An Impressive First Step
A Review of Barleywine Batch #1 by Breckenridge Brewery
Posted on 3/17/2014 by Chops
                   
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When craft beer fans start to hone their imperial palates, it is inevitable that they will cross paths with the barleywine. These boozy malt bombs are some of the most complex and rewarding brews on the market. These are the beers that teach us about things like alcohol warming and cellar aging. And much like with wine, they often clock in at double digit ABVs and require patience to properly enjoy. They also require a great deal of skill to craft well, which is why it's rare to see a barleywine offered as a regular option at any brewery. As with big bold Belgians, an exalted reputation is a near-requirement before crafting these beastly brews.

The Breckenridge Brewery out of Colorado has been around since the early 90s and they have gained a solid reputation for high quality American craft brews. And with beers like their delectable Vanilla Porter and 471 IPA, it's easy to see why they have such a rabid fan base. However, only now have they decided to venture into barleywine territory. They recently released their first attempt, the aptly named Batch #1 Barleywine.

Breckenridge describes this beer as having ''an aromatic complexity resembling that of molasses and ripened black cherries, and a robust profile that blends a spectrum of flavors including sweet malts, dark fruits, oak, and esters. Cold conditioned for 3 months and barrel-aged in fresh American Oak barrels for 6 months.''

In the glass, this beer had a deep dark murky brown coloration. It came with a creamy tan head that had great retention. On the nose, I was greeted by that signature sweet boozy caramel along with dark fruits, candied malt, molasses, brown bread, and plenty of toasty goodness. The alcohol presence was respectable, but not overpowering. This was a solid introduction for the style and I couldn't wait to dive in for that first taste.

All it took was a single sip to tip my drinking hat to Breckenridge. Balancing the malt profile and alcohol presence is key to crafting a good barleywine. Perhaps the most common mistakes in crafting these behemoths is making them too sweet or too boozy. Batch #1 was neither and offered a big creamy smooth body that was easy drinking with a mildly tangy hop profile. I would imagine the cold conditioning and barrel aging went very far in smoothing out any rough edges. The result was a big alcohol presence that was neither aggressive nor dominant. Flavor wise, I found plenty of sweet caramel along with notes of oak, maple syrup, charred grains, molasses, dark fruits like plums and raisins, and a hint of chocolate. The finish was somewhat chewy and exited with an aftertaste of alcohol-infused chocolate raisins.

Overall, I found Breckenridge's Batch #1 Barleywine to be a delightful brew with a warm personality. It offered an array of savory flavors with minimal aggression. This is a beer that I can easily recommend to seasoned beer fans. Malt fans will adore this beer's vibrant sweetness and accessible complexity. However, I must caution novices for obvious reasons. Due to strength and intricacy, barleywines as a whole are beers that demand a baseline level of respect. Batch #1 is no different, so proceed with caution.

I am truly impressed that this is Breckenridge's first attempt at the barleywine style. It showcases the great care and skill that go into crafting their delicious nectar. Breckenridge has already informed us that this beer will be an annual release and to expect imaginative twists to the recipe year after year. To quote Calvin Candie, ''Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.''

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Barleywine Batch #1 by Breckenridge Brewery
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