Brewed to celebrate the grain harvest, these massive California barleywine ales with their elevated alcohol, viscous body and preservative-strength doses of hops will age and improve in the bottle for up to two years. But hey, why wait?
AleSmith Old Numbskull
The opulent, sophisticated nose of French hot cocoa with crème Chantilly continues in spades on the palate, but it barely disguises the fact that this 11 percent whopper will hammer you faster than a ballpeen to the cranium. Refreshingly uncloying and numblingly superb.
Bison Organic Barleywine Ale
This cloudy, particulate-laden buffalo of a beer comes roaming out of Berkeley, CA, with 9.5 percent of the good stuff packed onto its meaty shoulders. The intensely malty and fruit-ester nose (like a bowl of hot malt cereal topped with red raspberries) follows through on the palate with notes of caramel and refreshing, hopsy acidity. Stampede!
Green Flash Barleywine Style Ale
Remember the green flash at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 3? You might just see one yourself if you down enough of this barleywine from Green Flash, with its 10 percent alcohol. The breakfasty nose of toast with creamery butter and strawberry jam segues into a calculated attack of teeth-clenching hops mellowed by caramel malt.
Mad River John Barleycorn
The head on the current version of this annual offering from Humboldt’s Mad River Brewing settles quickly onto a glossy, oily surface that unfolds into a rainbow of flavors as it slips across the tongue:
thick malt ntoes, heady alcohol (10.8%) and keenly bitter hops that will linger until the spring thaw.
Speakeasy Old Godfather
While a little hesitant to show its brute force on the nose, this 10.2 percenter out of San Francisco soon coats the palate with layers of mouthfilling, varnishy flavor, making you an offer you can't refuse to swallow. The hops are bracingly bitter and will buck you up for the final offing. Drink it down and you're a made man.
Stone Old Guardian
The alcohol wafting off this slayer (11.26%, precise to two decimal places) is nearly enough to floor a Goliath; it's got the aroma of a fruit cocktail drenched in single-malt Scotch. If you're still standing after the first nosing, plow into the ripe, full arsenal of flavors. Another Stone masterwork.