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Barley Wine

Submitted by on January 9, 2010 – 3:39 PMOne Comment
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Barley wine beer is a type of English strong ale that was first brewed at the turn of the 20th century by England’s Bass Brewery. A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8-12% ABV and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. Because of the high gravity at which barley wine is brewed, the yeast is unable to ferment all of the sugars. Barley wine is high in alcohol as a result and is slightly sweet due to the residual sugars that remain. Barley wine is named as such because it can be as strong as wine and often contains some rather fruity flavors. However, since it is made from grain rather than fruit actually a beer. In the United States, barley wines are required for this reason to be called “barley wine-style ales” in order to distinguish between the barley wine beer and legitimate wines.

There are two distinct styles of barley wine ales: American style and English style, though many other countries – such as Australia, Ireland, and Canada – are major producers of barley wines. The body of any barley wine is typically thick and full, with a strong taste of alcohol and flavors that can range from dominant fruits to bitter hops.

English-style barley wines tend to use a significantly smaller concentration of hops in their recipes. Although it is not always the case, English versions of this style tend to be more rounded and have a greater balance between the malt and the hops, usually containing a lower alcohol content. Anchor Brewing Company’s Old Foghorn is an English-style barley wine brewed today in the United States. At 8.8% ABV, Anchor Brewing carbonates its barley wine by a natural process called “bunging,” which produces champagne-like bubbles. Some English-style barley wines, such as O‘Hanlon‘s Thomas Hardy’s Ale, contain and alcohol content that compares with American barley wines. Thomas Hardy’s Ale contains 11.7% ABV and is actually bottle-conditioned to mature in the bottle like a fine wine.

American-style barley wines generally boast a much hoppier brew which contributes a very bitter taste to the beer. American barley wines can range in color from amber to dark brown, with aromas ranging from sweetly strong fruits to intense hops and bitterness. A very popular example of an American-style barley wine is Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine-style Ale. At 9.6% ABV, Sierra Nevada’s Barleywine-style Ale tastes like an very bitter double IPA with a hint of pine. Stronger examples include Rogue Ales Brewery’s Old Crustacean, an American-style barley wine that packs 11.5% ABV into a 12 ounce bottle and pours a rich mahogany with a peppery spiciness hidden amidst the sweet caramel flavors.