Barley Wine Review
Flying Dog Horn Dog Barley Ale
by Jennifer Nastri
At one point in time I was quite a beer snob. Ironically before I was twenty-one my taste in beer was strictly imports or microbrews only. It had to cost $12 a six-pack to be good enough for me. The older I got, the cheaper I got, and now if it’s over $4 a sixer, you can pretty much forget it. Thank God I live in the land of pleasant living, where Natty Boh flows like (and some say tastes like) water and Pabst Tallboys for $2 a pop are the norm. Other than cider (how I love it so), I just don’t drink many brewed concoctions (technically Long Island Iced Tea and that delishus Iced Tea Vodka aren’t “brewed”) anymore. So when I found out I’d be reviewing barley wine, I knew I’d have plenty of past experiences to draw from. Adversely, it’s good to know that those days of yore when I knocked back Guinness, Red Stripe, Harp, Rogue, Sam Adams (not only Boston Lager but the seasonal Cranberry Lambic and Old Fezziwig as well as the elusive Triple Bock), and Samuel Smith’s, Peroni, Stella Artois, Chimay and Bass with reckless abandon weren’t just to get shitfaced at seventeen. They would later serve me as an excellent comparison point of research for this review I’m writing today. Yup, research. Why not?
Due to my extensive knowledge in all things alcoholic (and pretty much all things bad for you), I was surprised I hadn’t heard of barley wine (there’s something I don’t know all about? Believe me, I was just as surprised as you) and so I did a bit of “research”. First off, don’t let the name fool you, barley wine is a misnomer, and is no more a wine than Mad Dog. Barley wine is only a wine inasmuch as it has the same alcohol content as wine (8-12%) but is made of grain (such as….barley, uhh duhh) in lieu of grapes or other fruit. In the United States, where we value truth in advertising above all else (please get the sarcasm) barley wine must be identified as barley-wine styled ale. Though the barley wine I purchased and imbibed (oh yeah, I just said that) clearly was labeled as barley wine, it looks like your typical four-pack of high end beer (too fancy for something as cliché as a six-pack, puh-lease). Well at least the brand I got did. I wasn’t able to find a large selection. In fact, I didn’t have a selection at all. Granted, I did all my looking on a Saturday evening and around here liquor stores are closed on Sundees (calm down, we can get carryout), so I wasn’t able to devote much time to scouting out different stores and then picking and choosing from a wide array of selections. I didn’t know much about barley wine, but I did know that you couldn’t pick it up just anywhere, I couldn’t get it at the corner bullet-proof plastic corner store; the normal high end joint where I usually get my spirits. After stopping by and calling a few local liquor stores to no avail I was both worried and intrigued. What if I couldn’t find any and why couldn’t I find any? Was this stuff like absinthe? Was I gonna have to wait for someone to bring me a bottle from the Czech Republic? A few of my friends have had barley wine, yet no one could remember which liquor store they had bought it from or who made it. This just made me wonder if barley wine was so powerful it had erased their memory due to some sort of inebriant-induced blackout. I HAD to find some. Baltimore, of course, didn’t let me down. At a gourmet liquor store in Charles Village, I found one mythical four-pack left. Brewed by the Flying Dog Brewery (local, Western Maryland) I got me some Horny Dog Barley Wine to enjoy the following day with some friends during the Ravens/Patriots Playoff game. I figured we were gonna get our asses handed to us so badly, I better be in a stupor to dull the pain.
Sometime around the 3rd quarter, after eating my way through the first two and the realization we were gonna continue to make Tom Brady pout like a little bitch, I poured myself a glass. The first thing I noticed right away was that it was thicker than your average beer, almost syrupy, amber in colour and with little to no head. My friend and I clinked our glasses to our impending win and took a sip. Her first reaction? “Ew”. It’s definitely different than our steady diet of Boh. Though a bit bitter, it is also very crisp with a distinctively sharp aftertaste not unlike Rogue lager or even Bass. Just amplified. It very much brought to mind Samuel Adams Double Bock. A more tolerable concoction from Jim Koch and his Boston Brewing Co. than the corked blackness that is Samuel Adams Triple Bock, an ale so thick and potent not only is it illegal in most states at about 25% alcohol by volume, it is drunk in shot form only. Even then, you best have a chaser nearby.
The Horn Dog Barley Ale rests somewhere comfortably between the two. You can definitely taste the hops with that bitter-but-not-necessarily-unpleasant familiarity. There is an underlying fruitiness, but it’s most definitely a sipping beer. There will be no thirst quenching gulps or shotguns of barley wine during warm summer nights on a cigarette and bottle strewn front porch. Well, at least not for most of us. Americans are known for their love of watered down beers, so for those that prefer European ales, barley wine should be just what you’re looking for, save for the syrup-like consistency.
There very well could be chilly autumn evenings on a cozy couch with a Chimay glass of barley wine. Though I recommend you have a pillow on that couch because at 12% alcohol, after just one on a full stomach I was ready for a nap (as was the cranky Tom Brady, I’m sure). The combination of the heaviness of the ale and the high alcohol content hit me pretty quickly. It’s a sleepy, easy, happy buzz, and since it is a dense and hoppy flavoured beer you’re almost forced to slow down and appreciate each taste. Apparently barley wine is the closest thing to what our founding fathers and their founding fathers drank. Basically, barley wine is what beer was before Coors started tappin the Rockies and modern breweries started brewing beer as we know it today. All in all barley wine made an already good Sunday even better, but I’m not gonna rush out and buy some just to keep around. It’s a seasonal or occasional drink, and there just isn’t a permanent spot open next to charismatic (not to mention cheap—in a good way) Mr. Boh.