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A Barleywine

According to the BJCP style guidelines, an English Barleywine is:

The richest and strongest of the English Ales. A showcase of malty richness and complex, intense flavors. The character of these ales can change significantly over time; both young and old versions should be appreciated for what they are. The malt profile can vary widely; not all examples will have all possible flavors or aromas.

Usually the strongest ale offered by a brewery, and in recent years many commercial examples are now vintage-dated. Normally aged significantly prior to release. Often associated with the winter or holiday season.

I started this batch back in November, with Belgian toasted malts (Dingemans Special B and Biscuit) and Target, Cascade and Fuffgle hops. The starting specific gravity (O.G.) was 1.112, which is one seriously heavy wort.

The previous day I had made a yeast starter, building a Wyeast #1056 American Ale 125ml “smack pack” into a 600ml starter (650 ml water 3/4 cup DME boiled for 15 minutes). For high gravity beers this is essential in order to get the fermentation off to a fast start.

After 2 1/2 weeks, the fermentation slowed enough to rack into a carboy where it sat for another month. Today I finally had a chance to bottle this, yielding 11 liters of barleywine. Final gravity was 1.034 giving an estimated ABV of 10.3%, a potent brew indeed. By way of reference, Budweiser is 5%.

An initial taste indicated that it was nicely balanced and hid the high alcohol levels behind the maltiness with forward hints of licorice, vanilla and plum. I will let it bottle condition for another 6-months or so before trying again. This will be a beer to sip and enjoy for several years.

Note that no licorice, vanilla, or plum was ever added to this beer. It is pure beer, according to the German Reinheitsgebot — nothing but water, malted barley, hops and yeast. The rest is the magic of biochemistry, the enzymes released during the malting of the barley that convert the starches into sugar, the carmelization of these sugars during the roasting of the barley, the alcohols and esters produced by the fermenting of the yeast. Even after the yeast has done its work and settled out, the beer will continue to evolve and change over time. Compare the complexity of a serious, living beer like this to the mass-produced, always-the-same pale lagers that fill the store shelves, and you will never go back.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • hAl 2007/02/05, 03:46

    I have done a 2 day hobby brewing course once with people from my company. It is very reweardig to make your own beers but I must say I also found it a lot of hard work. Especially with the result a bit unclear.

    I am a bit surprised you get the beer over ten percent alcohol without adding additional sugars to it.

    I do like the strong beers (especially triples) but still enjoy the nice cool pilseners as well.

  • hAl 2007/02/05, 03:48

    p.s. Do you have a pic of your brewing setup ?

  • Rob 2007/02/05, 09:49

    All the sugars came from malted barley, no additional sugars from rice or corn were added.

    As you probably know, fermentation continues until there are no more sugars, or the yeast dies of alcohol toxicity, whichever comes first. 10% is around the upper limit most ale yeasts. But there are special strains that will go further.

    For example the Austrian Samichlaus is 14%. I believe they do a two-stage fermentation where they introduce a special yeast once it reaches 10%. And Sam Adams has now produced a 24% (!) beer called Utopia. It sells for $100 per bottle so I have never had one.

  • No Tellin 2007/02/08, 20:17

    I never liked beer until I had some real beer in Montreal at the tender age of 36.

    I didn’t even know that there were such thing as red or white or anything else other than pale American made __ss-water style beers. {no offense intended. I _hate_ “bud” et al}

    I’ve settled on a distinct preference for the red beers with Rickard’s Red being a favorite.

    BTW – I use brewers yeast to generate CO2 for my underwater plants. I’ve been giving serious consideration to running a rolling brewery for CO2 generation instead of the simple suger fermentation and disposal I do now.

    But that’s a whole other hobby. Maybe after I move…

  • Rob 2007/02/11, 19:37

    That would give a whole new meaning to the term “beerfish”!

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