Last night I had the pleasure of visiting the CBC for their annual Barleywine Festival. Let me tell you, it was bittersweet because while the beer and atmosphere were great it was sad because I wished I hadn't missed the first two!
The evening started with a 10 minute walk from my office over to the CBC. A cold walk. By the time I arrived my face was so frozen I could barely get out a response to the bartender's inquiry as to my what I'd like. It probably sounded like; "Baaweywine pwease". Luckily I thawed quickly and, oddly enough, when I went out to head for the train later it didn't seem nearly as cold...
I arrived at 5pm and there were maybe a dozen people in the bar. I grabbed a seat, took a menu for the 6 offerings (I had tried the one they have regularly on tap with the beer guys and Kristen on our tasting mission last weekend) and decided what to get for my first sample. Fortunately they offered it in both 4 and 8oz servings, so I ended up having 3 of the smaller samples. Here's the CBC's description of what I had:
2004 Blunderbuss Barleywine Burnished copper with labyrinthine flavors and aromas of mellow caramel, raisin, burnt toffee, pale stone fruit, and earthy/floral hops. A protracted yet refined finish balances malt and hops with a sustained warming character. 11.25%abv
2006 Arquebus Barleywine Aged in French oak, Napa chardonnay barrels. This unique barleywine enchants with nectarous aromas and flavors of honey-soaked apricot and mango, a soft and full body, and a lustrous vanilla and sweet-but-balanced malt finish. 10.5%abv
2006 “Knob Creek” Barrel-aged, Cask-conditioned Blunderbuss American bourbon barrel-aged, cask-conditioned in an English oak J.W. Lee’s barrel, served via gravity dispense. Smooth notes of vanilla, toast, and new oak commingle with fresh malt and hops. A whisper of American bourbon spirit to finish. 12.0%abv
Let me tell you, these were all the best barleywines I've ever had. Much more complex and far more drinkable than the other examples I've had. None of them blew you away with the alcohol presence and all were remarkably unique in flavor. The CBC descriptions do them justice, so I won't try to describe them all to you, I'll just give my impressions of the night and tell you about my favorite.
Let's start with the crowd. Sorry ladies, but you did NOT represent. It was about 10:1 gents this evening, a result of what looked like a rabid following of the barleywine festival. By the time I left at 6pm the bar was packed, unusual for that time there. and I'd say 80% of what was being served was barleywine. Most people were doing the same as myself, trying a new one each round and everyone was exceptionally happy. Especially after they finished their first drink! The head brewer was there, along with his assistants, drinking up with the regulars. Speaking of regulars, I looked to my left at one point and lo and behold, there was a chubby, long-haired guy with a goatee. He looked familiar and sure enough, he was one of the people from the giant painting in the bar. It felt vaguely like being in the presence of a beer-drinking legend.
It was a great atmosphere, just a lot of people sitting and standing around, enjoying these really special concoctions. You could see the appreciation for the brewers' craftsmanship in the smiles all around.
As for favorites; mine was the 2006 Knob Creek. It seemed the general favorite, as the bartenders seemed to be heading for that tap the most. And what a tap it was. It was served straight out of the cask. No carbonation lines, no extra chilling, just right out of the barrel sitting up on the bar. Made it easy to imagine you were in a medieval pub (sans the hobbits). This beer was special. Were I to score it, it would have been 7-4-9-4. Despite the 12% ABV you could barely detect alcohol in the aroma. The beer had a slightly, but not overpowering sweetness and a little alcohol kick as your swallowed but it finished super smoothly. This one was in my top 5 beers of all time, all styles. First barleywine I ever felt like I could drink a whole pint of! I only wish there were more...
In all, a terrific event that I hope I can share with more of you beer enthusiasts next year! In the meantime, get yourself down to the CBC sometime, they really are brewing some of the best beers in the Boston area.