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Craft Beer Experts Share The Barleywines They Never Tire Of

When winter winds leave you chilled to the bone, you’re going to need something to help warm you up. Sexy sauna trip, anyone? Of course, when hopping in a sauna isn’t viable you might want to reach for something a little more accessible. In which case… may we interest you in some high-ABV, warming, spiced barleywine?

For the newbies, barleywines aren’t wines at all. They’re strong ales (with wine-like ABVs) that are known for their malty, warming, fruity, caramel, toffee, and Christmas spice flavors. They’re often enjoyed slowly in a snifter while letting the warmth of your hand slightly heat the beer while opening up the various levels of flavor. They’re perfectly complemented by a warm, fleece blanket, and a roaring fireplace.

Unlike lagers and IPAs, you actually might have to search to find a great barleywine. Lucky for you, we asked a handful of brewers, beer professionals, and craft beer experts to shout out their favorite barleywines to drink this winter. Keep scrolling to see all of their picks.

Dogfish Head Olde School

Dogfish Head Olde School
Dogfish Head

AJ Snapp, tour operations coordinator for City Brew Tours

ABV: 15%

Average Price: $16 for a four-pack

Why This Beer?

I would drink Dogfish Head’s Olde School every evening if I could. Weighing in at 15 percent ABV and fermented with dates and figs, this barleywine is one of the first beers I remember obsessing over. It has a complex fruity aroma, warms you as you drink it, and only gets better as it ages.

Revolution Straight Jacket

Revolution Straight Jacket
Revolution

Dave Colt, co-founder and head brewer at Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis

ABV: 16%

Average Price: $25 for a four-pack

Why This Beer?

My pick is Revolution Brewing’s Straight Jacket. It’s a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine that features American and Belgian malts that lend a hand to the molasses, vanilla, and toasted coconut aromas.

Perennial Vermilion

Perennial Vermilion
Perennial Ales

Stephen Hale, founding brewer at Schlafly Beer in St. Louis

ABV: 13.6%
Average Price: $13 for a 750ml bottle

Why This Beer?

Perennial Artisan Ales Vermilion Barleywine is the one I’d go with. It lives up to its name. It’s rich, lustrous, and just what one needs during barleywine season. If you can find it, definitely grab a bottle or two and stock up for the winter months.

Bull & Bush Royal Oil

Bull & Bush Royal Oil
Bull & Bush

Wade Meyer, brewer at WeldWerks Brewing Co. in Greeley, Colorado

ABV: 13.5%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

I love Royal Oil from Bull & Bush. It’s one of the best and easily available examples of barleywine in Colorado. With notes of raisins, toffee, caramelized figs with a slight hint of sherry, it’s a quintessential barrel-aged barleywine that doesn’t overpower the barrel.

This is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets.

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
Sierra Nevada

Brad Bergman, director of brewing at Sycamore Brewing in Charlotte, North Carolina

ABV: 9.6%

Average Price: $14 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

I gravitate toward drier barleywines that are more hop-forward but still have that malt complexity that’s a barleywine’s signature. Bigfoot Barleywine by Sierra Nevada hits those notes for me. I’ve had a few verticals of it and it ages well. Though when fresh, it borders on being a malty DIPA. The sweet malt notes are present but subdued versus many others out there, and the big punchy hop flavors bring everything together for me.

Firestone Walker Helldorado

Firestone Walker Helldorado
Firestone Walker

Brandon Proff, managing partner at Our Mutual Friend Brewing in Denver, Colorado

ABV: 12%

Average Price: $17 for a 22-ounce bottle

Why This Beer?

Firestone Walker Helldorado is a barrel-aged barleywine with the gravitas that few breweries bring to making beer. It’s more English than American in style. It’s darker in color, rich with toffee, caramel, oak, and vanilla. It’s warming without the alcohol burn.

Firestone Walker has always been an inspiration to us in showing just how good straightforward beers can be without any novelty or fluff to them.

Anchor Old Foghorn

Anchor Old Foghorn
Anchor

Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder and brewmaster at 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco

ABV: 8.8%

Average Price: $17 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

Anchor Old Foghorn is a favorite and one of the first barleywines that I enjoyed back in the 1990s at Father’s Office in Santa Monica, California where they would often have all of Anchor’s beers on tap — a rare sight back in the day. The English-style barleywine with its deep malt, toffee, and raisin character is best served a touch warm and in a snifter glass allowing it to open up showcasing its complexity.

J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale

J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale
JW Lees

Matthew Barry, director of operations at Fieldwork Brewing Company in Berkeley, California

ABV: 11.5%

Average Price: $10 for a 9.3-ounce bottle

Why This Beer?

J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale would be my pick. No one does barleywine better, and none ever will. In my opinion, it’s the absolute pinnacle of English barleywine. It’s made only once a year and always unique. It’s full of dark fruit (plum, raisins, figs), melted caramel, and toffee. The complexity only integrates and improves after aging for a while, but don’t let that dissuade you from popping open a fresh one.

If anyone has a bottle of the inaugural vintage from my birth year of 1986, let me know.

Avery Hog Heaven

Avery Hog Heaven
Avery

Charles McManus, head brewer at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs, Colorado

ABV: 9.2%

Average Price: $13 for a six-pack

Why This Beer?

Hog Heaven from Avery Brewing has always stood out from the pack for me. Being an American barleywine, the hops are the main feature here, but the deep, decadent malt structure is expertly executed.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale

Thomas Hardy’s Ale
Thomas Hardy

Mark Youngquist, founder of Dolores River Brewery in Dolores, Colorado

ABV: 11.7%

Average Price: $12 for an 11-ounce bottle

Why This Beer?

Thomas Hardy’s Ale by Thomas Hardy is the beer that introduced me to barleywine. It’s a beer that flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about brewing at the time and a beer that melted my face the first time I had it. At first taste, it’s just sweet, but like with a good whiskey, the complexities begin to blossom and shine as the tasting goes on. Notes of prune and rose, vanilla and pomegranate, figs and dates, and coffee shine.

Thomas Hardy is released as vintage, and I’ve never tasted the same beer twice, but each time was delicious.

Private Press Pools of Reflection

Private Press Pools of Reflection
Private Press

Patrick Ware, co-founder and head of brewing ops at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. in Phoenix, Arizona

ABV: 14.1%

Average Price: Limited Availability

Why This Beer?

Pools of Reflection from Private Press is full of maple, bourbon, and oak that all play so well together. The blend here is well-executed, allowing sticky caramel/toffee textures to balance with spicy vanillin wood complexity. I probably couldn’t drink this forever due to the ABV, but a small pour with a decadent dessert would be ideal on any occasion.

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