Barleywine (or “Barleywine Style Ale” as the feds make us call it on our labels) is the true granddaddy of beers. Or at least it is in my mind.
Brewing barleywine calls for a specific step... in a normal brew day, after the mash, the first liquid that comes off the grain bed is highly concentrated sugar. On a typical beer, that grain bed is rinsed (or “sparged”) continuously from above while the sweet liquid is drawn off from below.
As brewers, we carefully monitor the concentration of this runoff. And if it’s a barleywine, we cut it off just as soon as it starts to dip... that way we only get the strongest concentration of liquid possible. And from this, we brew barleywine.
The process isn’t the only thing that’s unique about this beer style. Because of the density of sugar we start with, we also get an incredible density of FLAVOR. And because that sugar results in higher alcohol in the finished product, the combination of that flavor density and alcoholic strength makes for a beverage with incredible longevity.
(Side note: 99% of the world’s beer supply is designed to be consumed FRESH. Barleywine is one of just a handful of styles that can improve with age. So please plan your consumption accordingly!)
Note here that I didn’t say “shelf life”. That’s because the flavor of a barleywine will shift dramatically with age. Drink one that’s 3 months old and you might get a bright, hoppy flavor and a crisp bitter finish. Taste one that’s 5 years old and you’ll likely find that the hops are pretty much gone, and a rich depth of malt character has taken it place.
So you may find you gravitate toward beers at one end of this timeline or the other. Or perhaps like me, you’ll be intrigued and captivated by all of the above... and even barleywines with 10+ years on them.
But by far, the biggest risk of handling beers like this is knowing when to drink them. The tendency is to save them for a special occasion, when in reality, any day you open a beer you’ve been holding for a while becomes a special occasion!
Maybe you’re new to craft beer, or maybe you’re new to barleywine. Or hey, maybe you’re even new to East End Brewing. So I’ll mention now that we brew a barleywine called Gratitude. And we’ve been brewing it for FIFTEEN YEARS, with exactly the same recipe.
So that means that if you can get your hands on some vintage stock, you can line up a “vertical” tasting of multiple years with some friends and experience all of this cool aging stuff personally. And guess what?
We’ve actually got a BUNCH of older vintages we’re going to make available here on Gratitude Release Day, on March 23. You can pick up single bottles from a year or two ago, or if you want to go deeper, we’ve got some “Stacked Vertical Packs” available too.
Heck, you can even run two parallel tastings at the same time with one of the “Double Stacked Vertical Packs” (where half of the beers have been aged in a bourbon barrel) that we’ve put together for this year’s Gratitude Barleywine release day. More details HERE.