Barley Wine

Barley wine is not in fact wine at all; it is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting grain, most frequently barley. It is due to the very high alcohol content (usually 6-12%ABV) that is as high as that of wine, that it became known as wine, despite it most definitely being beer because it is made from grains. Barley wine beer is full of complex flavours and rich aromas making it perfect as a winter tipple.

English barley wine has a history that can be traced back to the eighteenth century and developed, it is said, due to the continuing conflicts between Britain and France. In order to be patriotic, French wines were rejected in favour of British ale. Palates, however, missed the complexity of French wines and to try and fill the gap, British brewers experimented with their beers. One way to develop the complex depth and flavours was to allow the beer to mature in wine or whiskey barrels. Barley wines range from being deep amber in colour to very dark thanks to the length of boiling time which concentrate and caramelises the sugar.

Upon encountering barley wine for the first time, many are surprised as it does not look like a conventional beer and in taste, it can be reminiscent of whiskey, sherry or even port, rather than beer. Barley wine beers have rich, malty aromas commonly with the notes of toffee or caramel. Style wise, things can vary with the addition of tones thanks to fruit spirits or dried fruits. Whilst present, the hops never dominate. Barley wine can be drunk alone, however, many recommend pairing it to better capture the complexity of the beverage; try marrying it with a spicy pudding, rich fruitcake, dark chocolate or for a savoury vibe, with aged cheeses.

Barley wines have the distinction of being one of the few beers that actually age well; just like a fine wine!


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