February can be a hard month to get through. We've bared through the long winter days and insistent rain. But every year Brouwer's Cafe hosts Hard Liver - the barleywine fest to top them all. Barleywine is known for their high gravity, rich flavors and most importantly, high alcohol content. Its a type beer that is hard to consume outside of the dreads of winter. But when the gray drags on, we find comfort in camaraderie and dark, boozy beers.
Hard Liver represents the celebration of the beers that get us through the dark days in the Pacific Northwest, as manifested by our cloudy brothers in England. But this style of brewing has expanded from the traditional English styles, especially in this region. 23 of the 48 tapped barleywines were from the PNW. Below are my three favorites from the event.
Holy Mountain // Deadfall Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stock Ale 2016 // Seattle, WA // 9% ABV
Color: Dark chocolate brown
Smell: Brown sugar, caramel, and plum
Taste: Carmel brûlée with dark chocolate drizzle and a bourbon nightcap. Vanilla essence and a slick mouthfeel.
Overall: Like the best truffle to every exist. Sweet but not overwhelming, complex but not coy.
Skookum // Barren Wood Barleywine 2016 // Arlington, WA // 10.4% ABV
Color: Deep, wood-barrel brown.
Smell: An artisan caramel candy, oak
Taste: A light mouthfeel with sweetness that hangs only in the back of the throat like honey. The foundation of the profile is rooted in toffee, caramel, and chocolate flavors.
Overall: Full bodied and full of flavor, lightly touching on the best qualities of a barleywine: caramel, toffee, fig, and of course, bourbon.
Lagunitas // Olde Gnarlywine 2011 // Petaluma, CA // 10.6% ABV
Color: Toasted orange, light amber.
Smell: Toffee and caramel
Taste: Light mouthfeel and an easy drink for a 5 year aged ale. Notes of caramel and candied orange.
Overall: While aging tends to increase sweetness and intensity, the 2011 Gnarlywine retains citrus notes, well balanced by the rich malt consistency.