Barleywine Basics and A Recipe

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Barleywine Recipe Kit

Barleywine Recipe Kit

Our American Barleywine is a big, bold, and strong version of the American classic. Complex in flavor and aroma, this sipper only gets better with age.


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The term Barleywine (also known as “Barley Wine” in the U.K.) is somewhat of a misnomer. Containing no fruit, it is actually a very strong all-barley beer. Ranging in strength from 8% ABV to as high as 25%, Barleywine fortifies itself with an impressive grain bill reaching an Original Gravity (O.G.) anywhere from 1.080 to 1.120 and beyond.

Coined by Bass Brewery around 1870 as “Bass’ No. 1 Barley Wine” due to its being made only of the first runnings, this beer marks the beginning of Barleywines as we know them today.

Barleywine Flavor Profile

Barleywine's is rich, complex, fruity, warming, toffee and molasses, dark biscuit, and a plethora of other subtle roasted and warm notes that come from its rich grain bill. Some varieties even begin to taste like a fine brandy or port after extensive aging.

Today, the hop flavor of a Barleywine depends largely on its place of origin: America or England. Recognized by the BJCP as two distinct styles, the main difference is the heavy dosage of hops the American Barleywine receives - over 100 IBUs worth in many cases.

Contemporary Examples of Barleywine

To explore the world of the modern Barleywine, one should try both the U.S. and a more traditional English version. Two examples of these are:

Tally-Ho Reserve by Adnams (English)

Massive Barleywine by Gigantic Brewing Company (American)

Brewing Challenges

Brewing a Barleywine is no easy task for both extract and all grain brewers alike.

For all grain brewers, the first challenge you will run into is mash tun space. Consider that a typical 5 gallon recipe for a 1.060 beer takes roughly 12lbs of grain. At this ratio, your average Barleywine at 1.100 will need 20lbs! If you only take the first runnings, you’ll need even more to achieve the desired O.G. For this reason, it is very common to perform a smaller mash and achieve desired gravity by adding dry or liquid extract before the boil. Another alternative is to brew half the size you would normally, favoring the correct gravity target over volume (and with a beer this strong, less is certainly more!).

barleywine-bass-num1-fOnce you have your wort, either extract or all grain, your next challenge will be attenuation. An average yeast strain such as Safale US-05 is perfect for eating through 50 to 60 gravity points and surviving in alcohol levels up to 12% ABV, but this could leave your 1.120 brew sitting at a cloyingly sweet 1.060. Consider using a special high gravity strain such as WLP099 (Super High Gravity Ale Yeast) that is designed for such strong conditions, and pitch 2 to 3 times your normal amount or with a stepped up healthy starter. In addition, pay particular attention to oxygenating your cooled wort as you’ll want to give the yeast as much advantage as possible to ferment your beer.

The last challenge I will mention is sanitation and keeping oxygen out. You’ll be brewing a beer that will age for months and hopefully years before its true flavor fully emerges. Any lapse in sanitation or oxygen exposure early on won’t become apparent until it’s much too late. Be vigilant about cleanliness when bottling and if possible, purge all of the oxygen that you can from the bottle before capping. Oxygen absorbing caps can be used to further protect your beer from oxidation. For a beer that will be aged over a period of years, Belgian beer bottles sealed with a cork & cage. If using regular bottles, try waxing after capping.

Once bottled (you’ll want to age this beer), store them in a cool, dark place. Over the next few months, the yeast will produce subtle esters and flavor compounds that will enhance the final beer.

Barleywine Recipe

Both English and American styles have a similar grain bill. Start with a large portion of well-modified pale malt, add a portion (10%) of crystal malts, and not much else. Some commercial examples include brown, chocolate, and black malts but they are definitely the exception. Extract brewers construct a similar profile by using mostly pale extract, with 10% dark and amber.

English Barley Wines should incorporate Old World bittering hops such as Fuggles or East Kent Golding, with less emphasis on flavor or aroma additions. American Barleywines are typically heavily hopped with Cascade or similar in every addition.

The recipe below is American in style and slightly lighter than some commercial examples, but is an easier step into the wonderfully complex world of Barleywines.

American Barleywine

Grains / Extracts
Hop Schedule
2 Packs or a 2L Starter - WL Super High Gravity
By the Numbers
OG: 1.096   FG: 1.020   ABV: 10%   IBUs 72

*For extract use 10.2 pounds of Light DME
**For extract use 1 pounds of Munich LME

Mash grains at a ratio of 1qt/lb at 158 Fº for 60 minutes. Lauter, dissolve DME and bring to a boil.

Proceed with a 90 minute boil adding hops as per the schedule above.

Chill wort in the fermenter to 68F and pitch both vials of yeast. The fermentation will be violent so a blow-off tube is recommended. Ferment until the gravity stops dropping and is within 5 points of 1.020. If fermentation stalls halfway through, shake the fermenter to rouse the yeast or pitch a fresh vial of yeast.

Once fermentation is complete, rack to a secondary fermenter for 4-6 weeks before bottling. When priming, 1 cup of corn sugar or DME should suffice. The long aging time of Barleywines means less priming sugar is required as the yeast will have more time to convert any unfermented sugars. Once your Barleywine is bottled and sealed to your satisfaction, put them somewhere cool and dark and leave them for at least 6 months. After this aging, try and taste one every few months to see how the flavor changes with extended aging.

About the Author
Originally from New Zealand, Sam lives in San Francisco, CA and brews a wide variety of styles with a focus on IPAs. Starting out 7 years ago with extract and simple ales, he now brews all grain on a 1-gallon system allowing regular brewing and quick experimentation.

written by Sam Dalton

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