An Article by Noah Forrest
The folks at Marché du Village are at it again! This independent, super store of sorts – located right off the highway when driving through the Eastern Townships – just released their second installment in a series of big barrel aged beers called Séries Impérial. Last year they created “Scotch Ale Impériale,” an impressively balanced, 11.9% Bourbon and Brandy barrel aged scotch ale that won me over, even considering my general disinterest towards the style. This year, continuing with their line-up, they released “Barley Wine (Ale Anglaise),” a whiskey, brandy, and rum barrel aged English Barleywine.
The beers in this series were created in conjunction with René Huart, owner and Brewer at Brasseurs Illimitée. They were brewed with the potential of being cellared for many years, so it only makes sense that an English Barleywine (which is one of the best beers to age) would be next on their list. That being said, although these bottles may have been intended for aging, the beer still needs to be palatable and tasty when consumed fresh. This was definitely the case with their scotch ale, which was even fantastic the week it came out. Aged though? Well, I’ll have to let you know in a few years.
It’s hard to truly know how a beer will do over time without actually aging it first. In my experience, if you can afford it, it’s best to get two bottles; one to drink fresh and one to age. There are certainly factors that contribute to the ability of a beer to age well. Generally speaking, an ideal beer to age is high in alcohol, robust, and slightly sweet. The hops used should be higher in Beta acids as apposed to the Alpha acids you find in aromatic American hops. Darker beers tend to do better than lighter beers – however, over long periods, extremely dark roasted beers like imperial stouts can develop a weird soy sauce flavour becasue of yeast degradation (although this is not always the case). Bottles that still have live yeast general do well, as it helps reduce oxidation over time, and helps create character.
If you do decide to age beer, you want to keep your bottles in a cool dark place, without much temperature fluctuations. Beer should be stored upright, as apposed to wine, which does better on its side. However, there are mixed opinions on Lambic, as many think it should be stored on its side. I also need to point out that once you throw wild yeast, bacteria and general microflora into the mix, the rules change. Lambic, for instance, ages probably better than any other beer on the planet, and it’s a low alcohol, lighter coloured beer. That, however, is a whole conversation to have on another day – today we are drinking Barleywine! I’m excited.
Barley Wine (Ale Anglaise)
As I was mentioning above, this beer spent time in whiskey, brandy, and rum barrels, and weighs in at a big 11.9% ABV. It pours out a gorgeous burnt orange and chestnut brown colour, with amber highlights. There is a small head that sticks around a little while, but ultimately disappears. The nose begins with potent aromatics of cooked caramel, toasted oats, followed by some slightly piney hops that adds a zesty backing to the sweet front. There are some fruity yeast esters as well, alongside a bit of earthy honey, which provides a nice complexity next to all the other sweet aromatics.
Up front it has a very thick and creamy body; sticky almost. Given the sweetness here, the finish is nicely dry, only allowing for a certain level of toffee-like sugars onto your palate. The bitter to sweet ratios are on point, providing great balance. As well, the 11.9% ABV adds an extra layer of sharpening to the sweetness, helping to control the cloying body.
There are not loads of spirit induced aromatics and flavours in general. However, the subtlety of the brandy and bourbon flavours provide some nice vanilla oak complexity, and a great tannic drying portion that again helps with the sugars. The beer teeters on the edge of being too sweet, just resting there, but never plunging into that sugar bomb world that I don’t enjoy.
There are strong apple and pear flavours that dance alongside the toffee and cooked caramel components. As it warms, the brandy comes alive on the nose, shooting rich and sweet fortified wine-like aromatics at my nose alongside the other rich flavours. The finish lingers with a hop bitterness, coupled with some oak tannins, and a subtle boozy spirit burn. I would not give this 11.9%, as it is dangerously misleading. It’s certainly not a crushable beer considering the gigantic body, but it’s not a hot mess in the least.
Sometimes with big beers like this (especially barleywines, Belgian quads, strong ales), there is only so much of it that you can drink in one sitting. The cloying sweetness, big body and hefty booze burn gets to you, and your last sips are a struggle, and sometimes even unpleasant. Somehow, this beer kept me until the end. That being said, I drank it over the course of a whole afternoon and evening, with breaks and a meal in between. But still, very impressive!
Barley Wine (Ale Anglaise) should still be available around town at certain stores. Otherwise you can always drive out to Marché du Village and grab some directly at the source. They also have a giant selection of beer and a walk in cellar with harder to find vintages. It’s definitely work the trip. Happy hunting!
An Article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest