Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Right Place and Time for a Barleywine

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 26, 2011

As I mentioned at the beginning of The Barleywine Project, this one was going to be tough.  Of the 20 beers I have to review for this project, only one of them is available year-round...and it happens to be the one brewed a ten-minute bike ride away from my apartment.  The other 19 are seasonal or rotating.  On top of that, many are not available here in Colorado so I will either need to travel or trade for them.

Since I do not have the money to travel for a specific beer, but I do plan to do some traveling in the near future (Portland this coming weekend and Chicago for Thanksgiving and Christmas), I put together a spreadsheet to help me track down where and when all 20 beers on the list will be available.  I also figured that this might be a useful tool to any of you who are Barleywine fans out there - especially those of you who live in Mississippi, who have access to none of these beers.  Puerto Ricans and Utahans (ites maybe?) may also want to take note for when you travel.


Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale


Available in All 50 States

Victory Old Horizontal

Dec. - Jan.

AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX (Limited), VT, VA, WA, WI, DC

Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine


AL, AK, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MD, MA, MN, MO, NE, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA (Limited - Southern VA), WA, DC

Bell's Third Coast Ale



Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine


AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MT, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, SC (Limited), TX (Limited), VT, VA, WA, DC

Avery Hog Heavan Barleywine

Year Round

AL, AK, AR (Limited - Western AR), CA (Limited - Southern CA), CO, FL (Limited), GA, ID, IL, IA, KS, KY (Limited), MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, NV (Limited), NJ, NY (Limited - NYC Only), NC, ND, OH, OR, PA, SC, SD, TX, VA, WA, WI (Limitied), WY (Limited)

Rogue XS Old Crestacean


All 50 States, Limited in Wyoming

Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine



Troegs Flying Mouflan



Founders Nemesis 2010

Brewed Once

No Longer Available

Southern Tier Backburner (Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale)



Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws


CA, IN (Limitied), NY (NYC Only), OR, PA (Limited), WA

Three Floyds Behemoth Blonde Barleywine


IL (Limited - Chicago), IN, KY (Limited), OH (Limited), WI

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary - Ken and Jack's Ale

Brewed Once

Available in All 50 States

AleSmith Old Numbskull


AZ, CA, MA, NY, OH, OR, PA (Limited),

Green Flash Barleywine Style Ale



Smuttynose Barleywine Style Ale (Big Beer Series)


CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MI (Limited), NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, WI, DC

Mad River John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale



Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine


IL (Limited), MN, PA, WI

Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale



To give credit where it is due, I used as much information as I could from each of the brewery's websites.  Sometimes they had a specific month or time of year that the beer would be released, sometimes I was able to figure out their distribution on the websites as well.  For those that did not have the info I needed, I turned to an outstanding document that a Beer Advocate user created last year which details most major brewery's distribution throughout the US.  I am sure that some of the information above is or will become outdated, but hopefully it can help a few Barleywine lovers out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Avery Review #4 - Avery Rumpkin

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 24, 2011

As some of you may have seen on the blog earlier this week, Emily and I made it out to Avery for Rumpkin Release Day back on the 15th of this month.  We arrived a little before 3:00 in the afternoon and were pretty close to the front of the line.  At first we felt a little silly for getting there so early before the 5:00 PM release, but we quickly learned why we certainly had made the right choice.

For starters, it was an absolutely perfect Saturday afternoon here in Boulder.  It was about 78 degrees and the clouds were few and far between.  The tasting room and patio were jam packed with regular brewery-goers.  After grabbing a couple bales of hay to sit on and arranging our stuff I walked into the tasting room to grab a beer.  It was so busy that the whole process took me about 15 minutes.  When I came back out with beers in hand, though, the guys next to us let us in on the secret – people in line for Rumpkin didn’t have to wait in line for beer now.

Sure enough, they had the barrel room open and had a mini bar set up with ten taps plus all of Avery’s canned beer was being sold for $2 each.  I did not wait for another beer the rest of the afternoon.  On top of cheap and easy beer, the line-waiters had exclusive access to some of the tastiest turkey legs I’ve ever had.  They were braised in Avery’s White Rascal and then spiced with the Rumpkin spices.  Amazing. 

Regardless of whether or not we were there to early, it was worth it to both of us to wait a couple of hours in order to buy two full six-packs of Avery’s Rumpkin.  Last March, while visiting Boulder, Emily and I stopped at the Tasting Room.  We were lucky enough to try a random batch of Rumpkin that, until that point, had been set aside for a rainy day.  We were both impressed, but they were only offering 4 oz. tasters of it.  When GABF rolled around this year I was able to sneak over to the brewery for a few minutes and get a single 4oz. pour.  Then, the day of the release, we split two bottles with four or five other people, leaving us a precious few ounces a piece.  Finally, though, a few nights ago I was able to sit down with a full bottle and write a proper review for an actual, no-foolin’, full bottle of Rumpkin.  Here’s what I found:   

Location: Avery Tap Room
Cost: $10
ABV: 15.9%
Brewery Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Rum Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.97 – Very Good
My Beer Advocate Rating: A+/4.68 – World Class
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate: 34
Brewery Description: NA
Bottled On: October 5, 2011

My Avery Rumpkin waiting to be poured
APPEARANCE:  (3.5 out of 5) It doesn’t look like much; in fact, it actually resembles a run of the mill Double IPA - deep copper, with a thin, wispy head that dissipates quickly leaving a ring of foam around the edges of the glass.  A little mound of bubbles clings to life smack in the middle created by the geyser of bubbles shooting up from the bottom.  This is a very unassuming beer for what I know is about to hit my palate and my nose.

SMELL:  (4 out of 5) Brown sugar, dark rum (and yes, it is Gosling’s that I can specifically taste, but then again it is my favorite rum) and pumpkin, make up the aroma in that order.  Additionally, the Rumpkin has some lingering aromas of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. 

TASTE:  (5 out of 5) Wow.  The Dark and Stormy (one part Gosling’s Ginger Beer, one part Gosling’s Dark Rum with a lime garnish) has long been my absolute favorite cocktail and this is a Dark and Stormy, in beer form, with a bit of pumpkin added.  The big, sweet, sugary rum and pumpkin are first to hit the palate, but the ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon quickly move to the forefront.  The pumpkin and sugar linger on the palate towards the finish and through to the aftertaste.  To quote Homer Simpson “sweet merciful crap” this is an exceptionally delicious beer.  It cannot be improved for a pumpkin beer. 

Going back to the Dark and Stormy, I’ve always described it as a molasses cookie in cocktail form.  Well, now I’ll be describing the Rumpkin as a pumpkin molasses cookie in beer form.  By the way, there is something that is completely lacking here and that is any heat at all from the high ABV.  It’s pretty spectacularly disguised by everything else that is going on in the Rumpkin, although that makes it quite a dangerous brew.

MOUTHFEEL:  (4.5 out of 5) Smooth and a bit oily.  Most of the sip is very sweet and sticky, but the finish is nice, dry and almost palate cleansing.  The richness and big, bold flavors are all felt, but they do not punish the palate on the way down.  This could have easily been far too sweet and cloying, but it stays refined with just the right touch of sugary goodness.

OVERALL:  (5 out of 5) As I mentioned above, as far as pumpkin ales go the Rumpkin cannot get any better.  As far as a barrel aged beers go it also cannot get much better.  This is what happens when one of the world’s better breweries happens to have access to some of the world’s greatest ingredients, in particular, Gosling’s Rum barrels.  The Rumpkin is one of those few limited, seasonal beers that is absolutely and completely worth all the hype. 

Craft beer drinkers have become very passionate about their favorite pumpkin beers over the past couple of years, and I know there are some great ones out there, but I have to say that I’ll be absolutely shocked if I ever come across one that is better than this. 

DRAWBACKS:  The only real drawback for me here is the appearance.  There is nothing wrong with it at all, but the look of this beer does not immediately give the drinker the impression that he or she is about to have one of the best beers out there.  Also, if I am going to get nitpicky, and I will, the nose could be stronger.  It is fantastic, but I love those beers that fill the room with aroma the instant they are open.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Barleywine Review #3 - Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Ken & Jack's Ale

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 23, 2011

The Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary – Jack & Ken’s Ale was pretty easy to find.  In fact, I believe that Liquor Mart in Boulder still has a couple cases left.  I had tried this bottle once in the past, shortly after it was released, but I never reviewed it.  I do remember it tasting a little maltier and sweeter last time I had it, but this time here is what I found:

Location: Boulder Liquor Mart
Cost: $15.99
ABV: 10.2%
IBUs: 60-70? (speculated, but not confirmed - if you can confirm or correct let me know)
Brewery Location: Chico, California
Style: American Barleywine
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.08 - Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.93 – Very Good
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate/Rank in the Top 20: 362/14th
Brewery Description: NA
Bottled On: Summer of 2010

Photo Courtesy of Legal Beer
APPEARANCE:  Dark as night.  There is no light penetrating this beer whatsoever.  The head, no matter how softly it is poured swells up into a nice, homogenous group of tiny bubbles that forms a finger and a half of off-white head.  The dissipation is rather quick, but a ring of lace and a wispy thin layer of foam cap the beer after it has settled. 

SMELL:  The nose is medium to strong and dominated almost entirely by a sweet, milk chocolate smell.  Some coffee is present and a tiny touch of hop aroma creeps in, but this nose belongs to the cocoa.

TASTE:  The big, sweet, chocolate aroma blends into the first sip, but about halfway through the hops take over in a big way.  The 30th Anniversary is a much stronger and much hoppier Barleywine than I am used to.  Citrus and dank bitterness flavors steal the show from the chocolate mid-sip.  The chocolate returns for a big finish, but the sweeter chocolate flavor has turned into a bitterer, darker chocolate.  As the beer opens up it mellows and while it remains a bitterer, hoppier Barleywine than most, it does begin to resemble the style a little more closely with a boatload of roasted malt and sweeter flavors beginning to expose themselves.

MOUTHFEEL:  The mouthfeel is fantastic and spot on for a Barleywine.  It is nice and oily, but has enough fizz to let the palate know that it is still a beer.  The only deviation from the standard Barleywine is that it is much more dry than most, but that is not a bad thing.

OVERALL:  I think I would classify this beer as more of an enormous and malty Black IPA than a Barleywine, but that does not change the fact that it is a solid beer.  If you find yourself with a bomber or two share it with your friends who love IPAs and dry porters, die-hard Barleywine fans may be let down.  Also, do not introduce anyone to the style with the 30th Anniversary, it’s more of a riff on a Barleywine than a traditional American Barleywine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Actually, I'll Keep my Beer Revolution

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 20, 2011

Follow @20beers20nights

Last week I came across this post by Ding over at Dings Beer Blog.  For those of you too lazy to click the link Ding basically argued that the trend of the ultra-rare fad beers with exceptionally limited releases and enormous price tags is bad for the beer culture here in the U.S.  He highlighted the recent madness surrounding the Founders release of Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) and he is right to say that much of this behavior, well, it downright sucks (to find out what exactly that bad behavior was you'll have to click the link above), both on the brewery's part in some cases and on the consumer's part in others.

With that said, however, I do not agree with Ding's general premise that the existence, promotion and hype of beers like this will lead to "breeding a whole generation of American geeks that will literally miss out on what the very ESSENCE of what beer culture and beer consumption is".  Ding goes on to describe beer culture as one that is "relaxed, non-competitive [and] UNwinding of angst" and in large part, I agree with his definition.  However, American beer culture, like it or not IS in the midst of a revolution and things are changing.  I don't believe that Ding's definition of beer culture will disappear, but it is in the process of evolving into something more than what it was before.

For starters, relaxation is basically the reason I enjoy beer as much as I do.  My methods for relaxing with beer may be different than others, though.  The enjoyment of beer can be intensely personal and as unique as the individual.  For me, sitting down to focus on a beer, and possibly even to write about it, is one of the most relaxing things I can do.  Focusing on a beer and writing about it calms me down.  I absolutely love sitting down, pouring a beer and then thinking about exactly how all of my senses are impacted by it - the sight, the smell, the feel, and the taste.  I love it even more if I am enjoying that beer with someone else who can also appreciate all of those things as well and then discuss them with me.  In short, each beer is a learning process and I have always loved to learn. 

Of course, another aspect of beer culture (according to Ding) that I enjoy is the non-competitiveness of it.  I am happy and proud to support many breweries that collaborate with each other and work together in order to support the greater good of the community.  On a more personal level, beer, much like another love of mine, poker, brings people from all walks of life together in one place where they otherwise may not ever cross paths.  Any type of person can enjoy good beer and I have met hundreds and hundreds of great people that would have never been in my life if it were not for this outstanding and delicious beverage.

While I do not believe that these aspects of beer culture are in any danger of going away or being lost, I do believe that in this new, high information age of beer that we here in the United States find ourselves in leads us to moments in our beer drinking lives that do, in fact, run counter to relaxation, unwinding and non-competitiveness.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, there are many aspects of these very moments that are positive for many of us who are a part of the craft beer community.

For starters, sometimes, the thrill of the hunt is just plain fun.  Tracking down that elusive beer can be a challenge and can also be very rewarding, regardless of how good the beer ends up tasting.

Hunting down Pliny the Elder, for example, was one of  the most exciting experiences I have had involving beer.  I was living in Chicago at the time and working on the DIPA Project here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights.  As many of you have already read, my goal for that project was to review the top 20 most reviewed double IPAs on Beer Advocate.  Living in Chicago at the time (and not knowing that I would be moving to Colorado six months later) I knew it would be tough to get my hands on.  None of my trading partners out west were able to come through, my cousin from Oregon could not manage to bring any when she visited Chicago and during a visit to Denver the Falling Rock Tap Room blew their only keg of it just as I sat down at the bar. 

So, I turned to Beer Advocate on my phone and called a couple places nearby that were rumored to have it.  It turned out, the only place that did still have some was a couple of hours away in Estes Park.  I thought to myself "we're this close and who knows where I'll end up living next year, so this may be my only chance to try it, especially on tap".  My outstanding girlfriend agreed, so we drove up to Poppy's Pizza in Estes Park that night and sure enough, the Pliny was on tap.  Robb, the owner poured it for us and then proceeded to talk beer with us for about a half an hour.  We had an absolute blast, we had some fantastic pizza and Robb even sent us on our way with a few bottles on the house to try when we got back home.  He then directed us to the liquor store that a friend of his owned and called her to ask her to pull some special bottles out for us. 

The moral of that story?  Was it worth it to drive two hours into the mountains and two hours back just to get a couple of glasses of beer?  Was Pliny that good?  Probably not.  However, I was thrilled to have finally tried it, it was a really good beer and the experience was even better.  We learned about many other Russian River beers that night that we knew nearly nothing about before, we discovered Poppy's, we got to meet Robb, I was able to get one step closer to completing my project and we simply had a ton of fun doing it all.  None of that experience would have happened if it were not for a rare, probably over-hyped beer that I wanted to try.  Now that we live in Boulder, Poppy's is only an hour away and we have been up there a couple of times to have some great beer and pizza since.

The great experiences, though are not the only positive here, often times the beer is actually better.  I honestly think that Bourbon County Stout for example, is worth tracking down and worth paying $10 or $12 a bottle for.  It is amazingly delicious.  The Vanilla version was somehow even better.  The Rumpkin from Avery that I recently waited in line for two hours for was completely worth it, even if we hadn't had the fun of the line party, $2 cans of Avery beer and some outstanding turkey legs while we waited. 

Finally, the hype in itself actually does do some good for craft beer.  One brewery's overly hyped beer may lead to another brewery's decision to experiment with that style.  It turns out, barrel-aged beer is very, very tasty most of the time and were it not for a lot of the hype surrounding some of these types of beers, they would not be as widely available to us today.  The hype can encourage innovation, it can bring media attention to the industry and most important, it gets people excited about drinking good beer. 

Of course, as Ding very eloquently pointed out, there is a down side to all of this, but personally, I'll still keep my beer revolution and take the bad along with a whole lot of good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Barleywine Review #2 - Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 18, 2011

Courtesy of Beer Bottle Photos
I picked up the Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine at Liquor Mart in Boulder last week.  I had no idea it was there, but when I asked about Dogfish Head 120 the guy brought me to the back room, gave me the last bottle they had and then showed me a fresh case of the Olde School, so I picked a couple up.

Aside from that there’s not much of a story behind my hunt for this one, so how about a review?

Location: Boulder Liquor Mart
Cost: $5.50 – 12oz. bottle
ABV: 15.04%
IBUs: 99
Brewery Location: Milton, Delaware
Style: American Barleywine
Average Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.89 – Very Good
My Beer Advocate Rating: B/3.73 - Good
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate/Rank in the Top 20: 809/5th
Brewery Description: Olde School Barleywine
Bottled On: NA

APPEARANCE:  (4 out of 5) Poured from a 12oz. bottle into a tulip glass from Funkwerks in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  The Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine pours a hazy, deep copper that leans more towards orange than red when held up to the light.  About a finger and a half of fluffy, off-white head caps the beer.  Head retention is not the best I have seen, but it is not bad.  A small geyser of bubbles streams up from the bottom of the glass, long after the head has turned into a paper-thin topper, providing a little mound of bubbles smack in the middle of the glass.  It looks like a hot spring of beer.

As the beer level declines not much lacing occurs.  In fact, a few random splotches are all you’ll get.  However, the “bubble geyser” continues throughout 75% of the glass, assuring that there is always a little mountain of foam right in the center of the glass.  Additionally, a couple of swirls of the tulip glass at any point bring back a nice, beer coaster-thick head.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) The malt smacks the nose as soon as this beer is poured.  Big, sugary and toasty malt aromas fill my entire kitchen within seconds of cracking this bottle open.  Closer inspection reveals some bready smells and a lot of dark fruit.  In some ways this actually smells like a fruity and sweet Pinot Noir.  The booze is also very noticeable in this one, it smells like it’s gonna be dangerous.

TASTE:  (3.5 out of 5) The first sip is intense.  The alcohol is very strong and the burn is right up front for the first several sips.  It is immediately apparent that this is an extraordinarily complex beer, but early on the alcohol makes it difficult to distinguish what is what.  A little deeper into the glass, as the bubble geyser is continuing to provide a little mound of bubbles in the middle, some more specific flavors reveal themselves. 

Sweet, sugary malts are what the palate begins this adventure of a sip of beer with.  The alcohol joins the sweetness up front, but as the sweetness fades, the booziness increases until it crests about mid-sip.  At this point the burn recedes to make way for the big, dark fruity finish which the nose hinted at.  Oddly enough the aftertaste goes in almost a completely different direction, but we’ll discuss a little more of that below in the ‘Mouthfeel’ section. 

This is, of course a Barleywine and the hops are hiding somewhere in this beer.  They never really come out from behind the massive curtain of malt that defines the Olde School, but they do lurk in the background, providing enough balance throughout in order to prevent this beer from becoming a runaway malt bomb. 

MOUTHFEEL:  (4 out of 5) The bubbles in this beer are absolutely crazy.  This has got to be the fizziest Barleywine I have ever tried, maybe one of the more fizzy beers in fact.  It tickles to the point of almost making me giggle when I hold it on my tongue for a moment.  It’s that same giggle that you get as a kid when a parent is bouncing you on their knees.  Even if you don’t want to giggle, the sensation almost forces you to.  The sweetness, combined with the ever-softening alcoholic burn set the palate up for a much drier and slightly sour finish which creates a small puckering feel with each sip. 

OVERALL:  (3.5 out of 5) In slowly sipping this beer and writing this review (which, so far, has taken me about 30 minutes) I am realizing that this may be the most I have ever had to say about a single beer - no, not in word count, but in the number of different sensations experienced.  The Olde School Barleywine is simply one of the most complex beers I have ever tasted, but it is not for the faint of heart. 

This is not the beer you will use to convert your Bud-drinking buddy to craft beer with.  In fact, I would imagine that there are quite a few beer geeks who would have a hard time with this.  Personally, I am not even really sure how I feel about it.  On one hand it is exceptionally complex and interesting, on the other, it might be more intense (in a variety of ways) than I am comfortable with.  It also should be said, that despite the complexity and the intensity, Dogfish Head’s offering here, is still very clearly a Barleywine.  It never even really comes close to breaking down the Barleywine barriers, rather it aggressively goes after the style and attacks it.

SOUND:  During the DIPA Project I paired almost every beer with a song, and many of them worked perfectly.  Others, however, did not.  So from here on out I have decided only to do beer/music pairings when a perfect match presents itself.  In the case of the Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine, there is an ideal match.  The song is called “Bird’s Lament” and the original artist is Moondog.  The sampling artist, though, the man who took an already wonderful tune and added layers and layers of big, voluptuous complexity was DJ Yoda.  I turned to this track on my iTunes after about three sips because it immediately became clear that these two works of art had something in common.  So go download “Lament 1, Bird’s Lament” by DJ Yoda featuring the music of Moondog.  Then crack open an Olde School.  You’re welcome.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 18, 2011

I've only had a few tastes that I shared with friends, but a full review is coming soon.  In the mean time, here is a picture of more Rumpkin than I will probably ever have again at one time:

After waiting in line on a gorgeous Boulder afternoon for a couple hours with $2 cans of Avery and some delicious White Rascal braised, Rumpkin spiced turkey legs for lunch, the woman and I finally snagged a couple of six packs of what has come to be our favorite fall seasonal beer.  And that says a lot, I love fall beers, but I typically prefer Harvest Ales to Pumpkins.  Stay tuned for the review and if anyone wants to make a trade, I am willing to give up one or two bottles in return for the right beer.  Get in touch.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The 100 Most Dominant Breweries

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 15, 2011

I have already reviewed a couple of more beers on both the Avery and the Barleywine Lists, but I have yet to touch up my notes and write the story of each beer.  It has been a busy weekend so far and today I am taking the day off to head over to Avery and try to get my hands on the much anticipated Rumpkin which will finally be released in bottles today. 

Since I will most likely not get around to another review for a couple of days, I wanted to give you guys something interesting to read in the mean time.  So here is the recently complied Beer Advocate list of the Top 100 Most Dominant Breweries.  It is pretty fascinating and contains a few surprises.  Check it out, let me know your thoughts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Barleywine Review #1 - AleSmith Old Numbskull

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

Oct. 7, 2011

It seems appropriate that the first beer reviewed for the Barleywine Project – AleSmith’s Old Numbskull – is from the very same brewery as the last beer of the DIPA projectAleSmith’s YuleSmith.  Yes, Review #1 of the Barleywine Project is from what is quickly becoming one of my more sought after breweries, AleSmith.  In addition to this beer coming from the same brewery, it also came from the same dude – ren, from Beer Advocate, who I think I can now officially call my “Beer Guy in San Diego”.

Ren and I have worked out a couple of great trades since I have moved here to Boulder.  I’ve been able to find him some amazing sour beers, including Immitis from Avery and he has provided basically all of the AleSmith beer I’ve ever had.  I am grateful for that.

Anyhow, tonight Emily and I finally split the bottle of Old Numbskull that he sent me a couple of weeks ago.  What a treat it was and although I am about to discuss this in greater depth below, I have to mention it here as well, AleSmith makes some really good beer, but they seriously make some of the best looking beer I have ever seen.

Alright, onto the specs:

Location: Home
Cost: In Trade – One bottle of Avery Immitis + (Cost of that bottle $6)
ABV: 11%
IBUs: 99
Brewery Location: San Diego, California
Style: American Barleywine
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.17 - Excellent
My Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.1 – Excellent
Current Number of Reviews on Beer Advocate/Rank in the Top 20: 340/15th
Brewery Description: Old Numbskull
Bottled On: NA

APPEARANCE:  (5 out of 5) After just a very limited experience with AleSmith’s brews, if there is one thing I know about them it is that they know how to brew an amazing looking beer.  The YuleSmith (Summer) took home the 20 Beers in 20 Nights award for the best looking beer of the entire DIPA project.  Well, as the first beer in the Barleywine Project, the Old Numbskull is sure to be in the running in the same category.

The color is a solid, opaque, copper penny red with an exceptional, big, foamy and white, two-finger head.  The retention, as it was with the YuleSmith, is outstanding.  I poured this beer, then prepared myself a plate of cheese and crackers, then ran around the house for three minutes doing small errands for Emily, then sat down and began to write this review…and guess what?  The head is still there.  It is just about an eighth of an inch thick at this point, but this is retention at its finest.

The lacing, again, just like the YuleSmith is exceptionally strong, covering roughly 80% of the back of the glass, about 50% on the sides and somehow managing to keep a few wisps hanging in there on the side that I am drinking from.  I am stunned that one brewery has been able to produce two different beers with such a great look.

SMELL:  (4.5 out of 5) A quick sniff under the freshly popped bottle cap reveals hints of a big, booming aroma.  My initial reaction was that it smelled like a big, malty Double IPA.  As it pours into the snifter that malt aroma become more apparent.  A boat load of caramel hits the nose right up front as vanilla and a touch of piney hops sneak in as well.  As the head fades the aroma does as well, but it remains strong even after a coaster-thick head settles into place.

TASTE:  (4 out of 5) The first impression the Numbskull gives the drinker is that of balance.  A nice, moderate, brown sugary sweetness greets the palate with each sip.  That sweet, caramel-laced flavor slowly fades and gives way to a fairly bitter finish that showcases a surprisingly grassy taste along with a touch of anise.  The wave of flavor from front to back and from medium-sweet to medium-bitter is one of the smoother rides of balance that my palate has ever been on.

MOUTHFEEL:  (3.5 out of 5) The carbonation is there, but only provides a slight tickle.  Otherwise, this is a sticky, yet not a mouthcoating beer.  The dry, hoppy finish (in fact, much dryer than most Barleywines) cleanses the palate quite nicely for such an otherwise sugary beer.  It feels like a big Belgian with the finish of a big, crisp and bitter DIPA like Ruination.  I only wish that the carbonation was stronger.

OVERALL:  (4 out of 5) This is a dynamite example of a Barleywine.  In fact, it almost seems like a prototype for the style; big, complex, malty and hoppy.  While this is not the best Barleywine I have tasted it is right up there amongst the finest and it really is an excellent example of what the style should be.  If someone were to ask me to give them a beer that epitomized Barleywine, this would make an excellent offering.