The Session #12–Barley Wine

The SessionThere’s something to be said for not knowing anything about the beer you are about to try.

You could learn something. You might discover you know something. And you might discover some unexpected pleasure. The beers I have for today’s Session are books I judged by the cover.

Horn Dog Barley WineThe first is Flying Dog Brewing Company’s Horn Dog Barley Wine. Somehow, I’ve never had it. My assumption was that it was an American Barley Wine, juiced up on Cascades beyond my level of pleasure. I assumed it would be the barley wine brother of Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, which is a beer that doesn’t make me smile.

Horn Dog made me smile. First of all, it was that gorgeous mahogany, my favorite beer color. They should make Crayons that color. Glints and all. The aroma was a deep, rich malt, with caramel and earthy hop undertones. Some alcohol. All these players were there for the flavor, along with a full, chewy body. Some warmth. And a peculiar, vague tomato nuance that took me a while to name. There were hops here doing their job, to be sure.

Just a fine beer. This was an English barley wine, dangerously drinkable, but packing a punch. Don’t judge a beer by its brethren, thought I.

Really, I thought that was the only barley wine I might encounter for today’s Session, as I had to search for that one, here in rural Iowa. I found it at my third beer store in Des Moines. Suddenly, last night, I realized that I had another one in my cellar! And coincidentally, it was a beer that I bought knowing nothing about the actual beer, just the brewery and the words on the label.

Third Coast Old AleIt was Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale. I bought it last summer without having had a lot of exposure to Bell’s. I’d heard their good reputation, and when I saw the words “old ale” on the label, I quickly plunked down my cash. I came home and tried it, and I thought, what the hell? Then Dave chimed in and said that the BJCP listed it as a classic example of an American Barley Wine. Oh, that explains it. And aren’t I wonderful for noticing that it wasn’t much of an old ale? I’m still puzzled by their choice of a name.

So with about six months on it, I pulled out another bottle to drink with the term “barley wine” in mind. It poured a dull, burnt amber-brown and threw a nice aroma: malty in the caramel/toffee vein, with hops melded nicely. Yippee! I’m drinking it with the correct eyeballs, and it’s going to be great. I took a sip, and there it was again, an overpowering bitterness that told me the first time this wasn’t much of an old ale. This time, though, it’s telling me that this isn’t a barley wine I can enjoy. Crunchy, posturing, unpleasant. There’s some alcohol warmth, nice body and malt way behind. I’m thinking that they could have taken about half the hops that went toward bittering and used them for aroma instead. That would have been a delightful beer.

I’m not touching my remaining bottles for a couple of years. Hopefully they’re more engaging by then. This bottle was a chore to finish. It took me all night.

So there you have it. Don’t judge a book, or a beer, by its cover. Drink each one in its own light. Let it speak to you. And if it doesn’t speak to you, move on to the next. It might.


Many thanks to Jon at The Brew Site for hosting.


5 Responses to The Session #12–Barley Wine

  1. David says:

    Nice review. I to have a bottle of Horn Dog Barley Wine in the fridge, and, I too assumed it would be an American-style Barleywine. Guess I’ll be cracking into it soon.


  2. Paul Griffin says:

    I guess I will give that barley wine by Flying Dog another try. Had one last year and it went down nice

  3. […] The hops were just too flippin’ crunchy, distracting and off-putting. At the six-month mark, I tried it again for The Session on barley wines, and called it “crunchy, posturing, […]

  4. […] The second bottle with fresh eyes and six months of age was still an unenjoyable hop hell. […]

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