Picture a Venn diagram. The circle on the left encompasses serious malt lovers. The circle on the right represents hop-heads. Where the two overlap is barleywine drinkers, who sip their favorite behemoth beers from classy snifters while pondering the heady experience of one of the strongest beer styles around. Barleywines are an elegant balance of robust malts (from caramel to dark fruits), hop flavors (which run the gamut), and smooth, not-quite-hot alcohol. It’s a mouthful often reserved for the season’s coldest months, but these six satisfying pours give plenty of reason to forgo that sessionable pale tonight and immerse yourself in the heady (and fuzzy-head-inducing) drink.
Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine
Says the brewery: “Barleywines are traditionally hefty brews, but ours is downright excessive.” Truth! Breathe in a powerful aroma that nips the nose with spicy booze, and entices with grainy malts, toffee and orange peel. This 11.6%-ABV, 80-IBU beer unfolds with ultra-creamy dark caramel and toasted malts; hints of dried grains and bread crust deepen the malt profile while orange hops lend a hint of citrus. Massive bitterness and assertive warming alcohol drive the sip to a dry finish.
Great Divide Old Ruffian
This three-time GABF medalist greets the nose with dark fruits and pine, while just a hint of warming alcohol hints at the elevated 10.2% ABV. Decidedly hop forward than most barleywines, Old Ruffian paints citrus, blueberry and passion fruit hop tones atop a sturdy base of rich, toasted bread. A quick swell of bitterness and a slight boozy tickle wraps up this fruity sipper.
Ruhstaller DiGregorio California Barleywine
This 9%-ABV English-style barleywine by way of California packs all the deliciousness of U.K. malts into one surprisingly easy-sipping beer. Aromatic toast and toffee scents augment a soft sip that tastes just like liquefied Werther’s Original candy; hints of biscuit and toast buoy the sweet sip. Gentle hop bitterness tidies up the swallow, as alcohol tweaks the tongue with a touch of peppery spice.
Mother’s Foggy Notion—Sherry Barrel
This perfect 10.8%-ABV snifter sniffer marries the rich malts of a barleywine with the fruit and spice of sherry (the beer aged in sherry barrels). Figs and cherries hang in delicious balance with toast and caramel—it’s like a cellared beer but with all the brightness of a fresh bottle. Smooth bitterness and a slight alcohol bite steers the sip to a comfortingly warm, dry finish.
Sound Old Scoundrel Barleywine
Ever been inside a brewery? That’s exactly what this beer smells like. A dried grain aroma perfectly complements a wash of toast and grains, while smooth caramel underscores the sip; a hint of orange hops adds punchy accent to the swallow. This expertly balanced beer wraps up with a pleasant, boozy tingling on the tongue (not a surprise, considering its 10.4% ABV).
Breckenridge Barleywine Batch #1
This 10.1%-ABV, oak-aged barleywine’s tightly woven aroma twists dark fruits, oak and caramel up to the nose. On the tongue, an amazing crème brûlée note leads the charge, backed by toasted malts and subtle tropical fruit; engaging oaky tannins emerge and extend into the finish. Exceptionally smooth, tame alcohol caps off the dessert-worthy sip.