Class of '88 Barleywine: A Taste of Craft Beer's Past


Beer: Class of '88 Barleywine Brewery: Deschutes Brewery/North Coast Brewing Co./Rogue Ales Style: American Barleywine ABV: 10 percent

Hello, out there! Today, we step into the WayBack Machine to take a look at craft beer's past, all the way back to the year 1988. Times were good -- Prozac had just hit the market, John McClane was yippee-ki-yay-ing all over Nakatomi Tower, the first Bush had just landed in office, and everyone was whistling "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (probably thanks to the Prozac). Craft beer, too, was experiencing something of a renaissance. The number of craft breweries had grown exponentially in the previous few years, expanding from a paltry eight in 1980 to a robust 150 eight years later. The year 1988 saw the emergence of quite a few new tiny regional beer-makers, including Great Lakes Brewing Co., Goose Island Brewing Co., Rogue Ales, North Coast Brewing Co., and Deschutes Brewing. You may have heard of them.

Twenty-five years later, these breweries are leaders in the industry, and Deschutes announced in December 2012 that to celebrate this shared history and success, it will collaborate on a series of beers. How it'll work: Brewers will travel to each other's home bases to brew using the same set of stylistic guidelines, then each brewery will package its version. Though the ingredients used in each brew might differ, the respective beers will have a common heritage and flavor.

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Another cool thing that happened in 1988: Renowned beer connoisseur Fred Eckhardt published The Essentials of Beer Style, a book that's still prized by homebrewers and beer judges for its usefulness in differentiating between types of beer. Eckhardt's guidelines provided the basis for the first brew in the Class of '88 series, a barleywine brewed between Deschutes, North Coast, and Rogue.

In a snifter -- where barleywines belong -- North Coast's version of the brew shines in hues of perfectly clear caramel-orange. One finger of fizzy, cream-colored head hides the 75 IBUs and 10 percent ABV lying in wait even as it puffs out aromas of cotton candy, toffee, floral hops, and touches of grain and earth.

In truth, there's not much to the flavor -- orange, caramel, toffee, and cotton candy mix up in front and there's a floral hop kick at the swallow, but these are fairly light. The real contributor here is alcohol -- sweet, sweet alcohol. Very apparent, It warms the throat and numbs the tongue as the creamy medium body moves around.

Other brews set to debut in the Class of '88 series include a smoked imperial porter Deschutes will brew in conjunction with Great Lakes Brewing Company and a Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale made alongside Goose Island Beer Company. Taste them all if you're a student of history and appreciate a flavor-based portal to the past. WayBack Machines are kind of expensive, anyway.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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