Friday, February 29, 2008
Barleywines are a favorite of mine. Big, huge malty sweetness and heavy hops combine to make a syrupy, high-gravity beer fit for kings. But in the latest issue of Beer Advocate Magazine (subscribe to this magazine right now, by the way), one of their astute authors penned (do we pen things any more?) an interesting article about wheat wines. Essentially, they are a little more mellow than their barleywine bretheren, have that great wheat characteristic present in so many luscious wheat ales, and hit just as hard with the big abv.
Fortunately, I didn't have to search far for a shining example. Oades Big 10 on Clippert had several bottles of New Holland Brewing Company's Pilgrim's Dole. Funny enough, this beer has been around for a while. But until your eyes are opened to something new, you pass it right by. I bought it in a 22-oz. bomber and shared it with a good friend who claims to enjoy the big barleywines.
The wheatwine poured a beautiful, cloudy copper, almost like a burnished copper that you'd find on a countertop or plate. From there, the foam cascaded like Guinness along with some of the particle-sized sediment. That cascading action just beakons you to drink; it's like it pulls your mouth to the bottom of the glass.
A sniff yielded a dizzying display of ripe fruits; I got pineapple, ripe strawberry...think ripe, tart fruits. Underneath that is this really mellow vanilla or toffee aroma to smooth it all out. You know...that kind of mellow sweetness that's not cloying but sweet enough to balance the tartness of the fruity/wheaty armas. The backbone is certainly the malted wheat aroma you'd find in any great American Wheat Ale. A scant hop bitterness and alcohol spiciness peeks through the other aromas at the end.
Now the taste is something fantastic. Tangy malted wheat mixes with those mellow vanilla flavors to combine on your palate like a cognac or smooth bourbon. The wheat produces a nice graininess, and the tang is not overpowering. I can't detect any of the vague astringency you can get from malted wheat...it's all just so mellow. New Holland's choice of hops for this beer, along with the alcohol content, form a beautiful spiciness that finishes the beer through to the end on your palate. It's smooth and slightly syrupy like a high-end cognac, coating your whole mouth with the flavors that slowly burn off your tongue as you rest between quaffs; nicely medium-heavy body and just carbonated enough to help cleanse the palate between each drink.
This beer is truly a winner. It's so much less cloying or heavy than a barleywine can be and is a pleasant addition, in terms if its drinkability, to the extreme-beer craze that has striken craft brewers.