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.

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