Barleywines are a unique and interesting beer; and often confusing. The name alone, barleywine, doesn’t seem to suggest that it is a beer. Really the name has much history dating back to a time when the term beer was not so prevalent, and ales at the time were not so powerful. Wine was the drink at the time that would consume the 10 to 14% alcoholic range, and beers that got that close in strength were seen as a different beast. It was easiest then to define a strong and rich beverage brewed with barley as a Barleywine. No matter, we have kept the style name, and now excessively malty and rich beers, often with a load of balancing hops are known as Barleywines, or Barleywine-Style ales to be most accurate.
The good brewers over at Avery Brewing have created a Barleywine-Style ale and so aptly named it Hog Heaven. I’m not really sure why, but I do know that his beer shows exceptional depth and character and is well worth the time in your cellar. In fact, my last visit to the Beer Bistro yielded me a 2008 bottle of the Hog Heaven, and it really was some form of heaven – I don’t know about hog heaven, but lets not dwell.
The Hog Heaven was served to me properly at cellar temperature around 12C (54F) – an American Barleywine with 9.2% abv and 104 IBUs should not be served cold. This beer needs some warmth to open up its flavors and let all the aromas and juicy notes out.
The pour was gentle and silky but created lots of life in the beer. It formed a dense, pale white 2 inch head that glowed pink into the light reflecting off the beer. The beer then was a ruby red shining with deep amber garnet and golden browns emanating from the depth of the beer. It was somewhat transparent, but dark and full showing an opaque finish.
The nose is powerful pouring out aromas of fresh earthy hops, dense malt and warm caramel. It is dry and sweet right away with scents of dried cherries, apricots, almonds, sweet grapefruit, blood orange and hay fields. The flavor comes in with striking similarities but is mature and refined far beyond the beers age.
Close to 2 years old by now the Hog Heaven glides gently onto your palate in a smooth and silky wash of soft caramel, warm toffee and brisk but round hops. It is extremely elegant and creamy to the touch creating a massive beer with a uniquely drinkable presence. Rich malts and dense hops are perfectly balanced here sticking to your palate effortlessly. The malt is big and juicy with the classic flavors of caramel, biscotti, fig, dates, apples, pear, cherries and pineapple. The hops are fresh and zesty showing grapefruit, sweet earth, lemon peal, hints of orange and a touch of pepper.
Towards the end more butterscotch comes through with notes of clove and cinnamon resting against the utterly smooth palate of this beer. It is not very complex, just elegant and divine showing you its true colors right out in the open. The mouthfeel is so fantastically easy and clean it takes a monstrous beer and tames it perfectly. The finish is dry and slightly quenching with still the sweet candy malts in my mouth and a hint of tart fresh hops. Really a delicious experience. Try it with dense chocolate deserts, a wide array of cheeses or hearty beef stew.