Hey, there, beer drinker. Do you like to get buzzed? Do you enjoy beer with interesting flavor characteristics and 11.9% alcohol? Then you might just be ready for some barleywine.
This evening, I opened a particularly good barleywine: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Bigfoot Ale, aged in whiskey barrels. My goodness, this is a potent and potable beer.
Bigfoot, the mythical - sorry, Finding Bigfoot fans - beast that roams the American forests, is a fitting name for this brew. It sneaks up on you, and its footprint is astounding. This beer is delicious, but similarly sneaky. Hidden in its deliciousness is a gigantic alcohol footprint that will make you stare, distracted. Lucky for us, this one’s much easier to find.
The back of the bottle tells you that they age this stuff in Kentucky bourbon barrels for over a year, and it shows. Regular Bigfoot is strong and flavorful. I’ve enjoyed many a small glass of the stuff at craft beer bars over the years. But a year in a bourbon cask does something to a beer. It makes it mean, it makes it strong, it gives it bite. All of this is true for this delicious concoction.
Full disclosure: I am, as I write this, polishing off a 750mL bottle, so my faculties are a bit impaired. But the beer itself has lost none of its charm. It’s sweet, from the alcohol and bourbon, it has a bite on the back of your tongue, I assume from the hops - most American barleywines have the same bite - and it has malt to balance. There’s a peculiar flavor to barleywines in general that, if you’ve had one, you’re certainly familiar with. It’s kind of piney and bitter (but in a good way). However, in the Barrel-Aged Bigfoot, the addition of the vanilla from the bourbon and the woody aromatics from the oak gives the final product a rich, inviting flavor perfect for late winter or early spring. And, since there’s snow on the ground on April 3rd, maybe this is the perfect beer for this spring.
I enjoy barleywine as a style. Victory’s Horizont Ale, Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot, Great Divide’s Old Ruffian, and many others have frequently faced my cupboard or my bar tab. But this Sierra Nevada has trifled former tastings. It’s delicious, stronger than most, and balanced. It would be wrong to say it goes down easily, but, if you’re reaching for barleywine, easy is not your goal. It’s complex, aromatic, and difficult. But, the rewards are great.
Hear this now: enjoy this beer on your comfortable couch, or enjoy one glass of it. It’s heady and strong. But, if you’ve got nowhere to be, it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening. I, personally, would pair it with a nice pungent cheese and some crackers. Or, you could just pair it with a glass and call it a day.
And, with that, good night. I’ve gotta go sleep this off. Perhaps I’ll go ‘Squatchin’ in my dreams.