Seasonal beer releases continue to inspire and delight me, but none so much as the flood of specialty ales that crowd the market between November and February. And hidden among the humongous influx of Christmas beers, a selection of innocent-looking barleywines sit quietly, humbly taking the back seat to the heavily-marketed holiday releases. Waiting patiently on the shelf as wide-eyed consumers race to get the last “2009 Limited Release Special Reserve Double Spiced Estate-Hop Organic Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged Santa’s Big Red Sac” or something to that effect, the seemingly innocuous barleywine rests, proudly holding out for the right customer to come along and respect its bold, unapologetic strength.
Despite its long history in the brewing world, barleywine is still a lesser-known beer style, surely not aided by the seeming dichotomy built right into its name. Confusion is often abound, with consumers wondering what wine has to do with this particular style of beer. In centuries past, unable to receive regular shipments of French wine during times of war, the English aristocracy looked to brewers to create a wine replacement of sorts, and so the barleywine was born. Though containing no grapes, its elevated alcohol level (often between 9-14% abv), longer fermentation times, affinity for pairing with rich foods, and great potential for aging made barleywine ales a popular drink among the upper crust of Britain.
While commercial English examples such as Thomas Hardy’s Ale and J.W. Lees Harvest Ale were available in England, the style hadn’t come across the pond until Anchor Brewing released Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale in 1975. Sierra Nevada Brewing began producing their Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale in 1983. Many others followed suit, and the recipe evolved a bit, with West coast brewers adding a touch of their own flair, and a liberal dosing of hops as they are so wont to do.
After my recent postings about Beer Nog and Belgian Christmas beers, I’ve been stuck thinking about drinking throughout this holiday season. Oh, you too? Well, I don’t feel so bad then. But with as chilly as the weather has been, even here in sunny SoCal, I’m not exactly reaching for a cold one for comfort this time of year.
While I’ve certainly had my share of mulled wine and mulled cider, I wondered if mulled beer might be just what I need to help get me through this holiday season. My thought certainly wasn’t any new sort of imbibing innovation — in fact, heated, spiced beer was more or less de rigeuer for centuries. Prior to the advent of refrigeration and modern bottling, beer was quick to spoil, and as such, adding a touch of heat plus some sugar and spice helped make everything nice.
mull, v. — to heat, sweeten, and flavor with spices for drinking, as ale or wine. Origin: 1610–20; orig. uncert.
The beauty of making such an easy drink is that you can really suit it to your tastes. And given the huge variety of craft beers on the market, it would almost be irresponsible to post one “set in stone” recipe. With that said, here are some proposed guidelines, from which you should absolutely feel free to deviate:
After a recent post highlighting one of my favorite “go-to wines,” McManis Petite Sirah, I began thinking about the other great under $20 go-to bottles I keep around the house …
For me, the most exciting thing about the holidays is the onslaught of Christmas beers. No, not the six-pack your bright-red Uncle Gus used to down just before the gift exchange — I’m talking big, hearty, Belgian holiday ales. Most are characterized by a strong, dark malty sweetness offset by a heavy dose of baking spice flavors and heightened alcohol content to help you stay all warm and toasted toasty. There are variations, of course, not to mention a wonderful world of British “winter warmers” and American holiday beers waiting to be consumed, but that will have to be for some other post. (If you’re particularly curious, I highly recommend delving into Don Russell’s epic tome, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.)
And while you just may not be able to attend the 15th Annual Christmas Beer Festival being held in Essen, Belgium this weekend, there are plenty of great Christmas ales you can try in the comfort of your own drinking hole. I’ve selected my five favorite Christmas beers — Belgian only, in the spirit of this weekend’s Kerstbierfestival.
How does anyone stomach storebought eggnog? It’s like the yuletide equivalent of candy corn — despite its gag-inducing flavor and unnatural texture, it sells like hot cakes. Certainly eggnog wasn’t always this offensive, right? I mean, if it were made fresh, it had to be exponentially better, didn’t it? Because honestly — cream, eggs, sugar, spices, and booze? How could it go wrong? (Though the craptacular cartons have already demonstrated that it very easily can.)
Years ago, I churned out my first swing at homemade eggnog, and I’ve never looked back. Sensually thick and creamy, delightfully frothy and packed with so much incredible flavor, one sip could make even Osama Bin Laden want to deck the halls with boughs of holly.
This year, however, I wanted to change it up a bit. Inspired by an old bit I’d seen on SCTV, I was determined to make a batch of Beer Nog to see if it would be as delicious as I had imagined. Armed with a bevy of eggs, a gallon or two of dairy, and a bottle of Port Brewing Old Viscosity, I set out to make a Christmas drink for the ages. I whipped up a glass and took my first sip. A skeptical friend watched on, wincing slightly having already decided that Beer Nog couldn’t possibly work. “Well? How is it?” he asked.
I extended my hand to offer a taste. “You’re welcome,” I replied. My lips parted to a smile, creasing and cracking the thickest milk mustache the world may have ever known.
What better way to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition than by judging a homebrew competition? It was 76 years ago yesterday that the federal government ended their so-called Great Experiment, a 13-year disaster that not only boosted the number of drinking establishments it sought to abolish, it also encouraged countless self-starters to take brewing, winemaking, and distilling into their own hands and into their homes.
Homebrewing has long held a place in America, and it continues today, now stronger than ever. To help homebrewers hone their craft, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) was founded to provide standardized procedures for properly assessing beers. Founded in 1985, the BJCP currently has over 3,100 active judges and has sanctioned in excess of 3,800 competitions and more than a half-million beers since its inception.
Yesterday’s 1st Annual Temecula Valley Homebrewers Association Homebrew Competition welcomed its fair share of entries to be judged in any of 23 defined beer style categories (with an additional five categories open for mead, cider, and perry entries). And while entrants certainly like don’t mind being awarded a medal, the main reason for getting their beers evaluated is for constructive feedback and notes on improving their homebrews from accredited judges and fellow brewers.
Calistoga has finally been granted its own American Viticultural Area (AVA) appellation, after the federal government issued a long-awaited decision Thursday, ending a contentious years-long battle between vintners.Spearheading the effort …