At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.
In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.
This week's battle: American Barleywine
The barleywine: Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, often intense and always alcoholic. Despite its name, a barleywine is very much a beer, though its invention did stem from the rivalry between beer and wine. The term was coined by Bass in 1903 to describe its Bass No. 1 Ale and may have more patriotic origins, since the English upper classes wanted a beverage to replace French wine during England's many wars with France.
Both English and American versions of the barleywine exist, and this difference is this: while English barleywines tend to be mellower and balanced between malt and hops flavors, American interpretations are usually hopped out of control and are far more bitter. Typical Americans.
Though barleywine flavors are fairly intense and challenging for some, you might be surprised to learn that they're brewed mostly with pale malt, the same stuff used to make pale ales. The full flavor and rich color result from the use of about twice the usual amount of grain crammed in as well as a longer boil, which caramelizes a lot of the sugars and deepens the color and the flavor. Barleywines are like wine in one respect: like their grape-filled cousins, they can be cellared for years, improving over time.
Zach's Pick: Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws
Though just a tiny brewery in Portland, Oregon, Hair of the Dog produces some incredible beers, each more intense, flavorful and fit for cellaring than the rest. Doggie Claws is the winter seasonal, an 11.5% ABV barleywine made in the West Coast style (read: hoppy) that tastes like a citrusy glass of Sprite spiked with caramel apple cider. This particular bottle was aged for about a year, upping the drinkability to levels that are just plain irresponsible.
Jonathan's Pick: Great Divide Old Ruffian
Make no mistake, the Old Ruffian is a hefty barelywine. Made by Great Divide Brewing Company, Old Ruffian features a noticeable alcohol profile with the good stuff weighing in at 10.2%. Consider this full-bodied, caramel, burnt apricot brew a good choice for sipping. Accessible it is not, but a few sips more than make up for the difficulty curve in attempting to swig back more than one of these in a go.
Shannon's Pick: Rogue Old Crustacean
Good Ol' Crusty! The Old Crustacean Barleywine is part of Rogue breweries XS series. Don't be fooled by the adorable 7 oz bottle, this beer packs a bit of a punch at 11.5% ABV. Only 8 ingredients went into the making of all natural beer. No chemicals, no additives, and zero preservatives just pure no nonsense beer. Definitely not a beer for amateurs, it has slight smell of old cat piss and is dry and slightly bitter. Surprisingly, it's still a tasty beer for sipping slowly. Once you get past the initial first sip, the sweetness starts to come through. The Ol' Crusty we sampled was bottled in 2010, which means it probably hadn't aged long enough. I think with age, the bitterness would fade and give way to more caramel and fruit notes.
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The Layman's Choice: Doggie Claws
This week's layman was none other than New Times staff writer extraordinaire Paul Rubin. Why did he dig the dog?
"The Old Crustacean was rough, with a dry finish and smelled vaguely of cat piss. A tiny sip was all I wanted. The Old Ruffian has a big bottom. Talk about mud flaps, this beer's got 'em. It tasted better with each sip and would go well with some cheese. The Doggie Claws was the easiest to drink, with nice fruit sourness. I could easily get used to drinking this every night."
Next week: IPA, bitches.