Extra Strong Ale : Barley WIne 10.5 % – A Review by T.J. Blinn
My first impression of this barley wine from Brasseurs du Monde is that it doesn’t look like a barley wine at all. Rather, I think that I’m looking at an English Ale, much as its confusing label suggests. And here is our first problem with this particular style of beer, it’s in a category of its own in terms of look and flavor. Research on the style only leads the curious to become ever more confused: the alcohol content can range between 8-12% and, colors can range from amber to light brown with a few rare examples looking more red-gold and even opaque black, much like a stout. Furthermore, there are two distinct styles: the English create a sweeter taste trending towards the darker color spectrum while the Americans use more hops, giving off a more bitter flavor which keeps their color on the lighter side. Personally, as a newcomer to this style, I like to think of it as those surprise candy jellybeans in the Harry Potter novels: think of barley wine as the “every flavor” beer. Every one might taste different form the last so, close your eyes and hope for the best!
As I study this beer after pouring it into a tulip glass, I find the color has an attractive clear copper English Ale look. It has dark honey-brown hues like Autumn leaves. The head lays flat, barely present and sticks around the rim of the glass. On the nose I get light whiffs of malty caramel and sweet dried fruits with a faint almond scent. Even as it warms up, I find the bouquet stubborn and subdued.
The taste brings port-like flavors with toffee sweetness. The second sip finds some dried fruits of apricot and figs. There is definitely that English ale malt with an added sweetness. It is very dense and the carbonization is almost non-existent, leaving what I can only describe to be a pleasant, bittersweet aftertaste.
I recommend this barley wine not just because it’s quite good, which it is but, also because it’s an interesting variation on the style. It’s priced just right to give yourself a treat and try something new. And while some new barley wines that come out on the market may cause you to wince in disgust like the Bertie Bott’s every flavor beans, this is one that will make you relieved that you took a chance and came out a winner.