“Schlafly Barleywine is aged on new Missouri oak. The wood has a medium toast, which helps to caramelize the sugars in the oak and adds a nutty character to the beer as it soaks into the wood.”
Karl: Ryan had been teasing and tempting us with the Schlafly Reserve Barleywine for a while. Seriously, you should see the emails he sends us where he just lists what he’s got in the cellar and then tells us when he thinks he’s going to break them out and we can be there for it if we want. And then I set Outlook Reminders and iCal updates and still I don’t drink as much cellared beer as I should be. Which is all my fault. So it was imperative that I sat down at Twisted Spoke with the Guys and our friend Cliff, who is also the owner, which is pretty handy.
It’s also handy that we had a 4th drinker on hand for this vertical; if we didn’t we’d have to yank someone out of the crowd and pour beer down their throat. Seriously, this was a lot of well-aged and cellared barleywine, as you can see from the photos, and were we to drink all of them one-per-person the rest of this post would just read “I DONT KNOW THEY’RE ALL GOOD I HAVE HAD TOO MUCH OF THEM THO.”
Thankfully, we remained moderately able to process our thoughts. These are mine.
I had visions of Old Guardian dancing through my head in the runup to this vertical. You’ll recall* that when we sat down with the Stone OG it was crazy hops, grapefruits, citrus, syrup and a lot of booze? And there were plenty of differences between these beers as well? Yeah, that didn’t happen here. At all.
All three years were seriously sweet. You can tell the differences between the beers by their shading, with the ‘07 backing off to the lightest tan, and the ‘09 being darker and having a little more ruby to the color. I got zero aroma off of any of these beers in the glasses, and just a hint of something in the bottle just letting me know that there was beer in there. Without a fresh example on hand, it’s hard to tell just how much it falls off in the first year.
These three years were also amazingly sweet, with progressively increasing amounts of caramel, vanilla and cream soda complexity with nuttiness in the background, and a nice long burn of booze or bourbon (which melded with the oakiness) on the end in the ’07 and no tail in the ‘09. The only hints of bitterness were found in the ‘09 but was still very sweet. I barely recognized these as what I thought of as a barleywine.
I was further surprised to find that as these aged they actually seemed to brighten up in flavor and sparkle a little more than the year previous, with the ‘07 being almost pristine, light and having the longest lingering alcohol flavor on the palate. The ‘09 was murky by comparison but not to an extreme – in fact, the change between all three years was very, very subtle.
Overall, this was totally not what I expected. I suppose I’ve gotten used to comparing cellared stouts, where they mellow out and settle down. This went from thick and dark to brighter and lighter. Surprise! I’d love to get my hands on a fresh bottle, as I imagine the most changes happen in the first year.
*Hey, remember when we were writing these posts like we were all in the same room and it was a conversation? I’m gonna pick that up again for this review. Ryan, why don’t you take the next stab at these.
Ryan: I’m on it, Andr…no wait…you’re Karl. Good thing we ended that bad sports announcer toss back in April when we first started the blog.
We sat down with these three bottles of Schlafly’s Reserve Barleywine on a blustery Wednesday night at Twisted Spoke with co-owner Cliff Einhorn. We did this as a “thank you” to him for providing us with two of the three beers for a three-year vertical of Great Lakes Blackout Stout back in late September. During that tasting Cliff had mentioned he had tried one of the reserved barleywines and enjoyed it, so I thought it would be fun to sit down with a bottle of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 to compare how this beer has aged over the last four years. Sadly, we tried to get our hands on a fresh 2010 bottle but Andrew couldn’t find one in downstate Illinois over Thanksgiving nor could my visiting family members before they came up to Chicago for the holiday.
It would have been nice to have a fresh bottle for comparison, but we certainly didn’t need it. All three barleywines drank incredibly well and I will tell anyone that is aging this beer that you really can’t go wrong between the one year and four-year mark of this beer’s time in the cellar.
As Karl mentioned, there were only slight differences between the beers in appearance, smell and taste. The ’09 did appear darker than both the ’08 and the ’07. While the ’07 smelled much sweeter than the ’08 and ’09. As for the taste, the 2007 bottle had a strong burst of vanilla as the beer first hits your palate followed by some gritty brown sugar and a strong alcohol burn. The taste actually reminded me of eating a Nilla Wafer dunked in a room temperature glass of milk. This beer is very warming and would be ideal for a chilly evening by the fireplace.
Both the vanilla and warming alcohol were much more subdued in the 2008 version. But present in this bottle and not detectable in the 2007 were hints of toffee and cherries. The ’08 also had a cream soda-like consistency. The oak aging is more apparent here with a splash of nuttiness on the finish.
Working our way up to the 2009, this version was much more sparkling and lively with plenty of good carbonation and a pleasant caramel and pineapple sweetness that blended in with smooth vanilla and a floral earthiness on the finish.
What intrigued me the most about these three offerings is that, while listed as an American Barleywine, I didn’t pick up any of the distinct hoppiness that tends to accompany the style. That may have had something to do with the oak aging. But this beer is listed at 75 IBU’s (International Bitterness Units, which measure the bitterness of a beer) which is not far off from the 90 IBU’s of Dogfish Head’s blisteringly hoppy 90 Minute IPA. Whatever the reason, being a fan of sweeter barleywines, I enjoyed all three of these. And, as I stated above, I would recommend breaking a bottle out at any point between the one year mark and four-year mark. They all drank wonderfully.
Andrew: This is one of the more drinkable barleywines I’ve ever had. If you recall, Karl noted that we all struggled a little bit with the New Glarus Unplugged Iced Barleywine. And while the Schlafly Reserve isn’t necessarily a lightweight in the booze category, it’s very well hidden.
All three poured a dark brown, light reddish color with a fair amount of head. The color lightened up substantially as you moved down from the 2009 to the 2007. Same goes for the flavor – the 2009 was very sweet with dark fruits, caramel malts and a hint of nutty earthiness (oak maybe?). These flavors died down, allowing the malts to take over as we progressed from the ’09 to the ’08 to the ’07.
The most interesting thing to me with this beer was that I was expecting a bit of an alcohol burn on the aftertaste, but it just wasn’t there which makes for a very smooth, mellow and drinkable barleywine.
I should also note that the beer was a little cold when we started the tasting, and improved once it had a chance to breath and warm up.