21 February 2008

Mahaffey's Great Barleywine Challenge

Okay, I'm here, but Wayne now claims it starts @ 18:30, not 18:00 as his e-mail says. And there's local WiFi and Mahaffey's secured wifi I can use. Gentlemen, start your palates!

(And why do I use 24-hour clocks? No, I wasn't in the military; I adjusted to the 24-hour clock that British Rail used when I was there in 1991, and never figured out how to set my digital watch back, so......)

Okay, he's serving 8 barleywines in a taste-off competition to best four, two, and winner, March Madness style. The beers are, in no particular order: Stone Old Guardian 11.2%, Avery Hog Heaven 9.2%, Victory Old Horizontal 11.0%, Great Divide Old Ruffian 10.2%, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 9.6%, Dominion Millenium 11.4%, Moylans Old Blarney 10.0%, and Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot 11.1%.

#1: bright, deep mahagony, hoppy-barleywine nose (well, duh)--fairly sweet, heavy body, rich mouthfeel, very hoppy but not quite SNBA, I don't think. I'm thinking Avery or Stone. Avery as a wild-posteriored guess for starts.

#2: a bit lighter in color but very hazy as real ale, yeasty nose with chewy promise. Dammit, this is a tough one.. very British in profile, somewhat chewy and sweet, with some light fruit notes and sugary/molasses tones, drying finish with alcoholic bite. I like 2 better than 1, but I'm guessing either Moylan's (which I haven't had) or Weyerbacher. The latter my concerted guess.

To go to the next round: I pick #2 easily.

By the way, stop worrying--they're pouring in small wine glasses. Maybe 3 oz. a sample. Classical music playing as we sip. Don't say this guy doesn't have class.

#3: bright amber (turn up the lights, dammit!), grapefruity nose throws the suggestion of Stone instantly. Aggressively hoppy with pine notes. As hoppy as I would expect Bigfoot to be, but my first guess is Stone Old Guardian, 95 IBUs.

#4: about the same color, nose of brown sugar with a hint of Belgian. Well-balanced but very sweet, smooth and creamy with lots of fruit--almost a "strawberries/cherries and cream" thing going. Based on the "cheat sheet" descriptions, I'm guessing Great Divide Old Ruffian, 90 IBUs.

Pick one for the next flight? I'm reluctantly saying #4.

Wayne is serving pretzels, cheddar, bleu cheese, and Ritz crackers. Wayne: "Bleu cheese and barleywine--they're incredible." I'm inclined to agree, even if I don't normally like bleu cheese.

#5: Hazy amber, sweet malt nose with a hint of whisky/smoke. ............ I dunno. My instant thought is Dominion Millenium or VOH, both my favorites in the category. But it's got a raw, yeasty and VERY alcoholic bite.

#6: a bit darker, best head retention so far. Hoppy hoppy joy joy, hoppy hoppy joy joy.... (any "Ren & Stimpy" fans reading this?)....... the taste HAS to be SN Bigfoot--the classic "hop tea and the burlap sack they came in" flavor, though if I were t disregard my preconceptions and throw SN aside, I'm guessing Stone. By comparison, #5 is English; #6 is raw California/Colorado aggression.

Do I like either better? The fact that I choose #5 reflects that I'm not the stereotype hophead. Oh, wait, I gotta guess a #5. Okay, Dominion Millennium. No, wait....... hmmm, neither VOH or DM seem to match this one, which doesn't seem quite 11%.... Okay, call it DM.

#7: seemingly darkest of all, good HR (head retention) but not that much nose to it. Big and fruity flavor, cut with a lot of bitterness and chewiness. Okay, IF I'm calling them right, I've got two left: Moylan's and VOH. Let's try....

#8: deep amber, vinous/barleywine/spirits nose..... it's biting, it's chewy, it's BIG.

Back to #7: this is sweeter, more approachable, but still with rough edges to shake you up. A rounder, more English balance. #8: aggressive, pushy American, with a honed hop edge. Or call it a cute brunette versus a redhead with attitude. Do I prefer one to the other? This is as close to a draw as I have--nicer or edgier? With a great deal of reservation, I pick 8. And yes, I'm willing to call #7 Moylan's and #8 Victory OH.

Okay, now for the second flight: 2 versus 4, 5 versus 8:

But first, a break: My palate-cleanser, besides water, has been Anchor Liberty, hazy golden, fruity hop nose, a malty golden ale with hints of pine and celery in the hop profile--maybe even a touch of watermelon texture to the hop flavor (okay, I just might be tipsy if I'm reaching for watermelon to describe hops, but it works--pine and chewy, spongy watermelon/mango....)....

#2: Malty, rich, full, a bare hint of old Snow Goose/Thomas Hardy's wet cardboard/malty kernels in the body and flavor. A bit of toothpaste mint prevalent in many fresh British barleywines.....

Okay, to be different, I've flipped over my original sheet, and I can't see what I wrote above on this screen, so it's the proverbial clean slate off the list........... Okay, it's Blithering Idiot.

#4 puts the wine in barleywine--sweet, rich, wine-like body (think a chardonnay).... I was calling this between GD and Stone's, wasn't I? It's GD....

And between these two, I say #2 just for the far richer malt character and fuller character. (And by now, someone has changed the soundtrack to some rock....)

5 & 8: #5 spicy, a bit wood-edged, hoppy, a bit too assertive in hop bite...... Was this Moylan's?

#8: mellower, better balanced, but still VERY big and assertive. I called this VOH, didn't I?

Okay, final sip-off between 2 and 8. Whatever they are. I flip over the original sheet and see that it's (according to my guesses) Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot versus Victory Old Horizontal. And if by some far-fetched chance I'm right, I'm definitely an Easterner, not an Anglophile or Westerner. (Though we haven;t had any British beers in this competition.....)

Final taste-off: 2 vs. 8: On nose alone, 2. But on palate...... aw cr@p.

2: Nose of woody but edgy barleywine, a bit of spice wood, rich but with lots of hops & alcohol to balance.

8: Nice, but a touch too much iodine to the flavor and finish to work for me.

And my winner is: #2!

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