Winter is barley wine season, so I went out and grabbed every annually released BC barley wine I could get my hands on. Trouble is, it’s tough to drink a whole bottle of barley wine on your own, what with the high alcohol content. It’s even tougher to drink five, so I had a few friends over for an epic barley wine THROWDOWN! What that really means is we drank a bit of each one, in full comparison mode.
A few years back, a tasting like this wouldn’t have been possible. It’s only in the past three or so years that we’ve seen barley wines regularly released by BC’s top breweries. What with breweries popping up seemingly every month, I’m sure there will be even more to choose from next year. Note: I don’t count Russell’s one off Nautical Disaster or Scandal brewing’s offering as annual barley wines. I don’t even count Scandal as a real brewery, nice try Pacific Western, can’t fool me.
I’ll start from the top, so as to highlight BC’s finest examples.
1. Central City Thor’s Hammer 2011
Hand’s down the best, though we cheated on this one. Our bottle was a 2011, since no recent batches have been bottled, though you could get 2013 at their brewpub in January. This year’s Thor’s Hammer probably would have won anyway, since it’s always outstanding. A year in the cellar (2011 was actually released in bottle’s in late 2012) didn’t hurt though, this beer was incredibly smooth and had an amazing depth of flavour.
2. Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 2012
Another cheat, we had a bottle of 2012 kicking around, so we tossed it into the mix. Turns out aging barley wine is a good thing to do. Woolly Bugger 2012 smoked the pants off 2013. It was just so much richer and smoother to drink, dangerously couldn’t taste the alcohol at all.
3. Granville Island Barley Wine 2013
Note to everyone, you can still buy 2012/13 verticals of this beer at the better beer stores around Vancouver, so go buy some. This is a really solid barley wine, very fruity and malty. Despite drinking this guy fresh, the liquor was well hidden by the body of the beer. Another great seasonal from Vern at GI.
4. Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller 2013
A fantastic beer, but is it a barley wine? We didn’t rate this one very highly because it didn’t measure up to the other barley wines, mostly because it more closely resembled a super imperial IPA. There’s little to no malt character of fruitiness. It pours golden in colour and hops are very prominent. Amazing aroma, but just not a barley wine. It will be very interesting to see how this one ages.
5. Howe Sound Woolly Bugger 2013
Another solid barley wine, but it just didn’t compare favourably to 2012. You could taste the alcohol and this one was sharp, where 2013 was smooth. This is going to be a great beer in six months to a year.
6. Phillips Trainwreck 2013
Quite clearly the loser in our eyes, and the only one I don’t recommend trying. I’ve enjoyed this beer in the past, but 2013 had that metallic taste Phillips has become known for. Tasted hollow in comparison to the others.
What did I learn? I like barley wine a lot. Also, aging barley wine is a great thing to do.