OUT: 2008 Mad River John Barleycorn

For this blog’s first dip into our cellar, we wanted to pull out something relatively known; something a decent share of you (at least on the West Coast) might have in your own cellars. That something is 2008 Mad River John Barleycorn, an English-style barleywine brewed in December 2008 and released in fall 2009.

Before popping the beer open, we got in touch with Mad River brewmaster Dylan Schatz, who does a fair amount of barleywine (and stout) aging in his down time. He explained that John Barleycorn’s recipe changes each year, as a different brewer takes the lead on each batch. Our 2008 bottle has a 9.8% ABV and 85.5 IBUs; it was brewed with 2-row pale, Extra Special 130 and Chocolate malt as well as wheat; bittered with Magnum hops; flavored with Chinook and Brewer’s Gold hops; and finished with Santiam, Brewer’s Gold and Cascade hops. Here are Schatz’s original tasting notes:

“…warm caramel aromas preceding inviting toasty, light chocolate flavors with hints of raisin, nutmeg and dried fruit. It has mild bitterness with a clean, pleasing mouthfeel which lingers on the palette and promotes sipping.”

Schatz began brewing Barleycorn in 1991, and the last time he opened that vintage, the hop character had disappeared entirely, leaving leathery, fruity and raisiny elements to stand out. He also reported a bit of oxidation (“But that’s to be expected with a barleywine,” he says). When he recently tasted a 2005 version, however, the hop character was still present. So the 2008 version, Schatz says, should be slightly heavier on the malts, but the hops should still be noticeable.

What we tasted: A very smooth, soft (dare we say easy-drinking?) beer displaying prominent but not thick raisin, caramel and toffee notes. No hop flavor—just a pleasant, moderate hop bitterness and a hop-alcohol drying sensation in the finish.

What aging (probably) did to the beer: Softened the beer’s sharp hop edges, fusing the flavors together nicely and softening the mouthfeel. Aging depleted the hop flavor, leaving behind hop bitterness and dryness that keeps the beer’s sweet malt tones light.

Barleywine can be a pretty polarizing style, but after a nap, John Barleycorn appeals to almost anyone. We’ve got another bottle that we’ll keep capped for another year or so. Do you have any John Barleycorn in your cellar? Bring one out and let us know what you think!


Posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2012
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