The barleywine, the barleywine, my oh my, the barleywine! If there was ever a beer style to make you realize the pure ridiculous awesomeness brewers from across the globe can produce, it’s barleywine. Plus, it’s a style that reassures us aging can be done gracefully…and totally kick ass!
The 2015 Hell With The Lid Off Barleywine Festival went down at Kelly’s Bar & Lounge this past Saturday to the acclaim of beer geeks all over the city. This event was the 11th of its kind and spotlighted an incredibly diverse lineup of barleywines both on tap and from bottles aged in Kelly’s cellar from some breweries no longer in production. A variety of cheeses accompanied the beers. Chocolates, too. The event also had a food buffet featuring Kelly’s famous macaroni and cheese, black and gold pierogis, and more.
Sounds more like Heaven than Hell, right?
This was my maiden voyage into the annual Hell-ish barleywine event and I knew immediately I was in for a wild ride. An introductory flight of barleywines sat in front of me before I even took my jacket off, featuring Left Hand Widdershins from 2007, Moylan’s Old Blarney from 2008, Harviestown Olde Dubh 2011, and Avery Beast from 2012. The remaining flights all offered up rare, aged, boozy, insanely good options…most of which I’ve never had because, admittedly, my tastes have never gravitated towards this beer style until recently. And in the interest of seeing Hell With The Lid Off 2016, I didn’t make it a point to dive into everything on this extensive list.
For those not familiar, a barleywine is a strong English Ale of typically high ABV, giving you one of the most intense and complex beers you’ll ever tackle. It earned its name in England because the alcohol content ran parallel with wine, but was made with malted barley. Barelywines were brewed with higher alcohol content to aid in preservation before the days of refrigeration, thus helping avoid the beer turning to vinegar in the hot summer months.
Barleywines are typically a dark, ruby red, or chestnut color, full-bodied, and offer elements of fruit, sweet, and bittersweet in its taste. The full-body and high ABV punch make this brew perfect for a cold winter’s day as it’ll stick to your ribs like a glazed ham. Barleywines can be cellared for years and age like wine, and many breweries are aging barleywine in bourbon barrels to add new levels of complexity to the final product.
And then, years later, Kelly’s pops the lid off them all and makes us all toasty on a Saturday afternoon!
In addition to the flights and vertical flights listed above, a bevy of solid barleywine was tapped on Kelly’s patio as well. I was turned on to some tremendous beer based on stories from friends who had memorable back stories from nights consuming said beer (you know, the way it always goes), including Southern Tier Backburner from 2010, Gratitude from Pittsburgh’s East End Brewing, Harpoon Leviathon Triticus Wheatwine, and a smattering of others. Another solid offering on the newer side was DuClaw’s Hell on Wood from 2014.
A big element I loved about Hell With The Lid Off was the ability to hone in on one particular beer style. Or, in some cases, beers closely mirroring the barleywine style. It’s not too often an event comes together that allows for that sort of singular focus while, at the same time, doing so with a such a vast lineup of choices to satiate every beer enthusiast in the house.
Hell With The Lid Off could not have been pulled off if it weren’t for the hard work of the entire crew at Kelly’s and all the volunteers who assisted in bringing it all together. Those guys and gals ran like hell to ensure flights were filled and the fun never stopped. A tremendous high-five goes to each and every one of them for pulling off one of the most appealing rundowns of barleywine a beer fan could ever ask for and for working hard to keep it flowing all day!
I woke up today and had to face reality. Sigh…364 days until the next Hell With The Lid Off. What is a boy to do?