Barleywine Big…Yeah Yeah Yeah!
DID YOU KNOW: Hell With The Lid Off, Kelly’s Bar and Lounge’s annual barleywine festival, is the last event of its kind in the United States? That’s pretty awesome, and yet another feather in the cap of Pittsburgh’s dynamic craft beer culture.
March 5th, 2016 marked the 12th year of this one-of-a-kind barleywine blowout, with offerings dating back as far as 2004! To put that in perspective, I got to Pittsburgh in 2003. And then a beer got here in 2004 and got much better with age than I did. Touche, barleywine.
The aforementioned barleywine from 2004 was Stone Brewing’s Old Guardian and could be found as part of a vertical flight that also included aged Old Guardians from 2007 and 2008. This was just one of several insane flights in a lineup that featured beers from around the world, many dating back several years.
In addition to prepared flights, several barleywines were available for sampling in non-flight form, thus giving barleywine fanatics one of the most diverse drinking experiences around while offering beer enthusiasts new to the style many different ways to get acquainted.
The ABV on barleywines typically climbs above the 7% mark, making this a beer you want to thoroughly enjoy, but drink responsibly. This particular style of beer has stood the test of time, as the ‘strong ales’ 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 can be cellared for years and age like wine, and many brewers are aging their barleywines in bourbon barrels to add a new level of complexity to the overall package.
Click here to learn more about barleywines.
So, long story short: we owe a major tip of the cap to aging…because it gives us Hell With The Lid Off every year!
I’ll be the first to admit that barleywine is not my go-to style, nor one that I used to seek out in my formative craft beer drinking days. However, attending Hell With The Lid Off in 2015 and this past weekend has upped my level of appreciation for the style. I’ve never shied away from any beer and the more I tap into this style, the more complexities I discover and enjoyment I get. A unique element that only an event like this can provide is the ability to sample the same beer aged over different lengths of time. This allows you to see how the character changes when aged longer, plus pick up different notes, different levels of booziness, and experience higher levels of ABV.
This would be a good time to mention: do NOT plan on driving after a barleywine session. Just…don’t.
So what was on the docket at Hell With The Lid Off 2016? So many barleywines, it’s hard to mention them all. However, here were a just a few to give you an idea of the vast array of beer that was flowing at Kelly’s East Liberty destination all day long:
- 6 different vertical flights including the Stone Old Guardian flight mentioned above, as well as Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot, Bell’s 3rd Coast, Brooklyn Monster, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, and Blue Point Old Howling Bastard
- Bell’s also had a unique 3rd Coast barleywine from 2015 Oak Aged with sour cherries – Hell With The Lid Off was the only place in PA you could experience this beer!
- Oskar Blues Old Juicy Bastard
- A vertical flight from Flying Dog featuring Horn Dog barleywine from 2012, 2014, and 2016
- Local offerings from Spoonwood Brewing, Helltown Brewing, East End Brewing, Rivertowne Brewing, and CoStar Brewing
- And MANY, MANY more
A major high-five and thank you goes out to Caleb Cornell and the entire crew at Kelly’s for once again hosting an outstanding event. To be able to hang your hat on owning the only barleywine festival in the country is one thing. But to make it kick total ass year after year takes a ton of planning and solid execution. From the prepared flights to the selections of barleywines from local, regional, and national breweries, and the chocolate, cheese platters, and full spread of food including mac and cheese, pierogies, tots and more, you can tell countless hours were spent making Hell With The Lid Off special. The Kelly’s team hustled all day, and on behalf of all us barleywine fans in attendance…thanks, you guys!
Rest assured, the cellar at Kelly’s will be hard at work throughout the year adding more layers of beauty to the extensive inventory of barleywine it has in its possession. Which, of course, means the 2017 version of Hell With The Lid Off will be just as stellar. Make plans to be part of that now!