On Sunday afternoon, we mounted another barley wine hunt, eventually hitting a big fat bullseye at the Bristol Beer Factory brewery tap.
Now, a reminder: the hunting is half the fun. We went to the Wild Beer Co bar at Wapping Wharf where there was nothing that quite fit the bill, though it was certainly nice to check in.
We detoured via the Coronation having got into our heads that it might have Gold Label barley wine in the fridge. It didn’t but (i) it was an #EveryPubInBristol tick; (ii) had fantastic Hop Back Summer Lightning; and (iii) was just a straight-up great pub we’d somehow overlooked until this point.
Even if we hadn’t found any BWOAS (barley wine, old ale, strong ale) we’d have been quite happy with this expedition, but at the final stop, the Bristol Beer Factory taproom, we saw a very exciting chalkboard.
It was bottled (but that’s quite appropriate for this style) and out of reach on a top shelf so the tall barman had to stand on tiptoes to fetch it for us.
It was bottled in October 2015, had an ABV of c.10%, and cost £5 per 330ml to drink in. Not cheap but it seemed fair enough to us, especially once we got our first sip.
It’s dark and deeply coloured but not black – hold it up to the light and, yes, it gleams blood red. It smelled like stir-up Sunday. It tasted stale in the historic sense, matured to perfection, leathery and luxurious. There was a touch of acidity, but really just a touch, seasoning rather than dominating. It sat on the palate like hot porridge and golden syrup – oh, no, like sweet grain from the mash tun.
We were reminded of the one bottle of Good King Henry Special Reserve we’ve ever tasted, and of Harvey’s Christmas Ale. Suddenly anxious that we might never get to taste it again, we sent the lad up on his toes again to fetch four more bottles to take away.
This mission, it must be said, is going better than we ever expected.