Ray's Craft Beer Newsletter
Big Bold Barleywines
February 2013
Volume 2 Issue 3 
Dear Rays Craft Beer Lovers,
We've all heard the phrase, "bigger is better." Now while we all know this axiom may not be 100% true (e.g. mini sliders), sometimes it does apply.  And while I would never claim that one style is better than another, big beers sure are fun. In this issue, we'll examine some of the biggest brews the beer world has to offer -- barleywines. After four solid examples of the style, we'll wrap up with a look at something called Hophead Vodka. 




Dan Downes
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
Boulder Killer Penguin
Bell's Third Coast Old Ale
Three Floyds Behemoth
Anchor Hop Head Vodka
For nursing mothers, huh?

Historically, the term has undergone several changes in meaning (for a detailed history read here). The first use of the term dates back to the Greek historian Xenophon (430-354 BC), but the way we understand it today can be traced to 1870 in reference to Bass' No. 1 Burton Ale. Described as, "A palatable and tonical malt preparation similar to good old Sherry," it was really more of a designation breweries employed to the strongest beer in their rotation.

The barleywine made its way over to America thanks to Fritz Maytag, the founder of Anchor Brewing. When he first sought label approval for his Old Foghorn Barley Wine from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, they wouldn't approve a label with the word "wine" on it that did not come from grapes. Since he was selling his beer in the state of California, he only needed the state liquor board to approve his label. Therefore, to increase his chances, he renamed the brew "Old Foghorn Barleywine," and ran the two words together.

History is all well and good, but what does it mean about what I put in my glass? Well, confusion continues to the modern day. Barleywines range in color from a deep amber all the way to near black. Even in the taste you'll get a wide variety. English barleywines have a less distinct hop presence and emphasize rich malt flavors. American barleywines still exhibit rich malt flavors, but they tend to feature American hops, creating a more assertive bitterness. Both styles, though, are perfect for aging. As they age, the hop characteristics will fade and gradual oxidation will change the beer. There will be notes of sherry or port wine and the harsh alcohol flavors will mellow out.
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 

First brewed in 1983, the folks out of Chico, California have been brewing a new vintage every year since. Bursting with bittersweet malt and tons of whole cone Pacific Northwest hops, this beer actually undergoes a fermentation and aging process that takes anywhere from six-eight weeks (most ales take three to four). Some people even call Bigfoot a "cult" beer due to the levels of loyalty and anticipation it garners. I'm not sure if that's true, but if there's a Bigfoot cult, the guy who had his entire back tattooed like the label (pictured here) might qualify.

Pouring a dark ruby color with a thick, white head, this beer has an aroma that lives up to its name. In addition to a lush evergreen bouquet, the hops contribute notes of lemon peel and grapefruit. After the initial hop onslaught, caramel and toffee come through as well. Many of these aspects transfer to the flavor with the aggressive hoppiness leading into sweet breadiness. Plums and dark brown sugar are also apparent. We talked about aging barleywines and Bigfoot is a prime candidate. I recently tried a 2007 vintage and it's still drinking great. The hops have certainly faded, but the the richness of the malt develops incredibly. It becomes less carbonated, but you'll pick up those port wine accents mentioned earlier. Just the other week, a customer in the store told me about a 2002 vintage he cracked open not too long ago, and that was still going strong!
Boulder Killer Penguin
If barleywines are a new experience for you, Boulder Brewing's Killer Penguin is a good place to start. Pouring a deep amber, it gives off aromas of pine, candied sugars and raisins. Still an American barleywine, it's not as avidly hopped as the Bigfoot. Despite this, the hops come through and give Killer Penguin a solid bitterness and slight peppery tones. Full bodied with medium carbonation, this beer reminds you of french toast as bready malt marries with caramelized sugar sweetness. There's a slight alcohol finish, but it's normal for the style and delivers the an essence of aged rum.  


Bell's Third Coast Old Ale

According to the detailed history mentioned in the style outline, the terms barleywine and old ale were often used interchangeably, and our third offering sums up that idea well. Old Ale may be printed on the carton, but it is normally classified as an American Barleywine. Regardless of what nomme de bière you give it, the Third Coast Old Ale from Bell's is worth checking out.

Filling your glass with an opaque mahogany color and small tan head, intense fragrances of earthy hops, dark fruits and light roasted coffee come to the fore. A hint of vanilla sneaks in, too. Medium bodied, it still exerts a richness as dark cherry and plum flavors meld with molasses and sherry undertones to produce a great beer no matter what you call it. 
Three Floyds Behemoth

Rounding out this edition is the Behemoth Blonde Barleywine from Three Floyds. Despite being dubbed a blonde barleywine, Behemoth actually has an amber color imbued with red/orange hues and a big khaki head that solidly laces throughout. On the nose you'll pick up grapefruit, white pepper and orange peel from the hops in addition to biscuity, caramel malt tones. Despite clocking in at 10.5%, the alcohol presence is incredibly absent on the nose. 
The hops come strong at the beginning, front-loaded with grassiness and juicy, fruity citrus flavors. The mid-palate and finish of this beer, though, showcase the malt richness and complexity you expect from the style. Beside caramel, toffee and a touch of honey, I picked up flavors that reminded me of nougat. It's name may be Behemoth, but I think of it more as a gentle giant. Similar to the Jolly Green Giant, but this one brings beer instead of green beans.
Beer Cocktails
Anchor Distilling's Hop Head Vodka


I know what you're thinking. No, this is not hop flavored vodka. Instead of creating hop flavors in a lab, the process to make Hophead vodka is similar to gin. Two different hop varietals from the Yakima Valley are macerated in neutral grain spirits before being distilled to deliver the hop botanicals and flavors we all love. On its own, HHV has floral hop aromas in addition to those hop "funk" undertones that transitions to a crisp, clean finish like a conventional vodka. It truly shines, though, as an ingredient for cocktails. Use it as a gin substitute in gimlets and matinis, or as a way to spice up your Bloody Marys. Finally, here's a recipe for a "San Fran Shandy," taken from the San Francisco Guardian.



San Fran Shandy

2 oz Hophead Vodka
1 oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Ginger Liqueur
½ oz honey syrup
½ oz egg white
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

3 oz Brown Ale

Garnish: Half an orange wheel


Combine Hophead, lemon juice, The King's Ginger, honey syrup, egg white and bitters in a shaker and dry shake to emulsify egg whites. Add ice and shake vigorously until proper dilution. Strain into a chilled fizz glass. Empty ice out of shakers and fill shaker with ale to create a froth. Pour this froth over the drink and garnish with half an orange wheel.

Thanks again for subscribing to and reading Ray's craft beer newsletter. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to email me at dandownes@rayswine.com

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Dan & the gang at Ray's

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