Barley wine sweep #1: two sort-ofs and a definite

Barley wines round one.

Wednesday night offered a brief window for hunting barley wines (or old ales, or strong ales – BWOASA from now on).

We found two quite sim­i­lar beers that offered con­sid­er­able food for thought: Oakham Hawse Buck­ler and Moor Old Fred­dy Walk­er.

We came across the for­mer on cask at the Drap­ers Arms, our local. At 5.6%, just at the low­er end of our ‘strong ale’ brack­et, it’s billed as a ‘black beer’, but doesn’t half look like a stout. Obvi­ous­ly. On first tast­ing, as prick­ly, sticky hops poked their way through a fair­ly dry body, we remem­bered the craze for black IPA of a decade ago.

Which is a round­about way of say­ing, it didn’t imme­di­ate­ly meet any of our expec­ta­tions of BWOASA. But the more we drank, the more we noticed a morel­lo cher­ry, for­ti­fied wine char­ac­ter.

* * *

Old Fred­dy Walk­er (7.3%) is a beer we’ve known in one form or anoth­er for years, now. It’s one of the few relics of when Moor was an old school Som­er­set real ale brew­ery rather than the urban craft beer out­fit it is today.

It was the only BWOASA we could find on offer at our local spe­cial­i­ty beer shop, Bot­tles & Books, where, frankly, we had hoped to come across at least a few exam­ples. It cost £3.80 for 330ml. It was at this point we began to get mild­ly anx­ious: what if there just aren’t any in Bris­tol right now, as blos­som appears on trees and stu­dents get their shorts out of stor­age?

Old Old Fred­dy was in the Spin­go Spe­cial style – intense­ly boozy, syrupy sweet, very brown. The cur­rent incar­na­tion, though it takes the name, is black, much dri­er, and much more evi­dent­ly hop­py. Grassy and herbal, even.

A bit like Hawse Buck­ler, in fact.

If OFW is an old ale (that’s how it’s badged) then HB can be one too – espe­cial­ly as HB seemed more lus­cious, despite the low­er ABV.

* * *

Then final­ly, last night, we found a def­i­nite bar­ley wine, also from Moor: Ben­ny Havens, 9.5% in a 330ml can, at £4.25 from Brew­er’s Droop on Glouces­ter Road.

The feller behind the counter was aston­ished and appalled to realise it was the only bar­ley wine or old ale he had in stock. He point­ed to impe­r­i­al stouts and dou­ble IPAs, and had any num­ber of obscure Ger­man and Bel­gian beers, but this par­tic­u­lar style… Well, it’s just the wrong time of year, isn’t it?

We bought the one can there was and drank it at home, paired with On a Clear Day You Can See For­ev­er, dir. Vin­cente Min­nel­li, 1970.

It real­ly looked the part, this one – gold­en, bright, with a gen­er­ous white foam. Instinc­tive­ly, we thought it tast­ed right, too, more or less how we always want Gold Label to be. That is, sweet, heavy, smooth, but also with a sol­id under­ly­ing bit­ter­ness, per­fect­ly in bal­ance, just up very high. There was maybe a smoky, grainy edge to it, but only faint, and not unap­peal­ing. The hops were per­haps a bit rough and row­dy but that would no doubt pass with age. (But… can you age cans?) There were aro­mas of peach and grape, wrapped up in sooth­ing boozy fug.

Yes, def­i­nite­ly a bar­ley wine, and very decent, too.

But then, a final doubt… did­n’t dou­ble IPA also taste like this once? In around 2008?

4 thoughts on “Barley wine sweep #1: two sort-ofs and a definite”

  1. Con­tro­ver­sial but true opin­ion : Hawse buck­ler is Oakham’s best beer bar none.

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