Counting My Chickens
A Review of Chicken Killer Barley Wine by Santa Fe Brewing Co.
Posted on 8/27/2014 by Chops
                   
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When beer fans dream of big bold brews, a few particular styles will pop into mind. One of these is the infamous Barleywine. I use the term ''infamous'' here because these monstrous malt bombs are often masked behind sweet and sugary personas. They are as equally strong as they are flavorful, a fact that many beer fans learn the hard way. But once you acquire an appreciation for the Barleywine style, as well as an appropriate restraint, they become the coveted ''private reserves'' of any brewery's line up.

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I made it a point to visit the Santa Fe Brewing Company, a regional favorite and the state's very first microbrewery. I sampled my way through several of their popular brews, all of which were delicious. During my session, I noticed a colorful 22 ounce bomber bottle sitting off to the side of the tap line. I asked what it was and the bartender presented me with their Chicken Killer Barley Wine Ale. This is an award winning 10% ABV behemoth that they describe as ''the revolutionary beer that will someday define America's unique Barley Wine style''. With a name and claim like that, there was no way I wasn't going home with a few bottles.

In the glass, Chicken Killer had a burnt orange coloration with a reddish hue. It came with a thick rocky tan head that had really nice retention. On the nose, I was greeted by a sour fruity aroma that reminded me of unripe cherries. I also found caramel, maple syrup, candied malt, and a moderate boozy note. It was a lovely introduction for the style. At that point that I glanced at the bottle, back to my glass, back to the bottle, and realized that I was in for the evening.

Barleywines will often have hidden layers of complexity, but Chicken Killer packed no unexpected surprises. It had a straight shooting flavor that mirrored the aroma quite well. I found tart cherries, caramel, maple, and sweet grape-like alcohol. Rounding out the mix were complementary notes of honey, molasses, sweet peppers, toasty brown bread, and dart fruit notes akin to blackberries. The tart fruity notes shined through the brightest, which almost pushed the beer into sour ale territory. The beer had a heavy body with a respectable boozy bite, but retained a silky smooth feel on the palate. Both the alcohol warming and hop profile were moderately aggressive, and neither overpowered the other. The finish was somewhat sticky and exited with a sour toasty aftertaste that seemed to linger forever.

Overall, I found Santa Fe's Chicken Killer Barley Wine Ale to be a delightful and rewarding brew. It somehow manages to balance out a strong mishmash of sweet, sour and bitter flavors. The resulting concoction is a lot of fun to study and even more fun to drink. This is a beer that I can easily recommend to fans of the style as well as anyone with a honed imperial palate. It's also accessible enough for novices to warrant an attempt, but standard cautions apply. This beast is called Chicken Killer for pity's sake, so give it the respect it deserves. I greatly enjoyed the experience and look forward to my next visit, now a necessary restocking expedition, to Santa Fe.

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Chicken Killer Barley Wine by Santa Fe Brewing Co.
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