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Barleywines and winter


BarleywinesWe’ve had a big week of snow and cold weather in Kansas City.  A good way to enjoy this season is to savor the beers that are made for sipping fireside. Big beers (lots of body and alcohol) are “winter warmers”. The biggest beer style is barleywine—English barleywine is the strongest of the English ales. The BJCP describes this style as “a showcase of malty richness and complex, intense flavors.” These beers are full-bodied, with a velvety, luscious texture. The high alcohol content (8 to 12% by volume) and viscosity produces “legs” on the glass when swirled—like wines; hence the origin of the name of this style of beer. Also like wine, barleywines are aged and vintaged. Unlike lighter bodied beers that are best consumed fresh, the maturing and development of flavors in the complex matrix of malt and hops over time develops the full character of barleywines. American brewers have made their own version of barleywine, adding big doses of American hops.

While we Kansas Citians might be dreaming of warmer climates, many beer connoisseurs consider two festivals in January to be premier events of the year. This weekend in Vail is the Big Beer Festival, featuring “Belgians and Barleywines.” This event features a homebrew contest, tastings of commercial beers, and seminars—in the Colorado ski resort town. The ultimate barleywine festival is the following weekend in Anchorage, the “Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival.” This event will be in its eighth year, and is a benefit for the American Diabetes Association. The 2010 Festival will offer over 200 beers and barleywines from over 50 breweries. There is also a competition among breweries. Visitors to the festival wisely pace themselves on sampling—beginning with a good meal and lots of water while tasting. I hope to make it to Anchorage sometime in the future for this festival!

Barleywines are not easy to find in KC. I joined friends at Waldo Pizza (Lee’s Summit) this weekend; they have one of the best beer menus in a family restaurant. However, I did not find a barleywine listed. I was also out of luck looking for barleywines at Happy Hour’s weekly beer tasting. However, Gomer’s (Lee’s Summit) has several barleywines to choose from. I purchased Avery’s Hog Heaven, and Great Divide’s Old Ruffian—both produced in Colorado. I inquired about Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot—hopefully will be coming in a week or two (usually released in February). Also available is Schlafly’s 2007 Barleywine. The St. Louis Brewery will be holding a “Cabin Fever” Winter Beer Festival on Saturday, January 23rd, at their Bottleworks--with beer tastings and bluegrass music. I’m looking into this close-to-home festival; I’d enjoy trying their Oak-aged 2010 Barleywine. Meanwhile, I’ll share some barleywine with friends—pairing with blue cheese (Stilton), and maybe chocolate torte or cheesecake. Barleywines are almost too intense to combine with main courses; and are more like an digestif to be enjoyed after a meal.


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