Cellar Selections: Blue Sky Brewing Co. Olde Bluehair Bourbon Barrel Aged Barley Wine Ale 2013

Big Sky Brewing Co. of Missoula, Montana has been at the forefront of Montana’s craft brewing industry since its inception in 1995. Best known for their Moose Drool Brown Ale, Big Sky is the largest craft beer producer in Montana and also has the largest distribution area out of state. Olde Bluehair is a 10.2% ABV Barleywine by style that has been aged for 3 months of Kentucky Bourbon barrels. Olde Bluehair is a relative rarity with only 3750 bottles produced annually of which this one is marked 1663/3750. 

Bottled in a 750ml with a cork and cage, a huge explosion with a slight pull on the placed cork. Pours with a heavy carbonation, almost effervescence that builds a huge foaming, overflowing head. A bright golden hued amber with light orange and ruby red accents in the body capped with a densely bubbled off white. Tons of lacing foam coats the glass and despite the initial outburst the carbonation settles down to nothing. The aroma is at first glance filled with overtly sweet toffee and caramel malts, candied and dried fruits and with a drizzle of fruity hops. Light apricot and candied apple aromas with a candy like aroma blend with toffee and caramel malts and the poignant hop flavours. The barrel has imparted a rich earthen aroma with a light vanilla and bourbon notes that extrudes itself through the candied malt aromas. The first sip is just as sweet as the aroma indicated with maple syrup like malt flavours combining with toffee and bready caramel. Sweet dried fruits of apricot and apple add to the character as the barrel becomes involved. Light vanilla and maple notes, earthen notes and a slight smoke come through towards the finish. The hop profile is notable and present throughout but is a bit lacking in character imparting only light spice and citrus notes. The finish is warm with alcohol and lingers through to the aftertaste with light hop bitterness and astringency. Olde Bluehair is a great beer to share on a cold or wet winter night. A beautifully complex and well rounded barleywine with nice barrel accents and sweet candied fruits. 

Grade: 90/100

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Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn Barleywine

Anchor Brewing is seen as a the gtrandfather of American craft brewing. Founded in 1896 Anchor has a long and esteemed history that has seen many of America’s worst and best moments including being destroyed by the Great San Francisco earthquake. During prohibition Anchor survived despite having “nothing” in production. In 1965 Anchor Brewing was saved from bankruptcy by Fritz Maytag of Maytag washer/dryer fame. In 1971 Anchor expanded its lineup with four other brews; Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the annual Christmas Ale. By 2015 Anchor has over a dozen flagship and seasonal releases but still get back to their roots with the original Steam beer. Old Foghorn is a Barleywine style ale with 8.8% ABV and is single hopped with Cascade. 

Pouring a bright ruby amber colour with a finger of dark beige head and tons of streaming sparkles of bubbles. The aroma is emphatically malty with tons of toffee and caramel malts that fill the palate entirely but for a subtle citrus hop and dark dried fruit aromas. Light flavours of prunes, raisins, tart cherry and woody malts in the front blend with heavy toasted bread, toffee, caramel, licorice and burnt brown sugar. A bit sweet throughout with a nice balanced profile. The finish has a moderate presence of alcohol that along with the full bodied mouthfeel make this the perfect winter warmer. 

Grade: 91/100

Clown Shoes Crunkle Sam Barleywine

Clown Shoes is a relatively new brewery that brews out of Ipswich, Massachusett’s Mercury Brewing Co. The beer they have made so far has been adventurous, inventive and well received. One of their trademarks is their interesting beer names and even more interesting labels. Crunkle Sam is an American Style Barleywine Ale brewed to 11% ABV and dry hopped with Chinook hops. 

Pouring our a dark amber with coppery hues in the body a dark yellowish head fizzles on top. The head dissipates almost instantly leaving a thin layer of bubbles clinging to the glass. At first the aroma is straight forward with caramel and toffee malts and a mild citrus hop note. A further look shows subtle notes of floral and spicy hop aromas and pine resin notes. The first sip is sweet and caramel heavy with toffee and nutty notes forming together. Fruity flavours of apple or pear and citrus zest form the mid palate. The hops are present with big zesty citrus notes and spicy flavours. The finish is heavy with grapefruit and resinous notes before ending with moderate astringency and lingering citrus bitterness. Heavy alcohol is present but mostly subdued by a great combination of citrus and caramel malts. A nice brew with a big profile despite a flat body and slightly watery mouthfeel. One problem I have with Barleywine’s is that they often end up tasting like really malty Double IPA’s. Crunkle Sam surely falls in a pseudo category but it doesn’t matter much if it tastes this delicious. 

Grade: 87/100

Mikkeller & Three Floyds BooGoop

BooGoop a highly lauded collaboration between two of the worlds most prolific craft breweries is a barleywine brewed with Buckwheat malt. The two breweries involved in the creation of this beer are Copenhagen, Denmark’s Mikkeller and Three Floyds from Munster, Indiana. I recently wrote a post on this blog reviewing Three Floyds Dark Lord 2012 an Imperial Stout which I was privileged enough to taste on tap at Mikkellerbar Viktoriagade. Boogoop was brewed at De Prouf Brouwerij in Belgium to 10.4% ABV and 80 IBUs.

BooGoop pours a highly carbonated mixture of creamy pale yellow head and a burgeoning blend of murky brown and ruby red. The aroma has a sensational toasted graininess with the aroma of a barley field. Sweet brown sugar with an emphasis of resin and grapefruit hops in the nose blends well with the overblown malt backbone. This beer has the aroma of a truly beautiful barleywine. Taking a first small sip a mouthful of brown sugar and molasses lends a ton of sweetness to the flavour. MIld toasted grains with a noted buckwheat flavour and light toffee and caramel malts. The mid palate has a large grapefruit presence with a tangy pinch of lemon rind and citrus zest. After the citrus subsides a mild resinous finish has a nice solid hop bitterness that lingers into the aftertaste. Boogoop has one of the most outrageous and solid barleywine flavours thanks to the heaps of hops and buckwheat. Boogoop has an incredible balance with a warm, resinous and hoppy finish that makes me want more.

Grade: 97/100

Price: $11.99/ 750mL

Lagunitas Brown Shugga’

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Lagunitas Brewing out of Petaluma, California has been pushing the boundaries of craft brewing for the past several decades. As a hop head, Lagunitas cannot be ignored as they consistently produce some of the hoppiest beers available. The Brown Shugga is a Barley Wine or perhaps an American Strong Ale by style that was first released in 1997. According to Lagunitas, the story goes as follows:

“Brown Shugga was originally a failed attempt to make our Olde GnarlyWine Ale way back in 1997. Boatloads of Brown Sugar were added to the boil in an attempt to rescue the batch. The result was quite different from the Olde GnarlyWine we were looking for, but the Accidental Release of Brown Shugga that year was the beginning of an annual rampage caused by a beer that follows no style guidelines and can best be described as…. Irresponsible.”

Brown Shugga’ pours a beautiful bright orange and amber hued body with a thick and creamy yellowish beige head. Tons of sticky lacing splotches coat the glass all over and entice my hop senses. The nose has a bursting resinous hop aroma with a slathered molasses and brown sugar toffee malt. A hint of warmth and pungent alcohol is also duly noted in the aroma. From my previous experiences with this beer I anxiously wait for it to warm up a bit before taking the first sip. Cupping the glass in my hands and swirling the beer I notice a fine cloud of tiny carbonation bubbles in the body. The first sip is sweet brown sugar with a candied toffee and fruit flavour. Caramel and toasted bread malts accompany a never ending molasses and sugary sweetness. The finish is mildly bitter and astringent with an impressive floral and resinous hop flavour. Brown Shugga has a warming and pungent alcohol presence with a very mild aftertaste. Brown Shugga isn’t exactly a Barley Wine by current American conventions with a bit of a thin body and a lack of hop bitterness, but Brown Shugga’ pulls it off. With a bit of grace, Brown Shugga’ seemingly blends a strong brown ale with an IPA whilst adding a ton of sweetness. Very curious indeed…

Grade: 88/100      Price: $16/6-pack