Big Eddy series began in 2007 with a draft-only double IPA that was available here in Madison and in Milwaukee. Big Eddy beers are big, bold brews full of flavor and alcohol too. Most are also chances for the brewery to experiment with styles that are otherwise not represented in its portfolio. Such is the case with Ryewine Ale, a barleywine with a healthy dose of rye.
I will confess that I do not drink barleywines very often. But it's not that I have a distaste for the style. Far from it. I have wonderful memories of drinking my first back in 1991 or 1992 when a bottle of Old Nick touched my lips. A few years later I sampled the Great Dane's first barleywine with a friend whom I hadn't seen for some time. And so I have fond memories associated with the style but it just rarely seems to find its way into my glass these days. On cursory introspection I will attribute this to the fact that I like to sit back and sip on barleywine while in no hurry whatsoever. Small doses to be savored over time, a spirit which is lost to me these days as my attention seems to jump from one thing to another.
Originally released in the spring/summer(?!) of 2013, I picked up a four-pack in the fall of 2014 and it has been aging in my cellar ever since. I recently brought one up from hibernation and decided to see how well it could chase away the winter chill.
Ryewine Ale pours a deep mahogany that is opaque unless you cant your head so that you're not looking at the glass perpendicularly. It looked clear but I was unable to be certain. My pour produced a very small tan head that was off like a prom dress. I could not see any bubbles inside the beer at no matter which angle I peered into the beer's depths.
Sadly I did not drink any Ryewine Ale when it was fresh and so I'm not able to tell you how this two and a half year-old version tastes in comparison to its youthful self. Having said this, I can say that sticking my nose into my snifter revealed a wonderfully sweet aroma overflowing with notes of vanilla, caramel, and a plum-y fruitiness.
I was surprised upon taking my first sip that the beer's body was lighter than I had expected. It was fairly heavy but not syrupy and viscous as my nose led me to believe and tasted much like the aroma. The vanilla which had been quite prominent to the nose was here but reduced. It blended well with a big fruity sweetness. Balancing the sweetness was, quelle surprise, alcohol. Ryewine Ale is 10% A.B.V. and suffered no shortage of boozy burn. As someone who loves rye in beer, I was happy to taste some of that earthy spiciness but it didn't stand out as I'd hoped.
On the finish the vanilla/sweetness combination faded as a boozy warmth settled in. Before long some grassy hop flavor and bitterness appeared and gave the finish some unanticipated dryness which was quite pleasant after all of the preceding sweetness.
As you probably surmised, Ryewine Ale did a fine job of chasing off Jack Frost. By definition the barleywine is a sweet beer but Leinenkugel did well by it in keeping this one from being treacly. The alcohol, a little carbonation, some rye, and those hops on the finish keep the sugary flavors from overpowering the palate.
Junk food pairing: Help keep Ryewine's delicate balance and pair it with some dark chocolate covered pretzels or mellower cheeses such as Colby or Provolone Cheez-Its.
Labels: Barleywine, Beer, Leinenkugel