Brewer’s notes: American Barleywine

Barleywine is a classic sipping brew; the antithesis of that hipster cliché: the crushable beer. A great, or even a just good barleywine packs enough flavor that a small glass can be enjoyed slowly and methodically.


The Barleywine family has two large branches: English and American. English Barleywines, so far as I understand, began to appear in the latter half of the 20th century in Great Britain. Very strong, malty and typically on the sweet side, the style got its name from the alcoholic content, which rivals that of most wines made from grapes. Beer is made from barley; hence, the beer was called Barleywine.  Old Foghorn – an American take of the British style that I’ve been enjoying for many, many years – first appeared in 1976.


Sierra Nevada created the American version of this style in 1983 when they began brewing Bigfoot. Big and malty at 10% abv, this beer is balanced by a bracing hop bitterness and dry hopped to embue the beer with classically fruity, hoppy aromas. While English Barleywines are  enjoyably sweet and make a great aperatif, the Americanized version has swagger: big malty flavors are matched note for note with hops. The result has a more balanced flavor profile, which would normally mean a more quaffable, but American Barleywines are sensory overload . There’s so much malty AND hoppy flavor that it retains that sip-ability.


Barleywines are known for aging well; many aficionados will put many bottles in the cellar every year and run ‘vertical’ flights of various years to compare and contrast the various vintages. Here at Gotahold, we age a lot of Barleywine in wood each year, as we feel that the wood and time and slow process of mellowing and aging make for a really superb final product. This particular version came out of our small-batch program, and we’re releasing it young (6 weeks, all stainless) to highlight the bold flavors of the American hop in concert with the big malty flavors of a Barleywine.

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