If you're looking for a session pour, look elsewhere. Barley wines are ales, of course, not wines. But they are big, rich brews best suited for sipping at cool room temperature.
Traditionally, British brewers called their strongest ales barley wines. Here in the United States, these eminently age-worthy offerings have gained in popularity over the last 25 years. Three new arrivals have hit the shelves in Boise.
As the first modern barley wine brewed in the United States a quarter of a century ago, the Old Foghorn is still one of the best. This dark-copper ale is lightly carbonated with sweet, fruity esters on the nose. Rich and creamy in the mouth, sweet toffee mingles with subtle orange, and light hops come through on the finish. It's one of the easier drinking barley wines you'll find.
Another winner from this employee-owned Oregon brewery, the Old Boardhead pours a hazy copper with a nice, frothy head and aromas of fresh-baked bread with light touches of citrus-laced hops. There's a nice depth of flavor here, with exceptional balance between the caramel-hued, sweet and toasty malt and the smooth hops with hints of mineral and herb. This ale is robust and delicious now, but should also age well.
2009 Pike Old Bawdy Barley Wine Style Ale
This 20th anniversary addition is the most hop-driven of the three. The dark-amber color suits the ripe apple and citrus zest aromas. Another beautifully balanced effort, but the hops are definitely more forward in this one and show good persistence throughout, resulting in a surprising dry brew for the style. A complex array of flavors includes earthy citrus, caramel, coffee and herb, all wrapped up in sweet malt. It's surprisingly fresh and dangerously drinkable.