Instead of the usual Editors’ Picks, we’ve recruited a guest critic whose perspective on this style is sharper than anyone’s we know: Alex Kidd, the mind behind the Don’t Drink Beer blog, the Malt Couture podcast, and—not least—the creator of that much-imitated Facebook meme-hive called Barleywine Is Life.
Fonta Flora Birthdaywine
North Carolina darlings Fonta Flora are known for their farmhouse game and novel riffs on old styles, and their interpretation of barleywine does not disappoint. They’ve taken a bourbon barrel–aged barleywine and amped up the prune, date, and syrah tones through secondary casking in a blackberry-wine barrel. The result is a jammy Skor bar the whole family will love.
ABV: 12.5% IBUs: N/A Loc: Nebo, North Carolina
Wichita Chris Barley in a Little Coat
This 2021 GABF gold medal–winner puts Kansas on the map for some fantastic barrel-aged offerings. Instead of going a typical brown-sugar-and-toffee direction, this gem merges ice wine with Carnation Breakfast Essentials and a long, dry Cognac swallow. This bready Kansas juice will take you “to the stars through difficulties.”
ABV: 12% IBUs: N/A Loc: Wichita, Kansas
Lervig Paragon 2020
You don’t need to travel to Norway for amazing barleywine, but they are awash in it. Cult favorite Lervig released this gentle, nuanced foray into port and currant, showing that excess is nothing without balance.
ABV: 12.6% IBUs: N/A Loc: Stavanger, Norway
Pelican Mother of All Storms 2021
After more than a decade of style-defining greatness, the avian idol squeezes its hulking frame into 500 ml bottles this year. It reconciles the incredible, massive bourbon-barrel presence (which can age for decades) and somehow makes it luscious and approachable for even a novice palate seeking a thrill. Sazerac and pumpernickel bread with a sweet, hot Sugar Babies swallow make this Pacific Northwest offering an absolute must-try.
ABV: 14% IBUs: 40 Loc: Pacific City, Oregon
Westbound & Down Single Barrel Select: Weller Louie
Colorado is notorious for turning out secret amazing gems and then silently crushing them. While single-barrel beers can be extremely dicey, this is a master class in managing oaky staves, sweet fig jam, vanillin, and a fantastic fusel heat on the swallow. Rocky Mountain secrets need to be shared. (2019 Double Barrel Louie is pictured)
ABV: 13.2% IBUs: N/A Loc: Idaho Springs, Colorado