You think you’re tough? Ya punk?!? You got what it takes to step into the ring with the heavyweight champ of the beer world? Well, ok, that’s debatable – as fans of the Eisbock and Wheatwine styles may argue. But there’s no arguing that the American Barleywine is not to be taken lightly – packed to the seams with flavor, and accompanied by an alchoholic roundhouse to the face (elephant-style). In fact, so much is packed into an American Barleywine (or even an English one for that matter), that laying one down for 3-5 years in the cellar is actually recommended in many cases to give you a better drinking experience. But for those of you without that level of patience, read on…
This Americanized version of the original English Barleywine tends to indulge more on loads of hoppy bitterness, to accompany the thick, dark-fruity sweetness. The style has had numerous versions and varieties from many brewers, so interpretations can vary a bit. These beers will weigh in somewhere between 9-12% on the ABV meter, so there should be a noticeable alchohol warmth, however should not enter into the paint-thinner category.
Here is the Gateway Beers description of the typical characteristics you can expect to find in an American Barleywine:
A more thorough description can be found from the Beer Judge Certification Program’s most recent guidelines.
The American Barleywine can be a challenge to pair with most meals, in that it will tend to overpower many entrees. However, it will work nicely both before, and at the end of the meal. In matching with cheeses, go for sharp ones like a sharp cheddar or blue cheese to play off the hop bitterness, or maybe even try some pungent ones like gorgonzola and limberger. Have some figs or prunes to set alongside the cheese. If you’re having an entree, may we suggest something hardy and spicey, like an andouille sausage gumbo. For dessert, try to match it up with something rich like a cheesecake with dark chocolate topping.
There are over 45 varieties of American Barleywine that you can get here in Southeastern PA – some of which are seasonal, and only available at this time of year. So may we recommend heading out to one of the area’s top take-out beer stores and distributors to pick up some of these “Old” beers … and remember, these puppies should cellar very nicely, so don’t be afraid to buy a case of any of them!
– Great Divide: Old Ruffian, 10.2% ABV ( , CO)
– AleSmith: Old Numbskull, 11% ABV (San Diego, CA)
– Victory: Old Horizontal, 11% ABV (Downingtown, PA)