Dubbed ‘The original craft beer’, the legend of barleywine dates back to 1899. This story begins with Tom, the old brewery cat, immortalized in a sketch by the head brewer. Barleywine is a style known for its extended aging, allowing its flavors to develop and mellow over time. One notable example is AleSmith Brewing Company’s Old Numbskull, a deep copper-colored American Barleywine-style ale. It offers caramel and toffee notes, along with toasted malt and dark fruit hints.
Barleywine (ad)Traditional English barleywine presents a rich, dark, and malty taste, with the tangy nature of barley. The brewing process often involves extended boils, although some brewers, like the creator of Old Numbskull, have moved away from this method. The full-bodied nature of this beer showcases malt-driven flavors like caramel and chocolate, with a complex layer of warmth.
The flavor profile of barleywine is strong and intense, with multi-layered malt flavors. These can range from bready, toffee, and biscuity in paler versions to nutty, deep toast, dark caramel, and molasses in darker varieties. Aging in red wine barrels adds fruity undertones and a hint of tannin, enhancing the natural sweetness of the beer. However, brewers must be cautious of ongoing fermentation, which can lead to high bottle pressure or even exploding bottles as the beer ages.
The Ridgeway Brewery, named after the historic Oxfordshire trade route, is one of many breweries that celebrate the barleywine tradition. The brewing of barleywine is a meticulous process, often starting with pearl barley simmered until tender. In the realm of barleywine, American versions are known for their hop bitterness, contrasting with the biscuity malts and rich vinous fruits of traditional English barleywine. Barley wine, a long-standing style, has been difficult to define, but its rich history and complex flavors continue to captivate beer enthusiasts.
In Belgium alone, there were about 304 active breweries in 2018, including large international companies and traditional brewers. Among them, Gold Label Very Strong Beer stands out as the number one English barleywine, a style that’s evolved to include unique regional variations like the Scottish-flavored English barleywine.