Barleywine has always been one of my favorite styles, ever since I had a glass of it at the Oakdale Brewing Company so many years ago. Thing is, all the barleywines I have enjoyed since then have been in the West Coast style. Heavily hopped, with lots of citrus and resin aromas and flavors. When I first started getting into craft beer, this annoyed me, as I’d always sought out a more malty variety. While these West Coast versions certainly weren’t lacking in malt, I always felt they detracted from the malt character. I have come to appreciate these as providing a great spice for the palate, but I’ve always been on the lookout for something more reminiscent of the malty richness I enjoyed at Oakdale Brewing Company. Leave it to Don Oliver, brewmaster at Dust Bowl, to fulfill my every desire in a Barleywine.
To begin, the barleywine that I was able to enjoy had been aged in the keg for 14 months. Many of you know that some of the more alcoholic styles can be aged quite well, and the barleywine is certainly one of those styles. However, some of the character I’m going to describe might come from the aged version of this beer, and may never have been intended or anticipated by the brewer. Furthermore, some of what I will describe might come from the conditions under which this keg was stored. Regardless, this is one of the most fantastic beers I’ve ever had, and I mean that.
Appearance: This beer poured a dark straw color, too pale to be amber, too dark to be called straw. It had little to no head, but was fantastically clear. No chill haze was evident.
Aroma: The first thing we picked up when we poured our glasses was a tremendous amount of fruit. It wasn’t citrus, like what you’d get from a large hop character. And it wasn’t the dark fig, date, or currant aroma you’d get from a darker beer. This was a fuji apple…not too sour, but somewhat cidery. It was a beautiful, fresh aroma that we did not expect. Lots of sweetness on the nose, but not a ton of hops or malt. This might have come from the long storage under less than ideal conditions, but it was a truly excellent way to start off this beer.
Mouthfeel: Viscous, but not like an imperial stout. Chewy, but not as much as other beers. Doesn’t seem to be a ton of lingering sugars in the beer from caramel malts, but rather like the yeast just couldn’t finish all of the sugars that were available to it. Some alcohol burn on the finish shows that those little guys did a tremendous job, certainly, but with the gravity that had to be in that beer, they had quite the job to do.
Flavor: This is where this barleywine truly shines. Sweet malt, overpowering any hop character through most of the taste. Sweet cider notes, accentuating the slight bitter hop finish in the back of the throat. Not a lot of alcohol taste until the hops are just dissipating, and you exhale. It’s a VERY drinkable, and thus dangerous barleywine in that respect. I was partway through my second glass before I realized that I was certainly too inebriated to drive (blessedly I was home) and should probably only have another half glass before turning in for the night. See, a lot of barleywines are hugely hoppy, as if to be the warning that you are consuming something akin to table wine, and not a session beer. Other barleywines advertise their alcohol as you sniff the bouquet. Don’s barleywine masks the bulk of the alcohol until the finish, and thus invites you to have another sip….and another….and another….and why are there two of you?…..
Overall: I found it….a barleywine in the style of Oakdale Brewing Company, which no longer exists. It’s rich, fruity, alcoholic, and amazing to the last drop. Many thanks to Dano B. for providing me with this generous sample of his hoard of this fantastic beer. I enjoyed it immensely, and look forward to when Don has this on tap again so I can maybe score a keg of it myself.