Tag Archives: Barley Wine

Out of the Cellar: Beer with Friends


This out of the cellar edition is dedicated to all those friends of beer geeks that uncomplainingly sample all the oddball beers the beer geek in their lives subjects them to, smiling politely while you tempt (torture) their taste buds with all manner of crazy ABV’s, crazy flavour combinations, crazy tart sours, crazy heavy stouts, crazy …well you get the idea.

This cellared beer, Old Cellar Dweller 2010 from Driftwood Brewery, has some history for its’ drinkers as it was the first beer we tried at our very first trip to the Great Canadian Beer Festival. In retrospect, starting the day with a whopping nearly 12% casked barley wine was probably not that smart but it certainly set the tone for the rest of the event!

Old Cellar Dweller pours a hazy caramel colour, opaque with some light white head that ebbs quickly. A very sweet and syrupy nose starts you off. First few sips are malty, sweet and viscous, this is followed by more floral and earthy notes and just a bit of bitterness on the finish and a warming sensation that lingers. It is a caramel kind of beer, sweet but not cloying.
Barley wines really do age very well smoothing off any harsh alcohol and bringing the malt way forward. A lovely finishing beer and big enough (in quantity and personality) to share with friends.

Out of the Cellar: Brooklyn Monster Ale


Coming out of the cellar this time is a behemoth barley wine from Brooklyn, Monster Ale. Born in 2007, this ale weighs in at 10.1% but after a few years in the cellar it is probably going to taste much, much bigger!

Monster Ale pours a murky chestnut brown with little to no head and just the most minimal ring around the glass. Lots of heavy malt on the nose. As the nose implies a very malt forward beer, barely medium bodied and slightly sticky, with caramel, leather and oaky flavours as well. The finish is bittered the sweet. Not as boozy as I expected but it does become more warming as you drink. A deceptive barley wine as it is easy to drink but the ABV does pack a wallop so sip, sip, pause not chug, chug, chug. Overall a consistent and safe choice for your cellar.

Get Out of my Cellar and into my Glass



Anyone who has taken a look at my ‘What’s in the Fridge’ page will know that I have been aging beer pretty much since I began drinking craft beer. You also may have noticed that in previous posts I have commented on my reluctance to crack open bottles from this collection since the aged beers seem too special to drink on just any old occasion and really, if I have waited this long perhaps I should wait just a little bit longer (they might taste just a little bit better).


But lately I feel like the time has come to start enjoying some of my well-cared for stash and as such I am going to start a series of posts where I review aged beers and discuss the changes that have taken place, especially for those beers that I have tried when they were just young ‘uns.


Cellared Beers


Just a quick recap for those who have not read my post Maturing Beer, unlike mass market beer many styles of craft beer are brewed with the intention that they will be stored for some time before consumption. Strong beer with high ABV’s, Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, Belgian Quads, Barrel-aged Porters, and basically any other robust style of beer can benefit from some time in the cellar. Breweries like Deschutes are even taking the initiative by posting best-after dates on their bottles. Basically the stronger your beer the longer you can age it. Also, if you are a really big beer nerd you can cellar different years of the same beer and hold a vertical tasting and actually taste the changes that are occurring.


Currently in my cellar (which is really my cupboard) I have:

Brooklyn Monster Ale 2007

Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Black Ops

Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller

Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller

Driftwood Singularity 2011, 2012

Dogfish Head Forte

Deschutes Black Butte

Deschutes Collage Conflux

Deschutes The Abyss 2009, 2012

Deschutes Dissident

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws

Rogue Old Crustacean Barley Wine

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock 25th Anniversary

‘Kick you down the stairs’ Beer

Awhile back I was perusing the selection at O’Hares liquor store when the manager recommended DeuS Brut des Flandres as a beer that would ‘kick me down the stairs’. Intrigued and slightly confused by the sales pitch I promptly bought a bottle. What I learned later is that DeuS is a nice example of a strong Belgian Ale; the ‘kick you down the stairs’ adjective comes from the relatively high ABV of 11.5%.  Using this as a launching point I thought I would devote this post to an exploration of strong beers.

Strength in the brewing world refers to both alcohol (the main product of fermentation) and gravity (the amount of solids in the unfermented wort). More malt brings more alcohol and more malt requires more hops in what can become a delicate dance between strength and drinkability. Gravity is used as a rough measure of the amount of alcohol that may end up in the finished beer; however, not every wort of the same gravity will end up as a beer with the same alcohol content. A whole other host of variables comes into play before we get our final ABV including the brewing process, yeast strain, sugar used, fermentation temperature etc. Brewers use the concept of apparent attenuation -finishing gravity divided by starting gravity subtracted from one hundred- to arrive at an approximate, if not entirely accurate, idea of beer strength. Real attenuation can only be assessed through the labour intensive process of distilling the alcohol out of a small sample but this is not commonly done. The higher the apparent attenuation the more of the beer’s extract has been turned into alcohol and voila we have a strong beer.

As a quick historical aside, the quest to make strong beer is not solely a modern endeavor in fact there are several Old English terms for strong beer including Stingo, Huffcap, Nipitatum, Clamber-skull, Dragon’s milk, Mad-dog, Lift-leg, Angel’s food and Stride-wide.

Back to modern brewing; beer styles such as barley wines, stouts, quadruples and double IPA’s all enter into this strong beer realm and a few brave brewers have ventured beyond into the ‘ultra-strong experimental’ kingdom. When it comes to taste these beers really have much more in common with fine liquors like scotch or cognac and they should be sampled as such; small pours in proper glassware, served as aperitifs and shared amongst friends. Some notable examples include:

Brewer Beer Name Beer Style/Description ABV
BrewDog Tokyo Intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout 18.2%
BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin Beer for the dedicated 32%
BrewDog Sink the Bismark IPA for the dedicated 41%
BrewDog End of History Belgian blond infused with nettles and juniper berries 55%
The Bruery Black Tuesday Imperial Stout 19.5%
Dogfish Head Fort Belgian ale brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries 15-18%
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley 15-20%
Fouders Brewing Devil Dancer Triple IPA 12%
Kleinbrauerei Schorschbrau Schorschbock 40 Whisky like brew 40%
Mikkeller Big V Barley Wine 15%
The Refrigerated Ship Start the Future Drink it like a cocktail 60%
Samuel Adams Utopias Barrel aged beers 24-27%


As one might suspect the quest for the title of world’s strongest beer has become a somewhat farcical game of one-up-man-ship; please see the following video by BrewDog for your consideration.

*Thanks to Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.

Maturing Beer

No, this not a post about going all ‘Pygmalion’ on drunken frat boys to give beer a more sophisticated reputation but rather a blog on cellaring beer. Recently, I was having a conversation with friends on just how long to store some of my speciality beers. While it has become somewhat common knowledge that high alcohol and/or casked beers can be matured much like wine less seems to be known about the best time to uncap these bottles. If left too long can you ruin a perfectly good beer? Is there a peak time to ensure optional taste? Following our conversation my friend called my attention to Coates Law of Maturity. The law states that a wine will maintain its optimal drinking qualities for a period of time equal to the time it took to reach its optimal state.  For instance, if a wine matures to its peak in five years, it will stay at its peak for five years before its quality begins to degrade. So I decided to do a little research into optimal aging times for beers.

First things first, what can go wrong with a beer if you store it too long? According to Randy Mosher author of Tasting Beer, beer is never a fixed thing it is constantly evolving and sadly for the majority of beers this change is not good. The mortal enemy of beer is heat. Flavour is the first thing to leave the bottle; oxidation means the hop aroma dissipates, malt dulls, bitterness declines and fruits fade and all this happens in five to six months (beware there is no standardization on marking best before dates). For the vast majority of commercial beers this is the equivalent of a taste death sentence. Luckily there is a caveat here since some beers are meant to be aged and the stronger the beer the longer they can reside on your shelf. General things to look for in a potential candidate for aging include high ABV (7% and up), bottle-conditioned beers, lambics and sours, barley wines and any beer with a best after date. An interesting historical aside, Mosher mentions an eighteenth century English custom of brewing an extra-strong ‘double’ beer to celebrate the birth of a son, and then to drink it when he reached the age of majority at eighteen. The diagram that follows is a reproduction of the aging table given in Mosher’s book:

Beer Type Alcohol Percentage Maximum Aging Time
Belgian Dubbel 6.5-7.5 1-3 years
Belgian Tripel 7.5-9.5 1-4 years
English or US Strong Ale 7-9 1-5 years
Belgian Dark 8.5-11 2-12 years
Imperial Pale/Brown/Red 7.5-10 1-7 years
Barley Wine, Imperial Stout 8.5-12 3-20 years
Ultra-strong Ales 16.26 5-100 years

So what’s in it for me? Those same processes that wreak havoc on your average lager can bring about a whole new level of complexity to your cellared ales. As it ages the beer will become less sweet and more vinous (taking on the characteristics of wine). As mentioned earlier, fragile hop and floral notes dissipate allowing malt to come to the forefront. Oxidation then adds a leathery, nutty or sherry-like layer of flavour.  The yeast component of bottle-conditioned or live beers undergoes a process called autolysis as it breaks down, which imparts a meaty or umami element (too much can be not so good, think soy sauce). Mosher answers the why age question nicely, “The brewers who make great beer for us put their hearts and souls into it. Let’s honour that artistry by doing all we can to bring it to the table in a way that allows it to really shine”.

*Thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coates_Law_of_Maturity and Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.

Barley Wine is the New Black

Craft beer seems to be following an interesting path lately in that new or re-discovered styles of beer become ‘trendy’. Once one of these ‘new’ beers hits the shelves all of a sudden every microbrewer is making a version to call their own –some recent examples include pumpkin ales, coffee stouts, fruit beers, white or wheat beers etc.

The first time I tried barley wine it was definitely a new experience and still somewhat novel but shortly after the flood gates opened and everyone and their dog was brewing up their version of a barley wine.  So I thought I would devote an entire post to this beer fad before it becomes passé.


First let’s talk about the barley portion of the barley wine. Barley [bahr-lee] is a cereal grain when malted forms the primary ingredient in beer.  According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, barley may just be the perfect brewing grain.  It contains a large reserve of starch that can be converted to sugar, a husk that functions as a filter bed and enzymes that do all the ‘work’ with only the addition of hot water.   The enzymes in the barley grain facilitate the malting, brewing and fermentation processes.  Barley for brewing comes in two forms, two-row and six-row, so named because of their appearance when viewed from above.  From a brewer’s point of view the main difference is the level of protein.  Malt beers tend to be brewed using the plumper, lower protein two-row variety while mainstream American beers use the less rotund six-row variety, which has extra enzymes to break down corn or rice starches.

Barley Wine is a style of strong ale originating in England.  According to CAMRA this style dates to the 18th century where it was the duty of the upper classes to drink ale rather than Claret during the war with France.  Barley wines were often stored for long periods of time -eighteen months to two years.  A barley wine typically reaches alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120.  This style is called barley wine because it can be as strong as wine but it is made from a grain rather than fruit.

Everything about a barley wine is big; big malt flavour, high alcohol content, a ton of hops and it takes time for these elements to blend into a full, complex and mellow drink. In terms of taste, one can expect massive sweet malt, ripe fruit, generous hops, pepper, grass, floral notes, chocolate and/or coffee.  In many ways barley wine is the cognac of the beer world; it can be successfully paired but it is truly meant to be savoured alone. Anchor Brewing Company introduced the style to the United States is 1976 with Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale.  Many micro-brewers now produce their interpretations of the style.

Some examples include: Driftwood’s Old Cellar Dweller, Rogue’s Old Crustacean, Brooklyn Monster Ale, Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine, Deschutes Mirror, Mirror, Southern Tier’s Backburner, Full Sail’s Old Boardhead and many others.


Driftwood Old Cellar Dwellar: I would give this beer a 4 out of a possible 5

Rogue Old Crustacean: I would give this beer a 3.5 out of a possible 5

Descutes 2009 Reserve Mirror, Mirror: I would give this beer a 4.5 out of a possible 5


*Thanks to www.camra.org.uk, Randy Mosher 2009 Tasting Beer,http://beer.about.com, Barley Images courtesy of http://www.mosseolets-venner.no/mossol.htm

Rating the Great Eight

Saturday marked a milestone in my beer drinking endeavours; I have now tried the entire line-up from the stellar Driftwood Brewery.  A consistent favourite of mine, one of those rare breweries that doesn’t ever seem to have an outlier, a steady beacon for those in unfamiliar waters –not sure what to order, don’t want to be disappointed, try a Driftwood.  In this case their motto sums it up quite nicely ‘We Live Great Beer’.  So what to do with this unwavering standard of excellence… well I thought perhaps it’s time to assess the ranks and rate the great eight.

First things first a little about the beers: Driftwood currently offers Driftwood Ale, Farmhand Ale, White Bark Ale, Blackstone Porter, Crooked Coast Amber Ale, Old Cellar Dwellar Barley Wine, Fat Tug IPA and Singularity Russian Imperial Stout.  Tasting points indicate that Driftwood is a classic ale with ‘restrained malt character allows the hops to shine through’; Farmhand is an ‘interpretation of a Southern-Belgian farmhouse ale, which uses a partial sour-mash and the addition of freshly ground black pepper’; White Bark is ‘traditional Belgian-style wheat ale is brewed with the addition of freshly ground coriander and curacao orange peel’; Crooked Coast is ‘original Alt-style beer of Dusseldorf, Crooked Coast brings together the aromas of  German noble hops and Munich malt’; Old Cellar Dwellar is ‘three times the malt bill and five times the hops of a normal strength beer’; Fat Tug is ‘a northwest style India Pale Ale that is characterized by an intense hop profile of grapefruit and melon and restrained malt notes’; Singularity is ‘a beer of infinite density spending four months in Kentucky Bourbon barrels’.

Okay so here goes, my attempt at a ranking based solely on my palate, predilections and place in the universe…

8. Crooked Coast Amber Ale

7. White Bark Ale

6. Fat Tug IPA

5. Singularity Russian Imperial Stout

4. Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine

3. Driftwood Ale

2. Blackstone Porter

1. Farmhand Ale

The Great Canadian Beer Festival 2010

Friday morning saw me crossing the Salish Sea to attend the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria BC.  The somewhat tedious trip on the ferry gave me plenty of time to review the impressive line-up of brewers, pick my must-haves and plot my route.  I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, fruit beers and lambics, and try some brews that would challenge my palette and broaden my horizons.

First stop was at Driftwood Brewery to try the ‘Friday Only’ ‘once in a lifetime’ Old Cellar Dweller 2009.  This 12% barley wine was casked in November especially for the festival and it did not disappoint –even after dinging me for two tokens, ouch!  This golden-amber slightly cloudy beer was strong and hoppy with little to no head and a strong liquor taste.  In retrospect a good pour to end, not start, the day with as the successors seemed not to deliver quite the same kick.  Undeterred I headed to Merridale Ciderworks from Cobble Hill BC.  I had never tried a hard cider – not being much of a cooler gal– I opted for Scrumpy their ‘famous rough farmhouse cider with a rich tannic body’.  This drink is tart, sharp and flat, which I apparently quite like in a cider.  The taste is something like a crab apple wine, challenging but satisfying to sip.  Interesting start to my day…note to future self do not begin with a 12% beer…and the fest was a nice amount of busy with just the right mix of costumed characters.

Taking a sharp left, figuratively and perhaps literally, I journeyed back to beer land with the Swans ‘Brewcifer IPA’ and ‘Coconut Porter’.  The Brewcifer is a piquant ale brewed with jalapeno, lime and black pepper, which despite initial concerns for the welfare of my taste buds surprised the heck out of me –in a good way.  The beer had an amazing jalapeno nose and it was easy to drink peppery with subtle amounts of lime and a lingering heat that emerged long after you swallow.  It was Mexican beer all heat and citrus and yummy.  Before I continue I should provide a caveat to my next review, I do not like coconut, the very thought of a Pina Colada or Malibu make me a little nauseous, but I was lovin’ Swans coconut porter.  This porter looked dark almost like a stout but it goes down like a lager; it had a crisp freshness and the coconut was a really authentic taste, not at all like the sickly sweet aforementioned coconut concoctions.  The cold is becoming somewhat noticeable and the need for sustenance weighs heavily on my brain; off to the samosas.

Continuing on with my tour I headed to Steamworks where they threw down the gauntlet with their Great Pumpkin Ale (sorry Howe Sound Brewing) an almost unanimous favourite amongst our entourage.  There are many pumpkin ales out there and when one takes a chance and cracks a bottle they immediately conjure up the sights, tastes and smells of their favourite pumpkin pie before even taking that first sip.  I do not know if the cold biting weather played a role but this beer met and exceeded all my expectations.  Dark amber/orange in my sipper glass this brew had an incredible spicy nose and just the right amount of effervescence.  It was slightly sweet with a strong ginger flavour; it was so good that we circled back at the end of our day to finish off with another taster.  The proportional relationship between a good beer and a good mood is critical in situations where respite is port-a-potties that are rapidly deteriorating in quality and quantity -even the men’s communal is filling at an alarming rate!

It is always hard to follow an amazing taste experience so I may be a little ‘bitchy’ in my review of Russell Brewing Lemon Ale, which was a tepid, light ale strong on lemon taste with nutty overtones.  This beer had no carbonation and may have been much better on a sweltering day but today it just didn’t it.  Unfortunately I followed one disappointment with another when I sampled Three Skulls Ales Blood Orange Wit.  Another tepid, light beer that was seriously lacking in the tastes that make a wit so enjoyable and sadly I could not discern any blood orange flavour.  Down but not out I broke my own rules and headed to R&B Brewing to drown my sorrows in the limited edition Brent’s Black Raspberry Lambic.  If there are foodie equivalents in the beer world (beeries?) then that’s me with regards to lambic beers; in other words I have a very particular taste that I enjoy cultivated through extensive research (tasting).  This lambic was good not great, lacking somewhat in the liveliness of a traditional bacteria filled brew but with a beautiful berry colour and good balance between the sweet and the tart.  Okay so three mediocre samples equates to a heightened perception of mud, cold and drunken university boys with an unfortunate spell of what they colloquially labelled the ‘beer farts’…sigh.

I began to wind down the day when as I sauntered over to Bravo Beers to try Sara Silenrieux’s brother Jospeh Silenrieux.  This offering was really great, bubbly and crisp, the perfect amount of head, and subtle fruit overtones that did not detract from the Belgian wheat lager at its heart.  This may have been the perfect festival opener just lightly awakening the palette and cleansing it for the heavy hitting flavours yet to come.  Another nice middle of the roader was Barley Mill Brewpub’s Red Clover Honey Ale a mildly hopped beer that was tempered with the sweetness of the honey and fruit infusions.  A dry ale that was clean drinking and would be fantastic on a warm summer evening.  Cheered immensely by an infusion of bubbles and despite being the subject of an impromptu beer shower I headed back to the token booth for one round.  Last token firmly in hand I decided to try one of my perennial favourites Upright Brewing. Like an old friend that is reliable, familiar and consistent I have yet to be let down by you guys plus you’re from Portland…truly you rock.  For this my penultimate sample I tried Six a dark rye beer, which was tart and sweet at the same time.  Caramel came through as did cherry; flavours that supported the strength of the rye base.  A gorgeous mahogany colour, strong and warming what can I say but loved it.

*Sincere regrets to Lighthouse Brewing’s Espresso Vodka Infused Imperial Stout and Vancouver Island Brewery’s Black Rock Chipotle Rauchbier, I wanted to drink you, I really did but alas you went and got yourselves sold-out…sigh.

Out of a possible five I would give this event a 5.0+ can’t wait til next year

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