Originally posted for Greenpointers.com: Greenpoint’s favorite beer store had a barley wine tasting. What a perfectly snowy weekend to drink strong beer by a wood burning stove. Learning and drinking are two activities I enjoy and combining them is even more fun, although retention can be a challenge. To be honest, I don’t know shit about beer.
Good thing Erik and Frances, the beer geniuses who work at Brouwerij Lane, and my man Jon, who is a home brewer, were there to school me. I was so sorry when I asked, “Do you think there are more wine makers or beer makers?” After an in-depth discussion (I wasn’t even listening) the final answer was, “Who cares, beer is better anyway!” I was bound to learn something from this bunch of beer nerds.
We were served a flight of 5 barley wines (totaling 40 oz!) on a laminated guide detailing each brew. If you don’t know what Barley Wines are, I can tell you one thing: they are knock you on your butt strong. It is a type of beer that is “brewed to match the strength of wine,” about 12% or more alcohol, according to our handy placemat. They are nice and sweet and very easy to drink. It was wise that we shared the 40 oz. flight.
We tasted the following:
Pretty Things Finest Regards, The Bruery Cuir, Firestone Walker XV, Avery Hog Heaven, and BFM & Terrapin Spike & Jeromes.
Between each flight we drank a lot of water, because the barley wine leaves such a lasting flavor in your mouth. The flavors and colors between each varied very much. This is my first session of really trying to understand the flavors happening in my mouth, instead of just mindlessly chugging.
“Coconuts!” I kept getting the taste of coconuts and I liked it. Frances didn’t believe until he sipped and agreed. Erik explained that Barley wines are aged in oak barrels, which accounts for what is more likely vanilla rather than a pina colada flavor, like the Cuir which is aged in bourbon barrels. Or the XV, which is blended with Stout so it was chocolatey, too.
Ever drink with a beer snob and they are like, “this is really hoppy” or “this is really malty” and you are like “what is this guy talking about”? I better learn if I want to hang with this crowd.
According to Jon, hops are a flower, which contribute bitterness to balance the sweetness in beer. They give flavor and aroma to a beer which can range from fresh cut grass to pine needles to citrus to herbal earthiness. How lovely! A good example from the barley wines we tasted was the Hog Heaven, in which you could smell the pungent hops before even tasting it, which were piney and citrusy.
Jon explains that malt is the sugar that ferments in beer to make alcohol and carbonation, but some sugar remains and that residual sugar is what gives beer it’s sweet flavor and “mouth feel,” which is how thick or watery the beer is in your mouth. Malt flavors can be a basic sweetness or can taste roasted, or like coffee or chocolate or caramel. Our Finest Regards was very malty and the best example of a traditional English Barley Wine and our favorite of the flight.