Barley wine is an ideal beer for winter. Its rich, bold flavor is intense yet inviting. New Glarus Brewing just released a barley wine as the latest in its limited Thumb Print series. Brewmaster Dan Carey says his creation is a blend of the malty English version of the style and the hoppy American rendition. The result is an assertive and complex beer that's wonderful for sipping on a snowy evening by the fireplace.
What is it? Barley Wine from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: Barley wines are rich, dark brown to bold bronze in color, and full-bodied. The English version features malty sweetness, while American versions are usually hoppier. The barley wine is a showcase of complex blends of malt and hops, and some even offer a sherry-like aroma and flavor (especially the malty English version). Barley wines have wine-like strength, and can be quite high in alcohol, exceeding 10% ABV.
Background: New Glarus Barley Wine shows off Dan Carey's use of specialty malts and hops. He uses floor malted malts known for their toasted qualities and hints of graham cracker and biscuity tones. But the overall emphasis in this barley wine is on the hops, which include Styrian Goldings from Slovenia, Galaxy from Australia, and Willamette and Sterling hops from the Pacific Northwest. Even though Carey calls this beer a blend of the English and American styles, its bitterness gives it a hoppy American attitude. Because of that, it's a nice beer to enjoy now while it is young, with the hop aroma and flavor at its strongest. However, notes Carey, this is also a beer that should age well, as the hoppy aromas and bitterness will mellow over time.
This year's version of New Glarus Barley Wine was brewed back in October. While the brewery doesn't state the beer's ABV, its flavor has enough warmth in the finish to suggest it's well within the upper range of most barley wines. It sells for approximately $10/4-pack.
Dan Carey has brewed other barley wines, but they haven't been around for a few years. The original was Tail Wagger, released in 2006. He named this beer in tribute to the family's springer spaniel, Murphy, who has been known to enjoy lapping up spilled beer around the brewery. Carey also made Iced Barley Wine back in 2009 as part of the brewery's limited release Unplugged series.
Both versions fell closer to English style barley wines. The 2006 Tail Wagger was incredibly smooth with caramel maltiness, and the 2009 bottle of New Glarus Iced Barley Wine offered assertive maltiness with hints of rich cherry-fruitiness and lots of alcoholic warmth. Sipping those next to this year's version really brought out the hoppiness and made me feel differently about the new Thumb Print release.
- Aroma: Light but firm floral hoppiness.
- Appearance: Clear golden-bronze, with a medium soft tan head.
- Texture: Full bodied, bubbly, yet smooth and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: The malty and toasted graham cracker tones are in the beginning. Midway through the flavor, the resiny hoppiness comes on strong, eventually blending with the malts, giving it a spicy background and finish.
- Finish/aftertaste: The resiny tones and spiciness give this barley wine a little astringency (that's also associated with the high level of alcohol).
Glassware: Serve this beer in a snifter or wine chalice at 45-48 F. It's a beer to sip and appreciate for its hoppy and warm spicy complexity.
Pairs well with: Barley wines can pair nicely with cheeses. Try this one it with a smoked Fontina. But overall, the barley wine is problematic with food, and is best on its own as an after-dinner companion.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Consensus: This beer has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer. New Glarus Tail Wagger Barley Wine received an 88 (good) at BeerAdvocate and a 97/81 (overall/style) at RateBeer. New Glarus Iced Barley Wine received a 90 (exceptional) at BeerAdvocate and 97/83 (overall/style) at RateBeer.
The Verdict: New Glarus Barley Wine is a golden-bronze, lighter in color than I expect for a barley wine. Its resiny, warm spiciness jumps out of the glass, especially in the finish -- those who enjoy the edgy-hoppiness of an American barley wine should grab some now while the hops are at their most prominent. I'd like to see what happens when those hops are tempered a bit by age, to round out the flavors, and calm the hot-alcoholic warmth of the finish. So while this is something I'll have close at hand for this winter's cold snowy nights, I'm also planning to lay down a four-pack just to see what happens.