When it comes to beer, the redneck inside of me tends to come out. A slight adaptation on the classic American mind-set, the bigger the beer the better! More malt, more hops, more flavour, and more alcohol. Bring it on! This makes my relationship with lagers a testy one. Sure there’s a time and place for them, but when it comes down to it more often than not I just end up thinking the same thing: “Seriously, I’m literally just drinking wet cardboard”. All of which makes barleywines the perfect brew for me.
With it’s name stemming from the fact that it’s alcohol percentage makes it the equal of (or superior to) wine, this style of beer is very strong and complex. Put simply, it’s the strongest of all ales going around. First marketed in 1903 via Bass No.1, it’s a style that has gained somewhat of a bigger following in recent years.
To keep things interesting for drinkers, there are both English and American styles, with American barleywines often massively hopped (making a more bitter and hoppy brew) as opposed to the English variety which tends to be more balanced and malty.
Both however are thick, complex beers which require both a fair chunk of time to finish (seriously, some of these beers are around 12% – rushing these brews down is a surefire way to bring on a classic restless beer coma). And I do mean restless. Have you ever woken up from a drinking session refreshed?!
For those looking to try such styles, the Yanks join the party with the Flying Dog Horn Dog. The Europeans have put together one of the more impressively named beers in this category with the De Molen Bommen and Granaten (Bombs & Grenades), whilst the Brits introduced Fuller’s Golden Pride (a tad weaker at just 8.5%). Back home, the boys from 2 Brothers brewery have given us the Guvnor.
One barleywine in particular that I’ve partaken in however is the Brooklyn Brewery Monster Ale. Operating (obviously) out of New York since 1988, the rising popularity of Brooklyn Brewery beers has seen expansion to such an extent that their overall capacity will quintuple by 2013. Brewing a rather ridiculous number of perennial, seasonal and specialty beers, the Monster Ale is their contribution to the barleywine scene.
Weighing in at a hefty 10.3%, this potent brew pours a ruby-brown, with aromas of maltys, fruity hops and caramel. Taste-wise, it’s big (I know, big surprise right?). Sweet malts come through, along with a big hoppy kick to push the beer roughly down your throat, with a comforting warm boozy finish capping off the drinking experience.
With the Monster Ale coming with recommendations to drink it whilst eating cheese, creme brulee and smoking a good cigar, this is quite clearly not a brew for those looking to quench a thirst. It is however a beer – and a beer style – that is worth exploring.