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!

Brew News – New Brews (and an old favorite)

I consider myself very fortunate to work where I work and to have an understanding boss like I have. I manage the homebrew department, but Wendy, the store manager, manages the wine and beer section. I am constantly appreciative of her willingness to try to get new and interesting beers in the store. Today was a great day – two new beers to taste and the return of an old favorite. A nice evening’s quaffing, worthy of a review.

I have always loved collaborations. I collected comic books as a kid (and on into my college years), and my favorites were always those issues where the characters from one series ended up teaming up with those of another (Spiderman with the FF, the X-Men with the Avengers, etc…). I also used to have a database to keep track of musicians from my favorite bands and their work with other bands…

Lately there have been a few interesting collaborations in the craft brewing industry, and here are two very successful ones.

Stone/Dogfish/Victory Saison du BUFF
Three of the most respected and most innovative of the craft breweries in North America, all known for their “extreme” approach to brewing, teamed up to create this most interesting beer. It’s a Belgian Saison, in style, but with the added intrigue of a dose of herbs – specifically, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Simon and Garfunkel would be proud. I’ve brewed with sage, rosemary and thyme before, but not parsley. I guess if you’re going to brew with three of them, you might as well go all the way to Scarborough Fair…

A nice moderately full-bodied ale, not very sweet, and, in this instance, quite herbal. The malt balances the herbs, the herbs complement the malt and the yeast, and in the end everyone is happy (if not hoppy)… 6.8% abv, no indication of IBU’s which suggests they may have skipped hops entirely… BUFF stands for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor… and, just in case you missed it, the name is a play on the name “DuBoeuf”, the name of a real Belgian/French saison…

Sierra Nevada XXX #2 Charlie, Fred & Ken’s Imperial Helles Bock
Back in the winter Sierra Nevada introduced the first of their 30th Anniversary brews, a collaboration with Fritz Maytag of Anchor, a delicious Imperial Stout. This is the second of four, and it’s every bit as noteworthy. Co-designed by homebrewers and homebrew writers Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt, the Imperial Helles Bock is a HUGE chewy, bready blond lager at 8.3% abv, smooth and and amazingly malty.

There are two more installments of the XXX series coming later in the year, and I for one am really looking forward to them…

Westmalle Dubbel
Ah, the Trappists. If you really want to know what Belgian beer is all about, you have to start with the Trappists and their amazing brews. Abbey beers, golden Tripels, and amber/brown Dubbels… Had I been born a more religious man, I might have considered becoming a Trappist monk just to be involved in the brewing of these heavenly beers… but alas, I must observe from the outside.
The Dubbel style is probably best exemplified by this brew, made in Malle, Belgium, by the brothers of the Westmalle Abbey. An outstanding strong brown ale, it has malty notes but is dominated by the yeast. I often describe the Trappist yeast profile as being almond/pistachio-like, and this is a superb example of that. Absolutely delicious, yet less full-bodied and less alcoholic (only 7% abv) than the tripels of Westmalle and other Trappist abbeys, the Westmalle Dubbel may be the best starting point to appreciate this unique class of beers.

Don’t get too excited…

Just found out that Sierra Nevada is doing three more Anniversary beers, to follow up on the amazing Imperial Stout that none of us could get enough of a couple weeks ago… See the website for more info, but basically they will be bringing out an Imperial Helles lager brewed by Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt (two of the pioneers of the home brewing renaissance); a Barleywine brewed by Jack MacAuliffe of New Albion; and an oak-aged blended ale, part Bigfoot, part Celebration Ale, part freshly brewed Pale Ale… Watch your local beer store for these releases, they WILL be amazing, I guarantee…