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Brewing Trends: Barleywine, Looking Good in Black

Brewers may not agree yet on what makes a great black barleywine tick, but this chimeric new “bipartisan drink” is adding some much-needed allure and interest to a style that’s been falling out of favor.

Jerard Fagerberg Apr 20, 2023 - 11 min read

Brewing Trends: Barleywine, Looking Good in Black Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves

Not so long ago, “barleywine is life” was the claxon of the consummate beer nerd. Beer writer John Palmer called barleywine “the drink of the gods, the intellectual ones, anyway.” Since the early days of America’s craft-beer renaissance, barleywine has been held in the highest regards for its challenging-yet-refined combination of fruit, spice, deeply malty sweetness, and considerable alcoholic strength.

These traits made barleywines rare quarry—the kind that devotees would line up on a winter morning to score. In recent years, however, their eminence has faded. Barleywine feels lifeless—a stodgy binary of American-style or English-style, with little innovation happening over the past generation.

Stouts, meanwhile, have exploded in popularity. Imperial, barrel-aged, breakfast, and, yes, the pastry-inspired have all captured the drinking public’s imagination in ways that barleywine never managed.

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