Barley Wine is usually the strongest ale produced by any given brewery and was first commercially produced in 1854 in Burton, England as “Burton Strong Ale” and by 1903 the words “Barley Wine” appeared on the label. In 1975 Fritz Maytag at Anchor Brewing Company made the first Barley Wine in the United States “Old Foghorn”, which is still available today

Barley Wine is a style of beer that is usually consumed with dessert or after dinner as one would a port wine. The name of the style comes from the high alcohol by volume characteristic, which is near the content of wine though brewed from barley. Like all other styles of beer there is a fairly wide variety within the style, though they are generally on the sweet side and associated with the winter months. Barley Wines are sometimes aged before release and are very often further aged by savvy consumers. This is due to the high alcohol content, which ranges from 8.5% to as high as 12.2%(as a comparison mass produced American beers are 3.2%) these ales can sit for two or three years and actually improve with age

 There are several examples of this style made all over the country as well as in the British Islands. Here in California we are blessed with Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada Brewing, Old Blarney from Moylan’s, Old Stock Ale from North Coast, Lagunitas Gnarlywine, Gubbeldygulch from Russian River and a host of others. Just north in Oregon Old Crustacean from Rogue and Old Knucklehead from Bridgeport are also excellent examples of the style.

For a “hands on education” visit the Toronado Pub at 547 Haight Street from February 15-23 for their Annual Barleywine Festival where over thirty varieties of the style will be poured, tasted, judged, rated and consumed. This event has been carried on for several years and many out of town visitors make a special trip to attend. I would highly recommend public transportation to this affair and would also wait until after the first weekend unless you enjoy boisterous crowds.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Barleywine is best consumed with dessert or cheese or just sipped as an after meal beverage. Barleywine is definitely a sipping beer not only to avoid instant intoxication but it requires time to enjoy the flavors and mouthfeel.
So once again I encourage you to get out there and try something new. You just might find something you like and I reiterate, if a Barleywine is good now it will probably be better in a year or two.


Chef Bruce