Barley wine ranges in colour from translucent deep amber, to cloudy mahogany (left), to near opaque black (right).
In ancient Greece, a style of fermented grain beverage was referred to as "κρίθινος οἶνος" (krithinos oinos), barley wine and it is mentioned amongst others by Greek historians Xenophon in his work Anabasis and Polybius in his work The Histories, where he mentions that Phaeacians kept barleywine in silver and golden kraters. These barley wines would be dissimilar to modern examples as their mention predates the use of hops (a key component in modern barley wines) by several centuries.
Modern barley wine was developed as a response to the aristocracy's desire for strong drinks, especially Claret, during the conflicts between Britain and France in the later 18th century. As such, barley wine was available to the upper classes exclusively for some time. The first beer to be marketed as barley wine was Bass No. 1 Ale, around 1870.
The Anchor Brewing Company introduced the style to the United States in 1976 with its Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale. Old Foghorn was styled as barleywine (one word) out of fear that occurrence of the word wine on a beer label would displease regulators.
A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. Use of the word wine is due to its alcoholic strength similar to a wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is, in fact, a beer.
There are two primary styles of barley wine: the American which tends to be more hoppy and bitter with colours ranging from amber to light brown and the English style which tends to be less bitter and may have little hop flavour, with more variety in colour ranging from red-gold to opaque black. Until the introduction of an amber-coloured barley wine under the name Gold Label by the Sheffield brewery Tennant's in 1951 (later brewed by Whitbread), British barley wines were always dark in colour.
Writer Michael Jackson referred to a barley wine by Smithwick's thus: "This is very distinctive, with an earthy hoppiness, a wineyness, lots of fruit and toffee flavours." He also noted that its original gravity is 1.062.
Martyn Cornell has been quoted as saying "no historically meaningful difference exists between barley wines and old ales". He later clarified, "I don’t believe there is actually any such meaningful style as 'barley wine'".
Taxes and legal impediments
Many jurisdictions have different taxing schemes for potables based upon alcohol content. Since barley wine has a high alcohol content, it is, in some jurisdictions, taxed at a higher rate than other beers. Thus, barley wines tend to suffer a further price premium as compared to other beers. Similarly, many jurisdictions have different regulations regarding where beers and wines can be sold, leading to confusion regarding in which category barley wines fall and therefore limiting access.
A variation on the barley wine style involves adding a large quantity of wheat to the mash bill, resulting in what is referred to as wheat wine. This style originated in the United States in the 1980s.
- κρίθινος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Xenophon, Anabasis, 4.5.26, on Perseus
- Polybius, The Histories, 34.9.15, on Perseus
- Tepedelen, Adem (Nov–Dec 2009). "A Winter's Ale". Imbibe. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
- Watts, Henry. A dictionary of chemistry and the allied branches of other sciences, Volume (1872).
- Holbrook, Stett (December 25, 2003). "Rich, chewy barley wine takes time". San Francisco Chronicle.
- "Yeast Style Guide: American Barleywine". Wyeast Laboratories.
- "Yeast Style Guide: English Barleywine". Wyeast Laboratories.
- Cornell, Martyn. Amber Gold & Black, 2010, p168
- Jackson, Michael (February 1, 1993). "Brewery with its own abbey - it must be Ireland". What's Brewing.
- Cornell, Martyn (September 24, 2010). "So what IS the difference between barley wine and old ale?". Zythophile (blog).
- Bernstein, Joshua M. "Wheat of the Moment". Imbibe Magazine. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
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