From the archives: Anchor Steam Old Foghorn Barley Wine (2014)
Previously published in my weekly First Draught column in The Brandon Sun
Every winter I look forward to the various Barley Wines that pop up in time for the -50 windchills. It’s hard to find barley wines in Manitoba so I tend to send friends in Quebec and Vancouver some money to pick up some of North America’s best Barley Wines. Barley Wines are a winter tradition to me - they’re much sweeter, much more syrupy and quite high in alcohol content. My absolute favourite is À l’abri de la tempête’s Corps Mort from Les Îles de la Madeleine in Quebec - a very syrupy, sweet and roasted malty beer that has an allergy warning that it may contain herring.. yuck! Non merci! Thankfully, I haven’t tasted any fishy business in the beer.
I find Barley Wines to be incredibly complex, dark, syrupy and at times even sweet & fruity. When you try a Barley Wine for the first time, you can immediately taste a burning sensation from the high alcohol content as Barley Wines generally range from 8-12% ABV. The only Barley Wine available at local Liquormarts for now is Old Foghorn Barleywine style Ale from San Fransisco’s Anchor Steam Brewing. I had the pleasure to try this beer last Christmas as a good friend from Vancouver custom-made a beer advent calendar featuring beers he found during beer excursions in Oregon and Washington State. So seeing Old Foghorn available here in Manitoba for the first time is quite a treat.
Old Foghorn is actually considered one of the most influential Barley Wines in the United States, to the point that the beer itself helped rejuvenate the style for the masses, as it was previously a beverage enjoyed exclusively by upper class British elites in the late 18th century. Old Foghorn pours a rich nutty brown with a hue of caramel to it and a bit of a light cookie dough-like beige head on top. The aroma is all over the place, first off there’s the pungent smell of alcohol, then there’s the smell of raisins and prunes. Following that, there’s notes of caramel, a bit of an oak woodiness in there to give it a bit of a complex bitterness. Not much of a hop presence, though they do use Cascade hops exclusively throughout the brewing process which should give it a bit of an alfalfa or pine aroma to it, but I’m not noticing it. The flavour actually has the hops pop in, it has a bitterness - only a hint of pine or alfalfa to start off as it quickly diminishes into a bit of an acidic mouthfeel. There’s some roasted nuttiness making itself known, caramel and toffee, strong alcohol flavours, raisins and a bit of a dry finish to it.
Old Foghorn was a bit better last year as this year’s batch is missing the overly sweet syrupiness I know and love in Barley Wines. It has more of a bitterness from the hops than almost any other Barley Wine I’ve ever had. It’s good, but could be better. That being said, I find Barley Wines are a style of beer that are best enjoyed aged for two to three years as the flavours mature and become more complex. Perhaps the sweet candy-like syrupy taste would pop out after aging.. but who knows? However, I do know that my bottles of Half Pints’ Burly Wine only get more heavenly each and every year as it ages longer and longer.