American craft brewers have expanded the interpretation of traditional English Barley Wine by creating American Barley Wines with more assertive hop character than their English counterparts, often by using strong, pungent American hop varieties. The perception of hops in American Barley Wine, like aromas and flavors, can vary across examples and be influenced by the beer’s age. Hops often will mellow from an assertive, front-and-center position in recently brewed bottles to providing more balancing bitterness to the style’s copious malts in aged bottles. Colors range from amber to deep copper and even light brown, with malt often evoking a toffee or caramel sweetness – but no roasty or burnt flavors. Regardless of age, the balance in these big beers generally leans toward hoppy bitterness, with high alcohol providing a warming effect and moderate fruity esters contributing to the barley wine’s complexity. Despite the name, beers in this style generally do not exhibit vinous, or wine-like, aromas or flavors.
As with the English version, American Barley Wine-style beers are typically bottle-conditioned and can be properly cellar-aged for long periods, sometimes specified by the brewer. Many breweries produce barley wine just once per year, and vintage-date the bottles. Why not get two or more bottles of the best barley wine, drink one right away and age the other(s) for future enjoyment and examination of the beer’s evolution?