The first twinges of cold air are upon us. As fall’s chilly fingers begin to grip into our bones, we need a beer to ward away the shivers. For most beer aficionados, the perfect beverage to do the job is a strong barleywine.
Although the style had been around for some time, the first commercial brewery to make, and call it, barleywine was Bass around the early 1900s. It is also suggested that the Brits began using the term around the time of the Napoleonic Wars as the supply of Bordeaux was severely limited. Its origins also point to the possibility of a wine-based beverage brewed with barley grain.
Whatever the reason, it is generally accepted that they are ales with wine-like alcohol strength. But what to make of all the other ale in the world of high alcohol potency? Why aren’t they called the same thing? The same reason porter is different from stouts or an IPA is different from an American pale ale: subtle differences in the grain and hop selection coupled with the choices in brewing process.
As Britain is generally deemed the “official” country of origin, most brewers tend to use ingredients indigenous to the UK, the 2 row variety of grain being primary. 2 row barley is a cereal grain with a lower protein content than its cousin, 6 row, and, thusly, yielding a higher sugar content. Brewers wishing to produce strong ale make frequent usage of this strain of grain as more sugar leads to higher alcohol contents.
Traditionally, barleywine is rich in texture with a noticeable alcohol register. In other words, it warms you as it goes down the gullet. Usually more about the malt quality, more and more American versions are being brewed with a stronger hop expression. Some I’ve tried are so out of control, so syrupy and alcohol hot, that they’re downright wince inducing. Generally, I’m not a fan… until now.
Victory Brewing’s Old Horizontal strikes a perfect balance between old world and new world approach to barleywine. It’s copper brown in color offering up a generous head of foam that doesn’t want to go away. Beautiful aromas of tangerine, caramel and a hint of whisky. The alcohol (11%) is nicely masked under big flavors of figs, caramel, biscuit, dried cherries and brown sugar. The whole-leaf hops balance out what could have been cloyingly sweet with a nice piney bitterness. Old Horizontal’s combination of warmth, flavor and thick texture will chase away those pesky fall chills.