Best Laid Plans

My friend Mark was supposed to join me today to learn the art of all-grain brewing. While waiting for him, I went out and did the barn chores, and when I came back in there was a message on the answering machine. Mark’s upstairs neighbor had apparently left the water on all night and flooded the place, so Mark was going to have to move, sort, clean and dry all his furniture, rugs and stuff. No brew session for him today.

I brewed anyway.

I decided to go for it, on this beer, big and rich, intensely sweet but also highly hopped. A smorgasbord of beery flavors all in one. Freshly smoked pale malt, mashed in condensed maple sap, three different high-alpha hops… A barleywine style ale, meant to be aged for a long while and sipped slowly.

Vermont Breakfast Ale

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 7 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 3 lbs. Maris Otter smoked over maple
  • 1 lb. 150°L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Biscuit malt
  • 1/2 lb. maple-smoked cara-foam malt
  • 1 oz. Chinook hop pellets (@11.8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (@12.2% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Horizon hops (@11.9% aa)
  • White Labs Super High Gravity yeast (WLP099)
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (for priming)


Condense 6 gallons of fresh maple sap down to 4 gallons (16 quarts) [Alternatively, add 1 pt. pure maple syrup to 16 quarts water]. Heat to 164°F. Crush grains. Dough in and hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 22 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Chinook pellets. Boil 15 minutes, add Simcoe pellets. Boil 45 minutes (60 total), add Horizon hops and remove from heat. Steep the Horizon about 10 minutes then remove them. Chill wort to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment two weeks in relative warmth (65 – 70°). Rack to secondary and age in a cool dark place (50°F) for eight weeks. Prime with maple syrup, bottle and store somewhere where you will forget about them for a year.

OG: 1078

IBU’s: 107

For more info on Barleywines, I highly recommend Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell’s volume in the AHA Classic Beer Style series, appropriately titled “Barley Wine“.

Darker By The Minute

For some reason, I never think to brew a barleywine. I have brewed several, largely by accident or last-minute change of plans, but I can’t remember ever really planning one out, thoughtfully and carefully. I have brewed barleywines to use up a bin-full of odd ingredients, and I have brewed barleywines to use the dregs in extract jugs. But a deliberate, planned brew?

2010 was a golden year for barleywines, in my experience. In the course of the year I set out to taste and compare as many commercial examples as I could find. And I found some really good ones. My favorite among the regular, readily-available brews was, as usual, Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot. I like the balance, the complexity, the drinkability of Bigfoot. There are others which are much stronger, others that are much hoppier. I just like the way Bigfoot tastes and how easy it is to drink.

But 2010 also saw a series of anniversary beers by the same brewers, Sierra Nevada. To celebrate their 30th year of brewing, they teamed up with other brewers (commercial and homebrewers) to produce four memorable brews, released one at a time every few months. The first was an Imperial Stout, then came a Munich Helles, then a Black Barleywine, and finally a blended “Grand Cru”. The latter was a blend of Bigfoot, Celebration Ale and their fresh Pale Ale, blended and oak-aged. I don’t know which I liked best, but I invested in a few bottles of the last two to put away for a few years.

I guess that was my inspiration for this brew – it was time to really test out my recipe design and brewing acumen, and deliberately and carefully brew a barleywine, one that I could be proud of. I flipped open my copy of Barley Wine, Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell’s contribution to the AHA Style Series, and the first recipe I glanced at was Greg Noonan’s Sleepwalker. It was meant to be, right?

But I wanted to come a little closer to the SN XXX #3, darker, and with a nice roasty character. So Greg’s original recipe became, in the words of my friend Rick, “darker by the minute” as I substituted darker versions of several of the ingredients. I like the image of a firewalker – this beer will be big enough to soothe any pains from a stroll across the coals…

Firewalker Barleywine

5 gallons, mash with additional extract


  • 2 lbs. Belgian pale malt
  • 2 lbs. Golden Promise pale malt
  • 4.5 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • .5 lb. dark malted wheat
  • 1 lb. chocolate wheat
  • 1 lb. 165°L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Belgian Coffee Special Roast malt
  • .5 lb. roasted barley
  • 3 lbs. Briess dark DME
  • 1 oz. Citra hop pellets (14% aa)
  • 1 oz. Cluster hop pellets (7.4% aa)
  • 2 oz. Whitbread Gold Varietal hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Fuggles hops (4% aa)
  • White Labs London Ale yeast (WLP013)
  • White Labs Irish Ale yeast (WLP004)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in grains and hold 90 minutes at 154°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin sparge and runoff, collecting 27 quarts sweet wort. Add DME to the kettle, stirring well to avoid scorching. Bring to a boil. Add Citra hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Cluster hops, boil another 40 minutes. Add WGV hops, boil 5 minutes (90 total), remove from heat. Steep Fuggles hops (in a mesh bag) in the wort (covered) for ten minutes, remove. Chill to 80°F and take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast blend, seal and ferment warm (65 – 68°F) for 15 – 20 days. Rack to secondary, take hydrometer reading. If gravity has fallen to 1025 or lower, move secondary to cool location (45 – 50°F); if gravity is still high, agitate gently for 5 minutes and leave fermenter in a warm spot (55 – 60°F) for another two weeks – check gravity again and if lowe enough move to cool. Age cool for at least a month. Prime, bottle and put away in a dark cool corner of the cellar where you won’t think about it for months… Seriously, bottle condition this beer for at least 4 months before even trying one. This beer should keep for two years or more.

OG: 1095

IBU’s: because of the high OG of this beer, hop utilization is not optimum. Based on the chart Greg, Mikel and I devised for the Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook, I multiplied the “standard” IBU calculation of 103 by a factor of .78, thus I think this beer has about 80 IBU’s… your mileage may vary…

Notes on ingredients: a bit of a “kitchen sink” grain bill – I was looking at what I had in stock and could have brewed entirely with the Maris Otter, but decided to include the Belgian and Scottish malts to increase the body and residual sweetness. The hops are a mixed bag, Citra and Cluster being high-alpha American hops and the WGV and Fuggles being classic English aroma varieties.

Notes on yeast: I like the sweetnes generally left behind by the Irish Ale yeast, and the London works really well with dark beers – hopefully this blend will ferment out fairly well yet still leave a full-bodied and semi-sweet brew.

Notes on style: Barleywine is a beer, despite its name. It can be as high in alcohol content as some wines (up to 14% in some cases), but it isn’t, usually. Like wine, it’s meant to be stored long-term, and usually changes as it matures. Traditionally, barleywines were brewed in connection with celebrations: holidays, anniversaries, noteworthy cultural or political events, etc. The above-mentioned authors, Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell, were at one time co-brewers at the Pike Place Brewery in Seattle. They were the creators of the (in)famous Old Bawdy Barleywine. I thought of that beer and these brewers last week upon learning of the death of Portland’s leading beer maven Don Younger, who was gracious enough to share an Old Bawdy from his personal cellar. Cheers, Don – this one’s for you!