A few years ago, before most of you knew what a beer blog was, I posted a post with a list of the names of barley wines that would be available at a certain beer fest. My favorites in the list were Fish Leviathan, Lagunitas Old Gnarlywine and Winthrop Buzzards Breath. I've never had any of these but like the names. I like the tradition of naming these big beers with unattractive and/or Biblical names even though I don't go out of my way to buy barley wine. Why? Well, there might be one clue at page 13 of The Classic Beer Style series text Barley Wine by Allen and Cantwell:
...the term "barley wine" was not widely used until the earliest twentieth century, other designations such as "old," "strong" and "stock" ale were often used.Is the hint really in there? I don't know...maybe in that it is a late Victorian transitional drink, hard to tell perhaps from a wee heavy like its shelfmate SkullSplitter or other huge malt beasties.
Even so, it's really because the wine side of barley wine is largely satisfied by wine. Not table wine or champagne or anything but the wine that actually is a lot like barley wine - sherry. One of the cheapest most affordable and, when the style was invented much more popular quality wines in England would have been sherry. Julian Jeffs in his handy book Sherry has a chapter on the years 1870 to 1930 and it is entitled "The Sherry Boom" in which he says, not unlike porter 40 to 80 yeast before, sherry suffered from imitation and adulteration. As a style, was barley wine itself part of that? Frankly, if I want good medium oloroso sherry notes I get me some medium oloroso sherry. In fact, I was going start this blog about four and a half years ago called "A Good Sherry Blog" but another idea got in the way.
But there are a few in the stash as it is not without its charms. I had a 2006 Doggie Claws last night and thought I would pop another tonight, the 2006 Bigfoot from monster micro Sierra Nevada just to compare. It pours a deep cherry hued deep amber with a thin fine foam and rim of tan. A similar big dried fruit nose to the DC06 but in the mouth it is a wee notch lighter, with relative increased carbonation. The big hops are tea astringent at the front with some weedy cousins at the swallow. The pale malt just a little less full throttle compared to the Hair of the Dog offering but has plenty of ginger cake and dried light raisin, apricot and apple floating around the rich bread crustiness. Big wooty props from the BAers. A more than worthy introduction to an American barley wine.
I'll try another tomorrow when the session is hosted at one of the other old warriors of the beer blog trade - The Brew Site - which started in June 2004 before my beer blogging shifted into its own space.