Monday, March 31, 2014

Olde School Barley Wine – Dogfish Head

The term Barley Wine is a misnomer in the world of beer. This unique style of libation is not a wine but is in fact a strong, intense style of beer. This style originated in England and was often the premier batch of brew kept by the brewers for themselves. The style is normally high in alcohol and usually sweet tasting thanks to the amount of fermentable grains added to the brew. The sweetness is also due to the amount of sugar left over from a high alcohol beer and what the yeasts were unable to convert to alcohol when the alcohol content in a brew gets this high. In some cases, Champaign yeast is added to the batch of beer to take over where the beer yeasts leave off. Champaign yeasts typically can tolerate higher alcohol while not contributing any flavors to the beer. Barley Wines thus have a fruity, sweet, and sometimes hoppy complexity about them and are always enjoyed best in an open piece of glassware and sipped. As usual, American versions are more highly hopped to balance the sweetness and high alcohol. The English originals are more balanced, lower alcohol, and less intense.

One of the finest qualities of the Barley Wine, and maybe where the wine idea plays a part, is the wonderful ability of these beers to be aged. Aging this style of beer causes the grain sweetness to dissipate slightly, the intense hoppiness to round out, and the alcohol to preserve the integrity of the beer. What results is a well-rounded and fine brew to be enjoyed up to several years later.

Without apology and with enthusiasm, the authors of this blog are fans of Dogfish Head Brewing located in Delaware. Dogfish Head brews a Barley Wine aptly named “Olde School Barley Wine” which comes in at an intense 15% ABV. With a light amount of carbination, the beer appears a dark orange or almost brown color. One quick sniff of your glass will let you know that this is an intense beer in terms of alcohol and hops with a very sweet and floral perfume. The taste is equally intense with high hoppiness, warming alcohol, fruitiness from the hops, and almost a bourbon quality. This beer is best enjoyed in a brandy snifter or chalice-style glass.

Speaking to the ability of a Barley Wine to be aged, the authors are in the process of aging two additional bottles of “Olde School Barley Wine” for a year in the back of our refrigerator. Though a wine cellar sitting at 55 degrees F is preferable, not everyone has these in their expansive mansion. A year in your refrigerator is a cheap alternative, though be sure to warn your friends not to drink them and avoid temptation to open them early. As final evidence of the ability to age this style of beer, we recently spotted an unsupervised 5 gallon keg of “Olde School Barley Wine” at our favorite beer bar from 2009 which was left to age somewhere in the back of the bar.
Photo Credit: BeerChamber

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