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Style Matters - Barley Wine

In each issue, CBQ spotlights a particular beer style and provide tips from an ingredient and fermentation perspective. In this issue we take a closer look at Barley Wine.

Malt Notes: Ah Barley Wine! The biggest, most alcoholic beer brewed — and one of the most rewarding for the brewer.

One of the major challenges for the style is the production of a high gravity wort, loaded with sugars the yeast can ferment into the warming alcohol Barley Wines are known for. When choosing the base malt for the production of these worts we would suggest taking two factors into consideration: the overall flavor of the malt, and your brewhouse capabilities.

First consider the flavor of the base malt. Barley Wines are very big beers using a higher ratio of malt than any other style. The base malt you choose will have a large impact on the beer’s flavor. Also keep in mind the abilities of your mash and lauter vessels. A large grain bill, combined with an underperforming base malt, is a recipe for stuck sparges and poor run offs – and a very long day. Steer clear of malts which are under or over modified, high in beta-glucans, or damaged. Here, more than with most other styles, a quality malt is needed.

Keeping these two factors in mind we would recommend Cargill 2 Row on the domestic side, or Pauls Pale Ale if a European base malt is preferred. Cargill 2 Row is a blend of two barley varieties, Kendall and Metcalfe, which are known for their excellent brewhouse performance and fuller flavors. Pauls Pale Ale is imported from England where it is used by many British brewers in the production of their ales. Both malts have been used successfully in the brewing of Barley Wines.

In order to develop the amber to dark colors of a Barley Wine a specialty malt will also be need. Here we would suggest "keeping it simple". Most successful representatives of the style use very few malts. On the domestic side we would suggest a mid range kilned caramel malt, particularly our Two Row Caramel 60. An excellent English alternative would be Pauls Medium Crystal (55 – 65). If a darker Barley Wine is your goal, adding a small fraction of Pauls Chocolate malt or, for a more roasted character, Pauls Black malt will add color to your beer.

Cargill Malt

Hop Notes: The hop bitterness in this style should be assertive and the IBU levels range from 60-100. It requires the use of a good strong bittering hop like Columbus, Nugget, or Chinook or even Perle or Cascade depending on the brewer’s preference.

The hop aroma can be from medium (earthy aroma) to very high intensity (huge hoppiness). The hops for this would be as example Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, or Goldings. The typical standard for this style would be Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., "Bigfoot Barleywine," which won the 2005 GABF Gold Medal in this category. According to their website they are looking for a fruity bouquet, with a bittersweet hoppiness and an IBU of 90 and ABV of 9.6%. They use Chinook for their bittering hop and the dry hop is a combination of Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. This has been one of our favorites to appreciate and use as a starting place for expanding on their base of a well balanced beer for this strong style. For more specific hop varietals detail or beer styles please refer to the Hopunion Hop Characteristics book. If you do not have a book gives us a call.

We are in the process of updating this book again so hope to have available for the CBC in Seattle.

Hopunion CBS

Yeast and Fermentation Notes: Big beers demand big performance from yeast. Beers such as barley wines require a great proportion of healthy yeast. High gravity beers can accentuate esters and fusel alcohols, so you want to use a clean fermenting strain such as WLP001California Ale Yeast, WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend, and WLP010 10th Anniversary Blend (available through December 2006). If you are using your house yeast, consider finishing with a strain such as WLP715 Champagne or WLP730 Chardonnay; some North American breweries use this approach for bottle conditioning because these strains provide good carbonation and are tolerant of high alcohol levels.

You will want to double or triple your pitching rate because you don’t want a lot of yeast growth with this beer. You will not be reusing yeast with this beer.

Ideally, when making barley wines, you will want to use the third to fifth generations of your yeast. So if you have acquired a special strain to make your barley wine, we suggest you make a lighter beer first. A good idea is to experiment using the strain with your house beer and comparing the differences in flavor.

Barley wine requires at least two weeks of aging, but remove the yeast as soon as possible. If you do not do so the high alcohol content will cause the yeast to change character and could add unwanted cardboard-like or yeasty flavors.

Good luck!

Chris White, White Labs