Now here is a holiday beer I was not expecting to sample. Usually when I see a beer I’ve had before, I do not feel particularly compelled to hurry up and try it again. But in this case, I heard tell from a friend and fellow zythophile (Hi Mike!) that it was quite different from its previous incarnations. This should really not have come as a surprise, as last year’s Old Barrel Dweller was quite a departure. Whereas 2011’s was the first Old Cellar I ever sampled, 2012’s was bourbon barrel-conditioned. I guess I just assumed this year’s would be back to its old self.
But as Mike pointed out, this year’s barley wine was actually quite different, in a way that made it seem more like an Imperial IPA. And in this, he was exactly right. Though it ranks in at a whopping 11.6% alc/vol, the similarities pretty much stop there. In terms of color, malt backbone, and hop content, an English-style barley wine is dark, slightly coarse, sugary, and contains strong traces of dark fruit (plums, dates, prunes, raisins, etc). This beer, on the other hand, is light in color, has a syrupy malt backbone, but is otherwise characterized by very strong hops and a powerful alcoholic bite.
Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong citrus nose, syrupy malts
Taste: Slightly sweet malt start, strong notes of pine, citrus, passion fruit
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and coarse malts
All in all, the only thing that seemed consistent about this beer with its professed style is its alcoholic content. It is certainly not a bad vintage or a bad beer, but again I feel this is a case of a “barley wine” that was mislabeled. Strangely enough, the last one was also a BC beer (Scandal Brewing’s Mt. Everest) that produced a barley wine that seemed much more like a Maibock. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a trend!