Friday, March 11, 2011

Barleywine Festival 2011

I spent an even shorter time than I usually get to at the Lucky Lab Barleywine Festival last Friday, but still had tastes of some amazing beers.  One thing that kept the quality high was that I was lucky enough to sit down with some skilled palates who were about an hour ahead of me, so Ritch, Eli, Sanjay, and Lisa guided me towards the hits and away from the misses.  Don't you love beer people?

As always, it helps to arrive early, though if you only hit the festival once, you'll miss some of the offerings, since they have more kegs than taps. That's part of the fun, though.  The organization was the best I've ever seen at this festival: the program was accurate and complete from the get-go, the beer was at the right temperature, and everything went really smoothly.  Nice work, guys.

Here are my favorites, in order:
  • Lucky Lab 2007 Old Yeller: classic gigantic barleywine, light fruits, long finish
  • Butte Creek 2007 Train Wreck: bitter, slightly oxidized, delicious
  • Ninkasi 2010 Critical Hit: strong, hoppy, well done
  • North Coast 2010 Old Stock: too smooth, rounded and sweet
  • Laht Neppur 2008 Blackwater: dry, light mouthfeel, mild hops, very nice
Old Yeller is always a favorite, though the early tasters at our table rejected the 2009 barrel-aged version.  The 2007 was exactly what I want in a barleywine, big flavors of every kind, including a kind of caramel or maple sweetness.  The Butte Creek and Ninkasi offerings were in the same vein.  It was kind of amazing how hoppy the Butte Creek still is 3 or 4 years old -- it must have been off the charts when it was fresh.

Old Stock is a little different variation on the barleywine theme, with the hops toned down more like English versions like Thomas Hardy or J.W. Lees.  The 2010 was delicious; I skipped the 2009 on Eli's recommendation.

Laht Neppur has turned in some not-so-good barleywines to this festival in the past, though a year or two ago at the OBF they brought a lighter beer that wasn't too bad.  The 2008 Blackwater at the festival this year was very good, and an interesting change of pace.  Lisa told us that she heard it was brewed with a wine yeast -- the brewer had originally moved to the Walla Walla area to make wine.  I don't know if that was what made it so different, but it was noticeably drier than most barleywines.

The routine was different this year than in the past.  Instead of the pub providing small taster glasses, you bought a little taster glass of your own on the way in, $9 for a glass and two tickets.  Extra tickets were $2 each.  That seems more expensive to me than I remember from years past, but maybe it's just due to the expense of the glass.  The single glass and $2 samples definitely slowed down the pace a little bit, which -- intentional or not -- is a good thing for beers this big.

The near-misses and misses for me this year were as follows:
  • Oakshire 2010 Very Ill-Tempered Gnome: very malty, needs more age
  • Ninkasi 2009 Critical Hit: cloudy and oxidized, didn't age well even for a year
  • Upright 2009 Just Another Strong Ale: dark plummy fruit flavors, but a vinegary taste creeping in
  • New Old Lompoc 2010 Upsetter Belgian Barleywine: no, no, no
That only covers about 20-25% of the beers that were at the festival!  For a little extra coverage, check out these wrap-ups from Sanjay and Jeff.  For some past perspective, here are my reports from 2009, 2008, and 2007 (did I miss it last year?).


    1. I agree with you list, except I was pouring when the Train Wreck blew, so didn't get to try that one. I would add that one of my favorites was the Old Stock 2009. I could have bathed in that one.

    2. You can't trust Eli's palate, he's an amateur. Nevertheless, in his defense, all present agreed the Old Stock 2009 was thin and watery, and not on par with the 2010 version.

      -Slainte Mhaith