Tasting the Schlafly Reserve Barleywine-Style Ale, 2007

“Beer the way it used to be: Around the time of the Louisiana Purchase, beer was full-flavored, aggressively hopped and high gravity, unlike the mass-produced, watered down version so prevalent today. All of these characteristics helped beer to remain fresh in the barrels during the long, slow shipments across the country. As it traveled, beer seeped into the oak staves of the barrels and when it was served, a pleasant oak flavor had been added.

To replicate this character in our malty, sweet and bready barlywine, we have aged the beer on new American Oak from Missouri. The wood has a medium toast, which helps to caramelize the sugars in the oak and adds a nutty roastiness to the beer as it soaks into the wood.

This 2007 vintage will age well in a cool dark place for up to five years but is ready to drink now. So leave the corkscrew in the kicthen drawer and poip open a beer that will reward you with more flavor than most wines can dream of. We hope you enjoy drinking is as much as we enjoyed making it. “ – Schlafly

This is the sentiment on the back of the maroon box that this Vintage 2007 Schlafly Reserve Barleywine came in. Maybe a touch anti-wine, but their prose is true – I would find it hard to imagine a wine that can stand up to the complex flavors that are harmoniously layered within this now three year old beer. Its not an overpowering beast of a barleywine though; it is 10.2% abv, which would put it squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of strength, and it shows it with flying colors (and flavors).

As a barleywine, it should be enjoyed warm around 14C (54F) so that all of the malt aromas and flavors can be released as they were designed to be. This is an American Barleywine though, and I am willing to bet is a pretty hoppy. So, to take advantage of the hops, and still enjoy the warmth I started this off cool at 10C (50F).

The Pour was rich and clean building a transparent copper red beer with amber and golden bronze streaking through it at every angle. When lifted into the sun, golden orange and glimmering sheets of yellow burst through it. A soft and cream like slightly just off white head was built up a reasonable half inch, but faded quickly to a thick film. Strong lacing remained on the glass during the entire drink.

The nose was warming and gently potent. Sweet caramel and oak burst out to your senses bullying toffee and malt for supremacy. A nice fresh array of fruits is definitely present showing fresh chopped apples, melon, hints of mango and soft banana. With a dark honey like waft I also get some spice, but it is gentle and barely there. It may actually be the yeast trying to break open out of the constraints of my tulip glass and into the free air.

I want rich malts out of this beer, really badly. I wouldn’t mind a bit more spice also. I don’t really know why that sensation hit me right before drinking it, but it did – and the Schlafly did not disappoint. Big toffee and caramel malts come straight to your tongue showing great complexity and a wide and round flavor. Vanilla and soft brown sugar makes its way across the sides of my tongue and an oak sweet, yet dry flavor builds on the palate.

Right in the center are soft hops adding a balancing bitter and a touch of citrus – but not the onslaught that I was expecting. Still, I am focused on the malt which is warm and significant. It shows cereal and bready flavors with biscuits and cream. Even rich strawberries and raspberries add a touch of sunny sweetness. The yeast is barely noticeable, but the spices are coming out more in the flavor than they did on the nose. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and pepper. The alcohol is there though in a chest warming and exceptionally soothing manner – now three years old, this beer is probably close to 12% or even more. But it is sooooo elegant and smooth. Very well done.

The finish comes back to oak showing smooth dryness and a crisp hoppy floral snap. Still it is mellow sweet with dense malts wrapped in amazing barleywine perfection.

Its not anything to rich, but its warming and actually very soothing. I had this on a hot sunny day, just because all the right friends were there. But this beer really deserves a cold night and a fat couch. Purely soothing and ultimately satisfying.

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