Well there it was, gone!
Yes Christmas is well and truly over and hopefully the last of those generally awful generic Christmas beers should at last be jingle belling their jolly way off your locals hand-pulls, making way for something thing new. For most of us it will still be dark and strong winter ales with a smidgin of hoppy pales breaking up through the gloom, fighting for light like maples in a forest dominated by mighty oaks. (Neil Peart eat your heart out)
Time then I thought, to give your taste buds a run out in the form of another hashtag tasting session, this time exploring the much under rated Barley Wine. Still a winter ale some might say, but I’d disagree and say it’s an any season beer if the mood takes you.
I think barley wines get a bit of a rough ride with lots of drinkers. People are unfamiliar with them apart from the obligatory can of Gold Label that sits forlorn at the bottom of many a bars fridge and I think the high ABV scares them too, generally sitting upwards of 10% in a lot of cases. I thought the same I have to admit, until a couple of years ago when I started to explore beer more and I think that perhaps was because the only British beers I’d tried that were anywhere near that strength were like drinking Castrol GTX.
Like the British/World beer scene though I’ve moved on, higher strength beers are featuring more and more especially in the more forward thinking bars (refuses to use the c word) and whilst I treat them with respect, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at trying a new Paradox at 15% or so in somewhere like Brewdog for example.
As a bit of a style introduction, I’m going to use a quote from Melissa Cole’s “Let Me Tell You About Beer” and although as you’ll read, it doesn’t go into detail at this stage on what they (barley wines and Scotch ales), actually are like (she does later in the chapter), I think it speaks volumes about what to expect and how to treat them…
“If beer styles were people, then barley wines and Scotch ales would be someone like George Clooney: respected by men and loved by women, growing old gracefully, with an air of sophistication, but retaining a puckish charm that could get you into trouble but convincing you to jump on a jet to Vegas instead of going home for dinner”.
So to the uninitiated, a little more.
Usually malty sweet, but with any decent example, always with a glorious complexity of tastes that should stop them being cloying. Expect caramel, treacle toffee, oranges, marmalade, bitter chocolate, rich boozy liqueured orchard and vine fruits in varying combinations, with quite often a surprising amount of spritzy bitter hops bursting through to finely balance the heady malts in this delightfully warming elixir..
Think of a cold dark night, you are sitting in a high-backed winged leather arm-chair in a dimly lit room, the flickering glow of a roaring log fire warms your face and sets shadows dancing on the walls around you.
Sit back, relax and savour the flavour of a luxuriously sumptuous barley wine.
Date to be confirmed for hash-tag #BarleyCon13 as I’m working on a few ideas that hopefully will up the stakes a little, but I’m thinking late Feb to early March which gives you lot plenty of time to find some interesting examples. I’ll list a few suggestions in a few days.
Oh and did I mention that a barley wine was CAMRA’s Champion Beer of the year in 2012? No, well watch this space on that front as I may have some interesting news….