I’m going to preface this entire post by saying two things: first, I don’t typically enjoy Barley Wines and I work at Steel & Oak.
Now that I have stated the fact that I work for the company that I will be featuring this week, please do not assume that I am writing this with any bias: these beers are solid.
Barley Wines originated in England, but now can be classified as English or American (hoppier). S&O’s Barley Wines don’t quite fit into either category. I briefly sat down with our head brewer, Eric Moutal, to discuss the beers.
“They don’t really fit into either category, but if I was to classify them, they would lean more towards English than American.”
Classic Steel & Oak! Creating a beer that doesn’t neatly fit in the confines of the BJCP guidelines (hey beloved Red Pilsner, I’m looking at you (; )
That’s also probably why I enjoy them so much. They’re so easy to drink for such a boozy beer. Although they both contain an alcohol warming sensation, they aren’t hot and don’t bother my throat like many other new* Barley Wines I’ve had.
*I say new, because technically this beer is new even though it was aged for one year in barrels. Some of the Barley Wines that are stand out for me, were vintages that were 3 or more years old and had plenty of time to mellow and develop; Firestone Walker’s 2013 Sucaba, for example.
Over a year ago, S&O did four test taps of Barley Wine with four different yeast strains. I remember trying three of the four and am happy that S&O went with the red wine yeast. One perk of working for the brewery that I’m doing the beer of the week for, is I had the opportunity to taste the barley wines several times throughout the barrel aging process. I actually got to taste the beer maturing and changing and that only makes me appreciate the final product even more. One thing that I found interesting was that the entire time I was tasting the two beers throughout the year, I preferred the Chardonnay barrel version. It wasn’t until I sampled the final beer during the launch that fell in love the Cabernet Sauvignon version a little bit more.
En Rouge has notes of dark fruit (black currant and cherry) and has pleasant hints of leather with a touch of tobacco. It’s sweet and tastes of ripe black plums and medjool dates are prominent. Although it’s a sipping beer that is 10% ABV, it is definitely smooth and easier to drink than most Barley Wines that I’ve had.
I paired En Rouge with cheese tortellini in a garlic and mushroom sauce; it tasted lovely.
En Blanc tastes like a completely different beer. It has some stone fruit flavours, like peach or apricot, and has such a bright effervescent to it. It still has fruitcake flavours, but is lightened with vanilla and the stone fruit characteristics. It is very oaky; you can taste the barrel. It has a lingering oak and sparkling citrus finish.
“I wish we could expand our barrel-aged program,” I said to Eric.
“So do I, but it’s a matter of having the beer to do so — you know we need everything we make for draught and packaged. We do have something new in barrels now, though!”
With an eager head brewer that is open to experiment, I don’t doubt S&O will produce more exceptional barrel aged brews. For now, I’ll keep recommending Red Pilsner to every person I know and S&O will continue to keep up with the demand.
I recommend buying at least two of each Barley Wine. Enjoy them now, and then try them again in a year: you won’t be disappointed.