Last Saturday, March 3rd, the results of Brouwer’s Cafe’s Hard Liver Barleywine Fest were announced. The winners were (in order from 1st to 3rd) Lost Abbey Angel Share aged in brandy barrels, Firestone Walker Sucaba (renamed backwards from Abacus), and finally Black Raven Old Birdbrain. Honorable mention went to Lost Abbey’s Angel Share aged in bourbon barrels.
On the surface this winner’s list looks really impressive especially when you consider this was out of over 60 entrants. In fact if with the exception of Black Raven you can find a bottle or two (of Abacus or Angel’s Share) resting in my cellar. But under closer examination a larger question looms if Lost Abbey or Firestone Walker really fit the definition of a Barleywine.
True they both start out at such until you consider that they are aged in charred, wooden, barrels. Unlike many of the entrants that aged in ‘modern’ metal fermenters, one could make a case against wood-aged beers. Then again the name on the masthead of this festival is Barleywine Fest and not ‘metal-fermented’ Barleywine Fest.
What are your thoughts? Should a Barleywine adhere to a strict definition? Or should one argue that the best beer win’s because it tastes like the best one?
It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t an emerging trend (re:barrel-aged Barleywines), yet. In fact last year’s entrants were all chosen because they started and ended as (non-Barrel-aged) Barleywines. Before 2011 the only other entrants that were barrel-aged were Glacier Brewing’s Old Woody 2009 and Full Sail’s Old Bolilermaker 1998.
So we say it again to Lost Abbey, Firestone Walker, and Black Raven; for not only winning but challenging our definitions of the best Barleywine at the festival.