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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Beer Here: Unleashed Jolly Old Scratch Black Barley-Wine Style Ale from the Great Dane

Credit:Robin Shepard

Just a few days before the big Christmas snowfall, the Great Dane released the newest beer in its Unleashed Series of 22-ounce bottles. The Dane is known for its bold barley wines, and the new Jolly Old Scratch is one of its biggest and boldest yet. With its double-digit ABV, this barley wine will certainly take the chill off the coldest winter day.

What is it? Unleashed Jolly Old Scratch Black Barley-Wine Style Ale from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The Great Dane describes Jolly Old Scratch as a black barley wine aged with cherries. The barley wine has a complex blend of malt and hops. English versions tend to emphasize the malts, resulting in more robust caramel and chocolate flavors, while American versions are similar, but with more hoppy-bitterness. They can have wine-like strength, with alcohol content exceeding 10% ABV. Barley wines are usually dark bronze to black in color. The Great Dane's version is made with Midnight Wheat, which gives it a deep black color. Cherries are added during fermentation; their tartness complements the caramel and chocolate tones of the malt.

Background: Jolly Old Scratch is the second beer to appear in the Great Dane's Uneashed series of 22-ounce bomber bottles. This new line of beers debuted last August with its Imperial Red Ale.

Many of the Great Dane's barley wines have "Old Scratch" in their name. One of its most award winning barley wines, simply called Old Scratch, dates back to the late 1990s. A seven-year vintage won a gold medal in the 2006 Great American Beer Festival, and a nine-year version won a bronze in 2008.

While the new Jolly Old Scratch has some similarities to its predecessors, overall it's a much different beer. Great Dane co-owner and brewmaster Rob LoBreglio says that, in keeping with the theme of his Unleashed brews, Jolly Old Scratch needed to be extreme. Large amounts of malt give it a dark color and an assertive and robust spiciness, with lots of alcohol at over 12% ABV. For tartness and a touch of the holidays, cherries went into the fermenter, where they stayed with the beer for nearly a month before it was bottled.

Jolly Old Scratch sells for $13-$14 per bomber. The bottled version was made and bottled at the brewpub's Wausau location. Just 2,000 bottles are being released through the Great Dane's five pubs, as well as at a handful of specialty liquor stores and supermarkets. The Great Dane is holding back a version of this beer that was not aged with cherries. It will go on tap this month, alongside the annual version of Old Scratch. All three big beers set the stage for a battle of barley wines, says LoBreglio.

Next up in the Unleashed 22-ounce bottle series will be a Belgian Dubble.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Hints of tart cherry.
  • Appearance: Dark black with a thin, marbled brown head.
  • Texture: Full bodied, round and soft.
  • Taste: The malty tones come out first, followed by the dark, tart fruit flavors of the cherry.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: A light roastedness with hints of cherry and plum. A warm alcoholic ending really lingers.

Glassware: Barley wines are best served in a glass that encourages sipping, such as a snifter or wine chalice. Serve Jolly Old Scratch a little warmer than you would most beers (high 40s, or even near room temperature) to bring out the malty tones and better highlight the blend of cherries with the malt.

Pairs well with: There is a lot of intensity to the flavors of Jolly Old Scratch. It's best on its own, or as a dessert or nightcap. If you're looking for something to tame the beer's flavor and still be complementary, try it with a soft-ripened cheese.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Great Dane Jolly Old Scratch has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Jolly Old Scratch is a nice beer for a cold winter's night. But because it's very assertive, with lots of malty flavor, strong alcoholic warmth and a distinctive tartness, it's not for everyone. While I liked this beer, it'll be much better with some extended aging. I'm planning on cellaring a few bottles for one to two years, as one might a fine wine, keeping it out of light and at a constant cool temperature. Aging should soften the alcoholic spicy-burn, smooth out the maltiness, and blend the caramel and roasted chocolate tones with the tartness of cherries.

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