One of the classic beer styles for this time of year is the barleywine. I have an appreciation for this style, even though it’s not my favorite, largely for its complexity. Most local breweries turn out a version of this beer at one time or another, so for this week I procured a bottle of Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot.
A barleywine is a very strong, malt-focused style of beer that originated in England. The style is traditionally malt-focused, typically featuring dark, but not roasted, malts. The profile is generally more caramel and toffee in character than the roastiness associated with a porter. Large amounts of hops are used in brewing, but because it is traditionally aged, this bitterness generally mellows out. Unsurprisingly, American varieties tend to be more hop-focused than English varieties, which has led to two categories in American beer competitions. Barleywines were traditionally the strongest beer produced by a brewery in England.
Weyerbacher is a moderately sized microbrewery located in ¬¬¬¬Easton, Pa. The brewery was founded in 1995 by Dan and Sue Weirback, who in 2005 purchased Victory Brewing Company’s 25-barrel brew system and have since continued to upgrade their brewhouse and equipment. Among the upgrades is a new bottling line that has increased their capacity to 250 cases per hour, which, along with the new brewhouse, has allowed the company to expand distribution to 18 states.
The beer poured a light brown with reddish-golden highlights, and it was surprisingly hazy for this generally clear style. There was virtually no head and just a little bit of tan lacing. The aroma was of plum and cherry mixed with other dark fruits, but with a lighter, orange-citrus character later on. The mouthfeel was moderate overall — fairly thick up front but thinning out rather nicely later on, which is interesting because the carbonation, while high, comes out in a rather sparkly fashion early on in the sip. Overall, this was a very complex beer with very significant dark plummy notes, but the alcohol was definitely apparent as well.
Blithering Idiot went quite well with cheddar, providing a dark, malty counterpoint to the sharpness. Gouda also went well, but honestly, its complexity was overshadowed by this beer. I tried some slices of apple as well, and they were a fantastic pairing! I was surprised, but in hindsight I think apples are probably the perfect fruit to pair with this beer. I believe the apple in question was a Fuji, but it may have been a Gala. This beer will go well with fried food such as traditional English pub grub, but I think my favorite is a good shepherd’s pie or a similar meaty stew. The complexity of these dishes pairs well with the barleywine; they complement each other without being overwhelmed.
I prefer the maltier English style of barleywine, and I recommend Blithering Idiot as one of the best American examples of the English-style barleywine. It’s definitely worth a try.