Barleywine: The Great Misunderstood

Written by Steve Body
You’ve heard/read about Barleywine. I mean, unless you’ve been living on the International Space Station for the past decade and maybe even if you have. I’ve been drinking them and selling them and preaching the Gospel of Barleywine for well over 20 years, now. It is the style of beer that I enjoy most, except when I don’t and those periods in which I prefer an IPA or winter seasonal ales tend to come at wider intervals and be of shorter duration as I (badly) age.

It is also easily the most misunderstood major style of beer, exceeded only by Steinbiers and Kvieks and Grisettes and oddities like those, of largely foreign origins.

In my now thirty years in the beverage trade, here are a few of the explanations I’ve heard, first-hand of what “barleywine” means:

“It’s beer that fermented with wine yeast.”

“It’s beer that’s partially blended with wine.”

“It’s a beer but not a beer because the alcohol level makes it a liquor.”

“It’s another term for a weaker brandy.”

“It’s a form of barrel-aged Stout, mixed with grain alcohol.”

“It’s a beer made from a base of alcohol, instead of water.”

“It’s made from grapes and then distilled, like Grappa, and then is aged with barley and hops.”

These are just a few.

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