Brew Biz: Werts and All- My Barleywine Fine Whines


Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics, and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 30 years.

 Maybe I complain too much about changes in craft, maybe it could be classified as “whine.” But when it comes to barleywine my complaint here, if heeded, would return these delicious quaffs to just that: fine, delectable, warm your soul by the fire sippers.
 I LOVE Barleywine. I used to be the major supplier of barleywines to Big Bob’s Barleywine Bash in Pensacola Beach, before Bob passed on. I collected them all over the east coast.
 Not as much a fan these days. I will use one commercial barleywine as an example, but I don’t fault the brewer. Jeff is merely following the trend.
 Most brews I have had from Various Artists in Nashville have been decent to very good. So I was excited when Millie and I saw a bottle of Newfangled Perspective in a cooler at a local store. I also was excited because Jeff Bergman: owner, has to be having a hard time of it. His tasting room is closed, last I checked: COVID. He really doesn’t have the room, inside or out.
 We opened it Thanksgiving and… damn.
 OK, too dry for a barleywine, IMO, but that was a minor thing, really. A lot of craft beers these days seem to be dried out. It’s like everyone is taking a cue from a long ago extinct beer Rheingold Extra Dry; and even Rheingold wasn’t as dry as craft beer seems to be headed for. Rheingold was one of the first beers I had. And I have heard you can get a version of the long lost brewery’s staple. The brand name has been taken under the wing of a company in Connecticut that has many lost brands brewed again. I have seen it nowhere in my travels, so I am guessing limited distribution.
 No, the big disappointment was among the quite adequate malt sense: high gravity, thick, luscious, was a slam it out of the barleywine ball park hoppiness.
 Yes, I understand. The BJCP has rated barleywines as quite hoppy now, but do we really want just some slightly shewed version of a double IPA that rips the palate with hops? I like them, well done. I can even appreciate the rip the palate versions. But can’t we just leave this to the IPA and double IPA’s? Maybe a special super hoppy Barelywine category for those of us who don’t mind being distracted by hammers to the palate?
 I think American barleywines patterned themselves after English barleywines early in the craft brew trend, but now have branched off into the nonsensical, “Oh, if it’s AMERICAN, that MUST mean more hoppy!” …mindset. Seems a little too simplistic to me, and destroys what makes barleywines unique.
 I have been savoring barleywines since the early 90s… at least. Bigfoot, Foghorn: slightly sweet to even the focus has been the malt that well balances the hefty alcohol abv. Yes, the hopping is substantial enough to balance the rest, but NOT the focus.
 Somewhere, some point, the focus changed.
 I know the story about Sierra Nevada brewers submitting their barleywine to be analyzed and being told it was too hoppy, and they responded with, “Thank you.” But all the times I’ve had it in the past it has never been hop explosion-like. “Explosion” to the point of longing for a traditional barleywine instead.
 If you are looking for a hop burn barleywine that has somewhat of a fresh hop sense, and you care little for the silky, smooth, enticing taste of a malty barleywine, then Newfangled is for you.
 Otherwise check out the standards. Hopefully they too haven’t headed down the dry overly hoppity hop hole.

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   Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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