soaking up the suds with james crane


The holidays are most certainly over. It seems a little unfair that all the celebration ends when we still have so much winter left. There are plenty of cold dark nights ahead with plenty of snow to curse. All the lights are put away and the trees have been carted off. All that’s left are dreams of spring and the waiting game.
Thankfully, winter still has plenty of awesome beer to drink. When January rolls around, my thoughts turn to the mythic Barleywine. These beers are as big as they get — packing obscene amounts of alcohol into their thick wondrous liquid.  True to their name, they ABV generally is comparable to that of grape wines. Often times, wine yeasts are use in lieu of ale yeasts, as many ale yeasts just won’t survive when the alcohol content gets that high. When it comes to strong beer, Barley Wines certainly lead the pack.
This week, I am drinking Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine, which I believe to be the strongest American Barleywine out there. How strong? It packs a whopping 15 percent ABV into every bottle. That means it’s more than three times the strength of your standard American lager, or 1/3 the strength of your standard run of the mill whiskey. This isn’t one you’re going to drink a lot of. As a matter of fact — you may want to share.
I set out to drink a twelve ounce bottle. This one poured out thick and syrupy, being a translucent amber color. A thin head formed and quickly dissipated. Barleywines are generally pretty hearty — they’re more likely to quench a hunger than a thirst. Carbonation isn’t really what they go for.
It smelled dark and alcoholic. If someone made a fig sandwich on rye bread and dipped it in beer, this is what it would smell like. There is certainly some sweetness with a toffee-like vanilla character to it as well. The complexity of the brews certainly came across nicely, the scent being quite pleasing to the nose.
The flavor itself was huge. This beer was every bit as big and hearty as it looked and smelled like. It wasn’t long before I was feeling warm and relaxed, the contentment of a good beer being heightened by the extra alcoholic punch it carried. It was thick and a little syrupy, but it still went down nice and smooth, each swallow being quite satisfying. It was just a bit like drinking bread, which I certainly don’t count as a bad thing.
The dark fruits and alcohol held center stage. The flavor of the dates and figs were greatly enhanced by the brewing, imparting a deep savoriness that their sweetness usually covers up when they’re eaten. There is plenty of bread and barely tastes as well as a nice vanilla accent. There is a great depth to this one that ends in a peppery and spicy little hop kick which is also greatly accentuated by the alcohol. This kept it from getting too sweet, adding a great balance to the brew.
This is a great tasting beer for those that are a fan of big heavy brews. Its also a great way to warm up those cold January nights. If you like them strong, find yourself a bottle — one will be all you need.