What Is Barley Wine?

Our history with beer is broad and sweeping and one of the UK's oldest, yet maybe most under appreciated styles, is the Barley Wine. For starters, why is it called wine when it's a beer? And why are they so strong? Well, these two answers are interlinked, with the first being very obvious and understandable.

Barley Wine dates back to around the 18th century, being produced during the ongoing conflicts between England and France. The upper classes rejected French wine, almost as a patriotic stance, favouring homegrown ales instead. To rival French wines, both in complexity and strength, English brewers began to create stronger ales with more body, ageing them also to take on extra flavour from the barrels in which they were housed. These may have been wine or whiskey barrels, or whatever was available at the time.

So we now know why it had 'wine' in its name, and why it was so strong, but what can you expect from a Barley Wine? Well as with any other beer style, that depends on what sort of Barley Wine you drink; English, American or European (German/Belgian). All will have a similar ABV range, usually 8-14%, with hops taking a backseat in them too. However, American Barley Wines tend to be a little sweeter, English versions often give more fruitier and richer flavours and European styles have a more funky taste from the yeast used during fermentation.

No matter the style of Barley Wine, they all make for perfect Winter beers as they provide a warming finish due to the strength and the character picked up from the barrels they've been stored in if they have been aged. Unlike many other beer styles, Barley Wine does age particularly well and it would be unusual to find one which hasn’t been aged as a result. Much like a stout, due to its complex flavours, a Barley Wine is recommended to be served slightly warmer than other styles, allowing the flavour and aroma to be fully experienced.
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