag Archive: Barley Wine


Top Out: First Ascents – Yukatan Honey Wheat Wine (Scotland: Bearley Wine: 10.2% ABV)

Visual: Very dark red to brown. A beige, thin bubbled centimetre of a head.

Nose: Honey. Brown bread baps. Dry mead.

Body: Honey. Black pepper. Brown bread. Dry mead.

Finish: Brown bread. Black pepper. Clear honey. Flour. Cloudy honey.

Conclusion: Ok, honey, bready, black pepper. That was a fairly short set of notes. Ok, I put a bit more than that but it took a while, for nearly half the beer that was all I had written down. Let’s take a moment and see if I can find a bit more to dig into here.

Ok, well, the honey character comes across very thick and full initially, but quickly become a kind of dry mead character that then just lasts and lasts – so, some kind of progression going on there.

The peppery and bready notes mix well to create an oddly savoury experience in the midst of this, especially considering the sheer amount of honey flavours. Despite occasional sweet honey notes it is generally very well attenuated with little residual sweetness.

And with all that said, eh, I have to admit I am having a hard time getting excited. I like mead. I like honey. I just kind of need a bit more in a beer than only that.

So, to look at the positive, it does express the honey in a very varied way – dry mead, cloudy thick honey, clear honey sheen. All good, but I need more.

A very honey beer that ends up kind of boring.

A pity.

Background: While I haven’t grabbed many of their beers, Top Out have been pretty solid in what I have encountered from them. This is a wheat wine made with Mexican yucatan honey, which is something a bit different. Been on a barley wine kick recently so a mead like take on that sounded right up my street. Another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. Went with Getter – Visceral for this while drinking. Not my usual kind of music but works nicely for a backing to drinking.

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Dead End Brew Machine: Curtis The Destroyer (Scotland: Barley Wine: 9.6% ABV)

Visual: Clear bright cherry body, with a ruddier centre. Small browned head, some small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Booming glacier cherries. Caramel. Vanilla. Bourbon. Shortbread. Cake sponge. Brandy cream.

Body: Honey to mead. Cherries. Raisins and sultanas. Fruitcake. Toffee. Golden syrup cake. Apple touch. Oily thickness. Cake sponge.

Finish: Clear honey. Raisins to fruitcake. Brandy snaps. Golden syrup. Slight charred wood bitterness. Oily sheen with hop oil bitterness. Dry spice. Brown sugar

Conclusion: You know, for a while I was wondering of my memories of how good barley wines could be where just my youthful years’ memories lying to me and letting me down. I was finding barley wines that were ok, and barley wines that let me down, but none that even came close to how my memories told me they could be. There were none that revitalised that energy and brought back my love for the style.

This, therefore was welcome, as this is a blood good barley wine! Smooth, yet thick with a just slightly oily feel. That mouthfeel is great – slightly rough edged in way that says this is a strong beer without all of the prickles taken out, but 90% of the time it is smoothed down by its time in the oak . However for all it is smooth, it keeps enough fight to it, and keeps all the weight and mouthfeel of a good barley wine with it. That slight extra thickness, that not smoothed out edge, helps it stand out from the super smooth takes on the beer, and gives it a robustness so that the rougher notes don’t turn it into a boozy brutal thing. It nods to both the smoothness and the harshness, taking the best from each.

There are boozy and spirity elements, but it is no more alcohol touched than you would expect from a the fairly heavy barley wine style – Lots of vanilla and bourbon notes, heavier brandy cream sweetness and sherry spiciness – all elements that seem to come from the barrels and give complexity but not too much booze.

However, we are not here for the oak – that is an extra touch, a bit of spice, we are here for the barley wine it improves. From first pour onwards cherries just burst out from the beer, just oozing through in the aroma followed by a smattering of dark fruit. However as you move past that and into your first sip of the body you get a surprising level of clear honey to mead notes that makes this stand out as not your usual barley wine.

It is sweet and sticky but with darker, oily bitter notes, mixed with fruitcake and just a dash of Christmas style dry spice. It is so full on, yet so smooth and generally just so complicated.

So, does it have any downsides? Some – it gets a bit heavy and wearing near the end of the can. There is so much going on, and it sticks around so can get sickly with all the flavours, and because of that I can’t put it as one of the all time great beers.

So, in conclusion, an awesome beer with a few minor flaws, that come in late on, but is still pretty good at the end. Only just misses out on being a top favourite beer, but definitely still worth trying anyway.

Background: Ok, this is the second time I have drunk this – first time around I was just wanting something big to sip, and was shocked by how much I enjoyed it, so endeavoured to grab a second can to do proper notes on. This is a Jamaican rum barrel aged Barley wine, that is apparently made with a custom blend of London III and Burlington yeast. Don’t know enough on the yeast to get the specifics but I am intrigued by the effort that went into getting their yeast just right for this. Anyway another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. Went with the heavy duty and both socially and politically conscious metal of Svalbard while drinking – “It’s Hard To Have Hope” to be exact. Utterly awesome album, the best the band has done in my opinion.

De Molen: Бакунин: терпение и труд (Patience & Labour) (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 10.6% ABV)

Visual: Hazy dried apricot with a cloudy centre. Thin off white head.

Nose: Buttery shortbread. Cake sponge. Dry sultanas. Oily, peppery hop character. Sake. Bready. Dried apricot.

Body: Dried apricot to standard apricot. Golden syrup. Peppery hop oils. Dry cake sponge. Sake. Cherry pocked biscuits. Oily bitterness. Vanilla.

Finish: Peppery hop oils. Dry sultanas. Dry cake sponge. Oily bitterness. Nutty oily character. Oak.

Conclusion: This is a oily, peppery barley wine. Not what I expected considering that part of this beer’s gimmick is it being made with apricots. Now the fruit is there, but in a dry, relatively restrained fashion. The sultana and apricot character are dry, clinging on through a similarly dry, and highly attenuated base. There is very little residual sugar for such a high abv beer.

There’s subtle vanilla woven through the beer, a fragile lace mesh of flavour, easily permeable by the dry oily base, oily peppery character and dry fruit. It only puts up the impression of a fight against the heavier flavours but that is enough to keep the drier character manageable.

It gives a subtle nutty backing over time, again a dry character but with hints of sweeter nut notes. Overall the beer is a heavy, slow drinker. The peppery, dry character last far beyond the end of the last sip in a long lasting finish. It is never unwelcome, but it does last beyond what I would call its best moments.

It is more dry than my preferred barley wine style, but I can appreciate its more savoury styling with only slight sweetness for a more peppery and restrained barley wine than usual.

Not the best, but a very well made and a tad different barley wine. A very polished beer that isn’t 100% aimed at me, but I can still appreciate.

Background: For people wondering, apparently the romanisation of the brewer Бакунин is Bakunin. Had to do a bit of searching for the right characters for терпение и труд as well – I was nearly ready to just give up and put the English in there. Бакунин is a Russian based brewery I have not encountered before – De Molen is an old favourite of mine, simple labels but utterly solid in the quality they turn out. This one, another one grabbed from Independent Spirit, is a barley wine made with dried apricot and raisins. De Molen seem to be generally spot on with barley wines, which I currently have a bit of a hankering for, so was looking forwards to this. Had grabbed Crossfaith – Ex_Machina recently so I put that on and it as banging mix of Prodigy like electronics and metal as you would expect from them. Great tunes.

Tiny Rebel: Siren: Dark Cherry and Chocolate Barley Wine (Wales: Barley Wine: 11% ABV)

Visual: Deep, cloudy brown. Thin brown dash of a head.

Nose: Coca. Crushed bourbon biscuits. Mild black coffee.

Body: Black cherry. Bourbon biscuits. Slightly light mouthfeel. Liquorice. Bourbon whiskey. Vanilla. Slight rye whiskey. Brown sugar. Slight brown bread. Slight chocolate liqueur. Earthy bitterness.

Finish: Black-forest gateaux. Bourbon biscuits. Watery coffee. Rye whiskey. Alcohol air. Liquorice.

Conclusion: Ok, I’m going to open up with the side of this where it is weaker. This is slightly watery on the mouthfeel, which is bloody surprising considering it rocks in at over 10% abv. It isn’t terribly weak, but just slightly thin at the edges, while letting through some of the rawer alcohol notes in the finish. So not light in a super smooth fashion unfortunately. It is definitely lacking a few points in the polish side of things for sure.

So, on a more positive note, this uses the cocoa to chocolate notes well, adding a strong chocolate character while still letting the barley wine come through so it doesn’t just end up feeling like an imperial stout. It mixes well with the brown sugar notes to make a kind of Belgian dubbel meets barley wine kind of thing.

If there is an upside to the rawer alcohol character it is that it results in some bourbon and rye whiskey like notes that makes it feel like this has been barrel aged, (which, while not something they have done for this beer I know is something they plan for the future) though not with the smoothness barrel ageing brings. It does make me genuinely intrigued to see what the barrel aged version of this would be like.

The black cherry (or dark cherry) could do with a bit more prominence here. It is nice but is a gentle backing note to the chocolate. In fact the lighter body seems to make a lot of the non cocoa ingredient flavours seem slightly muted.

So, an ok barley wine with a few nice notes, but definitely needs another run though with a bit more polish.

Background: Final beer from the Tiny Rebel seventh anniversary collaboration box set and I’ve been saving this one for last. I’m a big fan of barley wines and despair that they don’t seem to get as much love as the Imperial Stouts, so this, made with cocoa nibs and dark cherry definitely caught my attention. Totally going against expected mood music for this, went a bit retro with Radiohead – O.K. Computer. It just scratched an itch of awkward, moody music I wanted right then. The box was grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Ridgeside: Beer Ink: No Figgity (England: Barley Wine: 9% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy brown with a red hint. Good sized off white, creamy head.

Nose: Fig rolls. Slight cream. Wheat. Crushed Blackpool rock. Orange skin. Pepper. Caramel.

Body: Brandy cream. Malt chocolate. Figs. Sultanas. Fruitcake. Brown sugar. Caramel.

Finish: Figs. Cream. Wine soaked raisins. Dry notes. Brown sugar. Earthy bitter hop character. Nutty oily notes. Pepper. Carrot skin. Coriander.

Conclusion: Oh fig me, there are some full on figs in this. Initially very sweet and heavy on the dark fruit notes with some vinous backup, this then heads down a path into very earthy bitterness as time goes on, especially in the finish.

While distinctly a barley wine, the peppery and earthy notes, the rough gem edges and dark fruit actually makes me think that they have taken some influence from the Trappist Quads over in Belgium – making something more robust and rounded than the sweeter barley wine takes.

The extra ingredients used in making this are well done – I’ve already mentioned the very present fig character, but not yet that they mix with the sweeter notes to create a sweet pastry impression that calls to tasty fig rolls. Another point in its favour. Beyond that there are some subtle orange skin notes, and unsubtle cane sugar stylings creating some more Trappist like sugar notes.

It is rough edged, and the earthy, spicy notes that are a pleasant balance at the front do get too heavy by the end of the beer. However, with that said, I am on something like my third time trying this. I keep returning to it, this time to do notes, but in general just to enjoy, so it definitely has something.

Rough around the edges aye, but the extra fig notes add to the more traditional dark fruit barley wine character to give it a bit more than the usual style for a barley wine, and the additional orange notes certainly don’t hurt.

A flawed gem, but still a gem and worth trying.

Background: I’ve grabbed this a few times, so when it ended up in my fridge yet again I decided it was finally time to do notes on it. It grabbed my attention for a number of reasons. 1) I like barley wines and they don’t seem to be super common these days compared to say IIPAs or Imperial Stouts. 2) It is made with figs ..oh also candied orange peel but I am mainly here for the figs. Also it’s a collaboration with Beer Ink – I’m sure I’ve run into them before, but can’t quite pin down where. Will have to do a quick search at some point to find out. Another one from Independent Spirit – went back to Bad Religion for tunes to listen to, still got a soft spot for their mix of thoughtful lyrics and rocking punk tunes. Picked their Generator album, mainly for the title track.

De Molen: Hair Of The Dog: Binkie Claws: Almond Bourbon Barrel Aged (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 11.2% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Opaque. Thin caramel dash of a head.

Nose: Bakewell slices. Cherry liqueur. Marzipan and almonds. Raisins and Christmas cake. Cherry bakewell pies. Fig rolls. Vanilla and caramel.

Body: Plums. Creamy and smooth. Vanilla. Peppermint cream. Marzipan. Fig rolls. Almonds.

Finish: Almond liqueur. Toffee Liqueur. Liquorice touch. Blueberry. Charring. Mild coffee. Almonds. Raisins.

Conclusion: This is such a smooth beer, creamy, using the high abv but not beholden to it-and the aroma, oh my! Like many a barrel aged big beer, the aroma that leads into this is just so rich, complex and amazing. It is like mashed up desserts, almond liqueur and dark fruit.

Also, this seems significantly different to the also soooooo good Woodford reserve barrel aged version. While they share the same base notes, the cherry notes here come through even more dessert like and the almond character seems to add both savoury low notes and marzipan like high notes. Oh also, for people confused, yes this is a different beer – I’m not just doing notes on the same one twice (this time…) because I enjoy it that much. Darn similar looking labels.

Anyway, the aroma opens up like cherry bakewells meets marzipan meets a dark fruit barley wine. It is immense. The body behind that is more subtle – still using the dark fruit notes but with a bitter almond character behind it, which then leads into a charred but still dark fruit and savoury almond filled finish.

For the first half of the beer it is freaking amazing – mixing bourbon sweetness, dark fruit backing and sweet marzipan notes – it shows all the barrel ageing and still the smoothed out barley wine comes out to match it.

Over time the almond becomes more prevalent, pushing out that awesome balance between the styles. It is still bloody good – a very marzipan heavy barley wine – but for the first third of the beer this was on the knife edge of perfection for use of barrel ageing.

So, about a third of a beer of nigh perfection, two thirds strongly almond influenced barley wine that is still good. Not perfect, does not have quite as many notes as the aroma promises, still grab it.

Background: Ok, so I adored the Woodford Reserve aged version of this beer. I adore Hair of The Dog beers. This is a collaboration between them and De Molen, this time aged in Almond liqueur bourbon barrels. Seriously I was going to buy this. In fact I also have a second bottle ageing to see what happens to it. Another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. I was fairly certain I ws going to like this, so put on some IDLES while drinking. Freaking love IDLES new album – so intense yet so emotionally open. So good.

De Molen: Juicy Loesie (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 12.7% ABV)

Visual: Dark brown with black cherry red hints. Off white to grey thin head. Still main body.

Nose: Cane sugar. Apple. Brown sugar. “Boozy” alcohol aroma. Plums and raisins. Fruitcake.

Body: Cherries. Warming alcohol. Prunes. Rum. Apples in jelly. Raisins and sultanas. Treacle. Malt chocolate. Madeira.

Finish: Molasses. Apples pies. Chocolate liqueur. Rum. Liquorice. Calvados. Light turmeric.

Conclusion: Here we have ourselves a dark, boozy beast, a barley wine on the darker end of the style’s scale, lightened by subtle apple pie to Calvados imagery. It is undeniably a barley wine – the apple used doesn’t dominate, but it does feel like the beer has spent some time in a Calvados barrel smoothing off its edges. Well some of its edges. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The initial aroma is actually quite simple and light. Sugary notes along with fruitcake hints and a general boozy weight. Despite the booze it still actually feels pretty clean and doesn’t give much of an impression of what lies bellow it.

The body instead comes in thick and initially it is all about the dark fruit and malt chocolate notes that speak of the darker barley wine style. Soon however a chewy apple pie jelly centre taste and feel comes out, a gentle sweetness that is bright against the dark boozy, spirity centre that is sucking you in.

The malt chocolate, backed late on by gentle earthy spice, keeps it from being too heavy and boozy, but trust me, the big spirit character keeps leaning back towards that direction whenever it gets the chance. Again the Calvados like apple character is what pulls it back from the brink. When faced with molasses like finish, and the rum and liquorice notes, it really needs the subtle apple notes to keep it steady.

Boozy but very enjoyable for me. It possibly could do with a few years ageing to let the alcohol settle, but right now it is already a weighty but delicious subtle apple barley wine. Well worth trying.

Background: Ok, I will admit I have had this one before, really enjoyed it, so grabbed another to do notes on. In fact I have quite a few De Molen in the cupboard at the moment, after not having had them for a while. They are a very fine brewery. I had forgotten how much I tend to enjoy their beers. Anyway, this is a barley wine made with apple juice. Makes sense. I always wanted to make an apple barley wine in my delusions of ever starting home-brewing so this caught my eye. Another one found at Independent Spirit. I’d just received Evil Scarecrow – Antartarctica for Christmas so put that on. I love the over the top camp horror metal and sci-fi styling of their music. Very funny and great metal stage-shows live. If you get a chance definitely go see them live.

De Molen: Hair Of The Dog: Binkie Claws: Woodford Reserve Barrel Aged (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 11.4% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Thin grey rim of a head.

Nose: Brandy cream. Sweet liquorice allsorts. Figs. Dried sultanas. Brown bread.

Body: Smooth. Creamy. Figs. Plums. Liquorice. Toffee liqueur. Pepper. Clearly evident Woodford Reserve bourbon. Brown sugar. Creamy cherries/ Cherry yogurt/ Cherry liqueur.

Finish: Vanilla toffee. Vanilla. Glacier cherries. Light charring. Bitter hop oils. Rye whiskey. Bourbon.

Conclusion: This so smooth, lightly creamy but with tons of that barley wine dark fruit flavour. I vaguely remember Doggie Claws from all those years ago, but I don’t remember it being quite as awesome and rewarding as this one is.

It is creamy in a way that calls to sherry trifle, alcoholic plums and figs (if there is such a thing, if not their should be) and burnt brown sugar that gives a crème brulee imagery to it. Really rewarding, rich alcoholic dessert notes all the way.

Under that are the more traditional barley wine notes – dark fruit, cherries, and some more unusual beer elements for a barley wine like some bitter hop oils that give grip and a recognisable beer edge in this almost liqueur like barley wine.

Finally, but far from least, there is the Woodford reserve influence and it is massive! From the more generic toffee and vanilla notes you expect from bourbon, to unexpected rye whisky like notes, to what can basically be best described as raw recognisable Woodford flavour. The barrel ageing doesn’t just add smoothness to this beer, it pounds out a good chunk of its flavour as well and builds this from a good beer to an excellent, layered experience.

From an easy-going start, to a thick barley wine middle, to the hop oils and bourbon finish – this is a ride that soothes you in and then kicks you out. Seriously wonderful, then again, it is Hair Of The Dog and De Molen, what else did I expect?

Background: I would have grabbed this a lot earlier than I did if I had noticed it was a “Hair Of The Dog” collaboration. Absolutely love those guys and their beers are super hard to get hold of in the UK. De Molen are darn decent as well. From the name I’m guessing this is a take on Hair Of The Dog’s Doggie Claws – which has been aged here in Woodford Reserve barrels. Woodford is a darn nice bourbon, so sounds like a combo made in heaven to me. Put on an EP called “Rotten Citizens Vol1” while drinking – a mix of artists doing dark electronic tracks for moody drinking music. This was another one grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Lervig: Barley Wine 2017 (Norway: Barley Wine: 12.9% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Small grey-brown dash of a head.

Nose: Vanilla, liquorice and fudge. Caramelised brown sugar. Treacle. Almonds. Light strawberry.

Body: Light charring. Chocolate liqueur. Heat at the back of the throat. Chocolate toffee. Brown sugar. Toasted teacakes. Toasted marshmallow. Vanilla fudge. Light strawberry. Black cherry. Quality bourbon undertones. Sticky toffee pudding.

Finish: Sticky toffee pudding and treacle. Fudge. Liquorice. Vanilla. Toasted teacakes. Toasted marshmallows. Charred touch. Bourbon.

Conclusion: Ok this smooth. Has big flavour. Has evident but not overpowering bourbon ageing influence. Huge and rewarding range if you hold the beer on your tongue. We have here an entry for the fuck-yes-this-is-how-you-make-a-barley-wine contest. They were only allowed one word for the name of the contest so they cheated by using hyphens.

So, this is deeply sweet with sticky toffee pudding, treacle and chocolate liqueur at the base. It somehow has those very sweet flavours restrained so as not to become sickly – as would be very easy to occur with a barley wine of this type and strength.

I think that some of that restraint is due to toasted teacake undertones – bready but still slightly sweet matching but also grounding the flavours. Similarly a toasted marshmallow character gives some sweetness against light burnt notes that segue nicely into the light charred character into the finish.

All of this delicious character and I’ve not even touched on the bourbon influence yet. Early on it just shows in how damn smooth the beer is, then comes out in vanilla and fudge notes, then finally it shows in its rawest form in smooth but present actual bourbon spirit flavours – coming out as subtle elements beneath the rest of the beer.

So what downsides does it have? Well, I’m not a huge fan of liquorice notes in beer, and this does use it heavily early on , but a) it actually isn’t used half bad here and b) the liquorice notes left before they started to wear on me. Shockingly they were actually used to add to, not detract from the beer.

So, that is the worst I have to say, this is a great beer. Buy it. Drink it.

Background: I’ve had a few Lervig beers over the past year – some have been awesome, some have been ok but not stand out. I was beginning to think I was mainly grabbing them for the odd names and labels. However enough have been good that I don’t regret grabbing them. Decided to grab this to see how they do with the non hoppy beer styles – especially as this one has spent 12 months in bourbon oak. Put on Jack Off Jill – Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers – a mix of melodic, screaming, anger and sorrow in a gothic punk style. Such an awesome album.

Brewdog: Abstrakt: AB 25 (Scotland: Barley Wine: 13.3% ABV)

Visual: Very dark black-cherry red. Thin brown dash of a head.

Nose: Treacle. Fudge. Vanilla. Toasted marshmallow. Liquorice all-sorts.

Body: Treacle. Liquorice. Vanilla. Toffee. Buttery notes. Charred meat ends to charcoal. Chalk touch. Black cherry. Brown sugar.

Finish:Liquorice all-sorts. Butter. Charred notes.

Conclusion: This is … very buttery, very buttery indeed. That is not such a good thing. There is a good base beer apart from that; Solid treacle notes, very smooth body that hides the alcohol and good toffee and vanilla from the bourbon barrel ageing. I mean I even enjoy the liquorice that they manage to use in moderation and have slight liquorice all sorts sweeter notes.

But…. yeah, as you go on that real thick buttery character just grows and grows. Now I don’t know if it from a brewing fault in the base beer, from the barrel ageing, a combination of both or what, but something just doesn’t click here. Generally butter notes are considered off notes in beer, but I have defended them from time to time where they seem to accentuate the high points of the beer they are in, but that doesn’t apply here – they are distinctly off notes.

Now, to look on the bright aside of the beer – it is very good at concealing its high alcohol – I’ve seen beers of roughly half the strength seem far rougher, and the smoothness doesn’t stop it playing with big flavours either, dodging another common flaw in aged beers where the smoothness comes with an associated lightness. This all grinds to a screeching halt sooner or later though as the buttery notes come out again. Now, maybe this is another beer where a bit of ageing may sort it out, but since they are selling it now, I expect it to be good now.

The buttery character is a greenery pocked, thick and fatty thing – so, I guess high quality for butter? But that doesn’t make it a better experience – it keeps hiding the better notes underneath it. Late on black cherry and similar dark fruit notes come out from under that shell, and it would have been nice to see more of them.

At a cheaper price this would be flawed but with a quality of the base against it that makes it worth investigating, At ten quid a pop this cannot be a worthwhile purchase I’m sorry to say. A potentially good beer stomped by its worse elements. So there we go.

Background: Another of Brewdog’s one off speciality beers – this one a Barley Wine that has spent 6 months on a bourbon barrel. That actually doesn’t sound that unusual. Ah well, they can’t all be super odd high concept brews. Let’s just hope it is really good to make up for it. Anyway, another one grabbed directly from their online store. Put on Ritualz –CDR for this. Not listened to it for a while and it is a really out there, moody electronic set of tracks that I felt the need to jump into again.

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