Although Pretty Things Beer and Ale Projects' Our Finest Regards is made in the United States, it’s definitely a barleywine with an English heritage. According to the company’s website, Pretty Things Brewers Dann and Martha Paquette met while Dann was working an English brewery. While there he developed a fondness for Yorkshire malts, often expressed in Pretty Things’ beers.
It only makes sense, then, that Pretty Things would brew an English style barleywine. The differences between English and American versions of this style were discussed in a previous article about the Fitchburg Order of Ale Makers, but to simplify: the American style is more highly hopped. Dann is not fond of the American style, writing “The American version of a barleywine is normally a sad beer indeed, lots of hops and alcohol but the star of the show is left scratching his chin in the eaves of the theatre,” and claiming that the English are “the only ones who know how to make [barleywine] save the rare American brewer.”
So is Our Finest Regards one of those rare exceptions? It’s certainly a very good beer. It pours a light brown color (think coffee with cream), with a prickly white head that simmers down fairly quickly. On the nose is a sweet malty smell, and a bit of caramel. Sweet flavors like caramel, toffee, and raisins dominate at first. In the finish there’s strong earthy and spicy flavors, reminiscient of cigar smoke. These become stronger as the beer warms, adding a black pepper or maybe even chili like spiciness. A very slight hint of oak also develops. With warmth, the malt also develops more complexity with strong notes of toasted bread and slight notes of coffee and chocolate. The body is silky smooth, but there is a bit of syrupy stickiness. Hop presence is minimal. Indeed the Pretty Things website asks “there’s hops in there?”
This barleywine is, after all, all about showing off the malt. It definitely does a great job of showing off all the complexities malt can give to a beer. Those who don’t like sweet beers may want to pass on this one, but those looking for a complex, malt-forward beer should give this one a shot.