Beer Styles 101: Barley Wine

What is Barley Wine?

Barley Wine Ale is the strongest style of beer in terms of alcohol content. These beers are often brewed to alcoholic strengths of 10% ABV and sometimes even more. Barley Wines can range anywhere from a light copper-like colour to a dark brown similar to a stout. English-Barley Wine’s usually have less hop aroma and flavour than an American-style Barley Wine.

Barley Wine started to be developed in the mid to late 18th century in breweries attached to aristocratic houses in England. Using new techniques to produce malts, they started to brew strong ales for these households. They would age these in wood barrels to be more like wine. This was important due to the difficulties between England and the wine-producing countries when wine shipments could be interrupted for long periods of time.

Canadian Brewing Awards splits the definition of Barley Wine into two categories, English-style and American-style. The definitions are:

English-Style Barley Wine Ale

“English-style barley wines range from tawny copper to dark brown in colour and have a full body and high residual malty sweetness. Complexity of alcohols and fruity-ester characters are often high and counterbalanced by the perception of low to medium bitterness and extraordinary alcohol content. Hop aroma and flavour may be minimal to medium. English type hops are often used but not necessary for this style. Low levels of diacetyl may be acceptable. Caramel and some characters indicating oxidation, such as vinous (sometimes sherry-like) aromas and/or flavours, may be considered positive. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures.”

With these guidelines:

Original Gravity (°Plato): 21.5 – 28 °Plato
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato): 6 – 8 °Plato
Alcohol by Volume: 8.4 – 12.0%
Bitterness (IBU): 40 – 60
Colour SRM: 14 – 22

American-Style Barley Wine Ale

“American-style barley wines range from amber to deep copper-garnet in colour and have a full body and high residual malty sweetness. Complexity of alcohols and fruity-ester characters are often high and counterbalanced by assertive bitterness and extraordinary alcohol content. Hop aroma and flavour are at medium to very high levels. American type hops are often used but not necessary for this style. Very low levels of diacetyl may be acceptable. A caramel and/or toffee aroma and flavour are often part of the character. Characters indicating oxidation, such as vinous (sometimes sherry-like) aromas and/or flavours, are not generally acceptable in American-style Barley Wine Ale, however if a low level of age-induced oxidation character harmonizes and enhances the overall experience this can be regarded flavourably. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures.”

With these guidelines:

Original Gravity (°Plato): 21.5 – 28.0 °Plato
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato): 6.0 – 8.0 °Plato
Alcohol by Volume: 8.4 – 12.0%
Bitterness (IBU): 60 – 100
Colour SRM: 11 – 22

Previous Canadian Brewing Awards winners of this category:


          2012 Gold

HoweSoundBarleyWine

          2013 Gold

SwansBarleyWine

          2014 Gold
BrassuersDuMondeBarleyWine
          2015 Gold

CentralCity'sBarleyWine