On this episode of the All About Beer Podcast hosts Em Sauter and Don Tse talk about the queen of strong beers: barleywine. 

Our guests are beer historian and author Martyn Cornell and the founder of Don’t Drink Beer and the one who proclaimed Barleywine is Life: Alex Kidd .

During the chat the hosts get into the topic of cellaring beers and where barleywine should fit into that practice.

The Conversation

Don Tse: A lot of people think that barley modern barley wines are okay to lay down and let them age but could an argument be made that it’s not merely that they can be aged, but that they should be aged?

Martyn Cornell: Well, I think you’ve certainly got to have a minimum of a year or two and you’ve got to let the Brettanomyces get in there because you’re going to have a lot of higher sugars that ordinary brewing yeasts give up on. So if you’re not careful it’s going to taste pretty strange and undrinkable.

Barleywine is Life.

I remember another famous British barleywine, Thomas Hardy’s ale under about a year and a half old was pretty disgusting. Really undrinkable.

 Really kind of Brominated, and not very nice at all. But give it some age and let all the micororganisms left in the bottle have a go at it and in about three years it was really starting to turn into something special. So, I think that, yes, generally speaking a good barleywine needs some age on it?

Em Sauter:  What else does a good barleywine need? What do you look for when you have a barleywine?

Martyn Cornell: I look for a good balance between sweetness and dryness. I’m not necessarily expecting any kind of floral hop character or anything like that.

Anything else that’s obviously going to disappear if it’s been a properly cellared. I don’t think building floral character is going to last much more than about six months to a year at maximum.

Martyn Cornell

I like some sorts of Brettanomyces character in there, the esters that you get for that sort of yeast working away. But fundamentally, I don’t want anything too sweet.

As I say it’s got to be it’s got to have some sweetness in there. But the sweetness should not be dominating and there should be a little bit maybe a tiny bit of tartness in the background and some dryness as well. Just to balance it out. Having a good barleywine should be delivering loads and loads of different things. If it’s worked properly.

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The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.