Each Wednesday in this column I post my insights about one of the thousands of beers brewed in the great state of Colorado. Feel free to shoot me an email with your suggestions of Colorado beers you’d like me to feature – Lee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org – or leave your ideas in the comments.
The almost 2000 breweries currently operating in the United States continue to explore the age-old practice of brewing seasonal beers with an unquenchable vigor. This is especially apparent with the onset of autumn and winter. Not since the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain have so many rich Barleywines, chewy Old Ales (or stock ales), malty Winter Warmers and boozy Imperial Stouts been brewed and consumed by so many people.
Visit any good beer store between October and late January and the choice of warming, higher ABV beer options can be quite staggering.
It’s heartwarming that so many people, myself included, have rediscovered the joys of these truly historic British beer styles. Slowly enjoy a glass of one of these beers as a night cap while reading a book; share a bottle with friends in the depths of winter; the pleasure is unmatched. They compliment the colder seasons in a way few other beers or beverages can.
In their homeland, these beer styles were in danger of becoming extinct until very recently, destined to live out the rest of their days in the pages of old editions of Michael Jackson beer guides. These were esoteric styles known and brewed only by the most hardcore of beer enthusiasts and brewers. Thankfully, renewed interest in all styles of beer in the U.K. has seen more U.S. examples imported into the country and more independent U.K. breweries brewing these styles of beer once again.
In the U.S., the likes of barleywines were never widely available to begin with. But like the IPA, they have been born anew in the New World thanks to the rise of American craft breweries over the past twenty plus years.
Colorado, perhaps because of its snowy winter reputation, produces a lot of winter appropriate strong beers. Avery Brewing of Boulder alone brews ten different beers of between 9.0% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 15.0% ABV. Most of these are available between August and November.
Aging the likes of barleywines in spirit barrels, especially whiskey and bourbon barrels, has become common practice in Colorado, throughout the U.S., and beyond, mainly because of the added and complimentary depth of flavors they impart.
Dry Dock Brewing Company of Aurora, Colorado, decided to up the ante of their English style barleywine recipe by conditioning the beer for seven months in freshly emptied Stranahans Colorado Whiskey barrels. Signature Series Bligh’s Barleywine Ale is a big 10.0% ABV beer, that is as rustic as it is refined, and as complex as it is composed.
The beer breathes the welcoming aromas of expensive leather, vanilla, fig, currants, black tea, molasses, and sherry. On the palate, the dominant flavor is unmistakeably that of high quality black licorice, with secondary notes of plum, muscovado sugar, treacle, baked apples, and peppermint. In keeping with traditional English barleywine style, the beer is very sweet. Bitter hop profile, low. It has much in common with British, winter appropriate offerings like J.W. Lees barrel aged barleywines, Gale’s Old Prize Ale, Harvey’s Christmas Ale and Greene King’s Old Suffolk.
Best pairings for this very rich beer are apple pie, tiramisu, simple cheesecake and creamier blue cheeses. Or, my preferred choice: a good book.