Written by Tom Becham
Southern California has odd weather patterns. October through December is generally marked by Santa Ana winds and heat. Rain – what little we get – is generally January through April. And local weather forecasters have coined terms for our weather in May and June; May Gray and June Gloom. In fact, due to the humidity on the coast, I’ve had in-laws, who lived through severe Utah winters, state that California is too cold for them.
So, seasonal beers do still mean something here. Just not in the sequence that they would in other parts of the country.
Subsequently, last evening was actually ideal to try a new seasonal beer. This one was from the New Belgium Lips of Faith Series. It is imaginatively named Blackberry Barley Wine Ale.
The Lips of Faith Series can be hit or miss. Some, like Eric’s Ale, Transatlantique Kriek and La Folie, are wonderful beers. Others, which I refuse to name, are almost worthy of nothing but drain cleaner. Still, New Belgium experiments fearlessly, and is due some respect for that.
Blackberry Barley Wine Ale (or, BBWA, from here on out), fits into the first category.
The beer pours a gorgeous maroon-tinged russet, with a small, fizzy head. The aroma contains berries, of course, but promises a huge malt bomb, with aromas of dark bread, caramel and oak. There’s little to no evidence of hops on the nose, indicating a more English-style of barley wine.
The beer requires a period of warming before reaching its full flavor potential. But when it does… WOW!
I was skeptical of blackberry working in the context of a barley wine. But BBWA works. The blackberry is evident, but never overwhelms the thick toffee malt taste. There are also sweet brown bread undertones, and a small earthy hop bite way at the back of the palate. In fact, the flavors meld perfectly. The overall impression on the palate is one of a rich, not-too-sweet dessert topped with fruit. The mouth feel seems like it should be thick, but it isn’t at all filmy or sticky. And the finish is long, but quite pleasant. Plus, the 10% is not at all apparent, and skillfully concealed. So, BBWA is not just an English-style barley wine, it even tastes somewhat like an English dessert; restrained, but quite flavorful.
Obviously, BBWA is ideally suited as a dessert beer. But I can also see it working quite well with game meats, beef or lamb dishes. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly recommend New Belgium’s Blackberry Barley Wine Ale. I just wish they’d find a catchier name for it.
Are there actually ox in Tom Becham’s Oxnard? And, really, is a “nard” some a Brit version of a “nerd?” Maybe “beer nerd?” If so it would be very appropriate to many posters here at PGA, like one Tom Becham who lives in Oxnard, CA. Tom Becham has written reviews for brews and breweries as far away as Hawaii. We have been very lucky to have him here at PGA. And “lucky to have him” even though he never leaves any money on the table. Him and his fancy, sexy kilt. Oh, THE KILT! Call Tom. Not that we’re desperate, or obsessing, or anything like that,