Michael: Pulgsley has been pretty good to me. Between his more than decent porter and a delightful pumpkin ale, Shipyard’s brewmaster has gained a pretty solid reputation in my book. So when I happened upon this bottle in the quaint town of Galena, Illinois, I didn’t hesitate.
Although it may be the dwindling light in the oncoming dusk, but this barley wine seemed to pour darker than most. It had a gracious tan head, two and a half fingers perhaps that lingered and laced. The bottled instructed that the drinker would experience a ‘complex fruity nose.’ I can’t say I totally agree, although there are hints of dark fruit, the malt bill seems forward and prevalent in the aroma. It’s slightly surprising, but it smells more like several porters I’ve sampled than any barley wine. There is a slight sweetness as well, brown sugar perhaps.
My first sip is abrupt, not quite brutal, but very strong, bold tastes. The most notable is the lingering, earthy finish, preceded in awkward but interesting order by a tangy, citrus note. The malt is big as well, roasty and chewy, it gives a decent body and that big bark-like flavor. The bottle described the finish as dry, and here I would most definitely agree. It is not cloying at all, but simply disappears, fading from the citrus to the earthiness until it’s gone. There is a sharpness too, that stings just a bit and makes the swallow less than mellow and the mouthfeel more sprightly than smooth.
I have grown accustomed to some incredible beers of this style, often aged in some manner. I can’t help but compare this barley wine to those, some of my all time favorite beers. With the bar set high, this Pugsley creation falls a bit short for me. Grade: B-
Tom: After doing some research on the Barleywine style I found that the old English tradition placed more emphasis on the malt backbone and body than the hops (not surprising really). The American Barleywines are hopped to high heaven and often times have a harsh boozy quality. However, Pugsley used his knowledge of English brewing (from Ringwood Brewery) to brew a fine interpretation of the style.
Dark roasted barley infused a deep garnet hue to this brew which looked like a Porter masking that clear crimson red Barleywine color when held to the light. The head was filled with tiny bubbles and had a beige/khaki color.
The aroma was dark, deep, and rich. Notes of molasses and a bready English ale yeast caramel-like quality was pronounced. A slight abv twinge was noticeable, but for the most part this smelled like an amp’d up old world Porter. The hops did lend a grassy, herbal, fruity note to the mix. Definitely not an abrasive Barleywine as far as the aroma was concerned.
The taste was similar to the smell. Dark fruity flavors passed over my palate. Its more along the lines of semi-burnt sugar. Toffee, bready and light fruity notes gave dimension and depth. The roasty qualities of the beer were not as astringent as Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine, yet they offered a nice touch. The alcohol was mellow as it was wrapped up in the bready yeast notes. Overall, it was a solid beer, but seemed to lack a little body. I’ll follow suit and give the same grade as Michael. Grade: B-