New Glarus says:
“Our 2012 Barley Wine bridges continents of style, a harmonious creation of Diploma Master Brewer Daniel Carey. He personally chose the hop fields that were harvested for this powerful beast of a brew. Styrian Golding, Willamette, Columbia, and Sterling with bold citrus and resin notes. All perfectly balanced with toasty graham cracker flavors of floor malted barley. Savor this very big beer at 45° F and it will reward you with an open embrace. “
(Editors note: we’ve stockpiled enough New Glarus Thumbprint Barleywine to review it each year to see how it is developing, aging and changing. Feel free to read through from the fresh tasting to the most recent review. However, if you’d like to jump around, be our guest, and read more about New Glarus Thumbprint Barleywine fresh, after one year, two years and three years in the cellar.)
Ryan: I don’t think there is any sense in hiding our love for any and all New Glarus bottles that have red foil around the cap (minus the abt). While we have found the Wisconsin brewery’s everyday offerings to be a tad watery, albeit still tasty, their special releases – more often than not – exceed expectations. This special release barleywine is another in a long line of well crafted,
Unplugged Thumbprint, beers from New Glarus.
Pouring a slightly translucent, but vibrant orange in color, the Thumbprint Barleywine exudes all things Double IPA. The nose is bursting with passion fruit, grapefruit, tangerine and a sticky resin. Sneaking past those mouth-watering aromas is booze, and lots of it.
The super-carbonated first sip dances done your throat with touches of honey, orange peel, lemon rind and the aforementioned grapefruit tickling the taste buds. There’s a bit of pepper mixed in their too along with a touch of toffee for balance and warming booze on the finish.
The alcohol is prevalent, as one might expect in a 12% ABV beer. And while it’s certainly noticeable and hangs with you long after your first few swallows – the alcohol presence doesn’t make the beer undrinkable. In fact, it’s surprisingly smooth despite being a hop and booze fueled monster.
You can call it Unplugged, you can call it Thumbprint – we’ll just call it awesome.
Karl: Barleywine. Berliner Weiss. Barleywine. Berliner Weiss.
The two styles almost couldn’t be more different – and yet, somehow New Glarus figured out a way to (accidentally? purposefully?) cross-breed the two in a weird way that’s absolutely worth hunting down.
Sparkling, bright, sweet with an almost peach flavor to it, the 12% ABV is surprisingly subtle for a barleywine, with a heavy finish that’s masked up front by the aforementioned sparkle. Some apple flavors pop out as well, making this a complex and fun take on the normally overwhelming, overbearing style.
Undoubtedly it’s a masterfully crafted beer, with a huge heft of bitterness with malty caramel flavors throughout and a nice orange/ruby/tan color to it. However, after a few minutes this smooths out to a bland, middle-of-the-road beer that serves as mostly just a vehicle for high amounts of alcohol.
Ryan: In our nearly three years of publicly reviewing beers I’ve come to find that I don’t usually enjoy barleywines after the first year or two of cellaring. Especially hugely hopped American barleywines like this particular offering from New Glarus.
Drank fresh, this is very reminiscent of a double IPA; hoppy and vibrant. But with a year of age on it, this beer is an abrasive, hoppy mess.
The aroma is pleasant and almost confuses you into thinking this beer will be light and refreshing. It’s not. It’s a bit thick and full of aggressive, angry hops. There are flavors of lemon rind and orange peel trying to fight past the hops but they’re washed away in a sea of hop aggression.
Karl: After so much time in the bottle, if this was ever going to settle out or clarify it’d be by now — so this moderate haze is pretty permanent, I gather. Points for consistency there, at least. There’s very little head retention here as well, but again, after so much time in the cellar the fact that there’s still carbonation to be seen at all is impressive.
This guy is still peachy but moving into an apricot-y flavor territory, and it’s also noticeably thicker — syrupy, almost, while the booze is starting to clarify into a simple grain alcohol, white-lightning burn. Age has given this a kind of musty, dusty smell like walking into an antique store, with a little butterscotch on the nose as the temperature opens it up.
How could I have ever said this sort of like a stronger Berliner Weiss? Nothing of that remains, so either this has transformed or I was an idiot last time I drank this. It’s a big ol’ sweet, dusty, bready, boozy, big-boy beer with a funky finish. It’s mellowed with age, but still packs a punch. Ryan mentions above that he’s not a fan of aging this style past a couple of years or so; I don’t know if this will change his mind but it hasn’t made a believer out of me.
Ryan: I have come to accept that I just don’t like cellared barleywines in that one year to two years of aging window. Beyond that two-year mark, when the hops have faded and are far less aggressive, I find American barleywines to be much more enjoyable. Or perhaps I just prefer an English barleywine, which is far sweeter than its American counterpart.
A two-year-old New Glarus Barleywine, however, may have altered my perception a bit. The hoppy mess that was a one-year-old bottle has cleaned itself a bit; put on a nice button-down shirt and a decent pair of slacks. It cleans up okay. Sure, it still needs a haircut, but overall it’s an improvement.
Fruit plays a starring role on the palate in this iteration, namely peaches, pears and apricots. There’s a mix of all of the above on the nose too which kind of reminded me of a fruit cup. There was also a touch of lemon rind as well. This barleywine carries a hefty, resiny hop finish with a lingering tail that is punctuated with a slight alcohol burn.
Ryan: It’s been a while since we’ve pulled the last beer from a cellaring experiment, sampled it and said, “man, I wish we had more of this in the cellar.” Stoudts Fat Dog and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA immediately come to mind. That’s because this beer — much like those two — keeps getting better and better and is far from reaching its peak.
A three-year-old pour of this hop-forward barleywine reveals a beer that has lost that resiny bite we enjoyed in a two-year pour, replaced by loads of tropical fruit and an underlying sugary sweetness.
The nose is a potpourri of watermelon Jolly Rancher’s, a freshly pitted peach and raspberries atop a toasted bagel. Take a sip and you’re smacked with gobs of passion fruit. There’s kiwi and tangerines and mandarin oranges mixed in with orange cream candy and topped off with a slightly puckering half of grapefruit topped with sugar finish.
And it just gets sweeter and sweeter with each sip.
The body is a bit syrupy, alcohol is well-hidden and the carbonation is still pretty vibrant.
I really wish we had a few more bottles of this stashed away. This New Glarus Barleywine is drinking great now and I suspect it will continue to improve for at least another year or two.