Another Hard Liver is in the books and I still do not have cirrhosis. Hooray for me! The annual barleywine festival at Brouwer’s Cafe features over fifty barleywines for your imbibing pleasure. Years past have shown that these highly boozy yet malty sweet libations can be a recipe for disaster if one is not careful. This year we acted like responsible adults and kept our consumption to a modest fourteen tasters between the two of us.
Black Raven Old Birdbrain
Dogfish Head Olde School
Elysian Death Star Black Wheat Wine
Fremont Old Bridge Rider
For the first round we went with mostly local favorites. Black Raven, Elysian, and Fremont are all top-notch breweries and I expected nothing less from there barleywines. The most interesting one was the Death Star. It looked like a porter and tasted very light and smooth which offered a nice contrast to the heavier beers. The standout here (and perhaps among all the beers we tried) was the Old Bridge Rider.
Green Flash/Cigar City Candela Rye
Lagunitas Gnarleywine (2007)
North Coast Brewing Class of ’88
Old Schoolhouse Brewer’s Reserve
Round two was a definite step back from the heights of Round One. The Candela Rye was good. The Class of ’88 was a disappointment. I think of North Coast as one of those breweries that can’t make a bad beer (e.g., Firestone Walker, Hill Farmstead) but this one was just all over the map. Overly hopped and thin-bodied, it was hard to justify calling it a barleywine. Considering the Class of ’88 series was just announced last December, I was surprised to see a barleywine available so early. But the real issue I had with this round was the Gnarleywine. I was excited to find out what a six year old beer tastes like and was confused when it tasted sour. Of all the flavor profiles one can conjure with the barleywine style, “sour” is simply not one I could accept. Mrs. Nutcups thought that it tasted great (and it may have) but I’m fairly certain it is not supposed to taste like this. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that this was an infected batch of beer, regardless of the fact that I love beers that are “infected”. This was my most confusing moment as a beer drinker and it may be some time before the ramifications are fully realized.
Naked City Old Proper
AleSmith Old Numbskull
Midnight Sun Arctic Devil (2010)
Pelican Stormwatcher’s Winterfest (2011)
Excellent beers all around, though by this time I had eaten a falafel sandwich, a handful of mussels, and an ungodly amount of frites and Dragon Sauce (i.e., fries and spicy aioli) to say nothing of the 20+ ounces of barleywine I had consumed up to this point. Highlight of this round, and perhaps runner up of the day, was Arctic Devil.
Bonus Lightning Round
Stone Old Guardian (2009)
Bainbridge Old Toe Jam
At this point we had been there for four hours, but we weren’t quite ready to leave just yet. So we ordered a couple more to keep our whistles moist. Tasting notes are hazy. I remember liking the Old Guardian over the Old Toe Jam.
- Even though this was my third or fourth Hard Liver adventure, I was still able to take away some valuable lessons. First off, Hard Liver is a two-day affair. On Saturday, the line traditionally starts forming between 08:00 and 09:00, even though doors don’t open until 11:00. The rest of the day is insane with people having to wait well over an hour for each round of barleywines. This leads to parties ordering upwards of 20 barleywines at once which further slows down service. It is very difficult to find a place to sit and we have spent many a festival standing in the corner huddled around a chest-high table. For the first time this year, we decided to go on Sunday. We still showed up at 11:00 but there was no line. In fact, we were the second people in the door and the place remained relatively empty until well past noon. This was infinitely more comfortable with the only drawback being that 6 out of 57 barleywines were no longer available.* I may never go on Saturday again.
- At Hard Liver, barleywines are served in three sizes: $3 for 3 oz, $5 for 6 oz., and $7 for 12 oz. Even though it is not a good economic deal, we opted solely for the three-ounce servings an effort to try a greater variety of beers. These servings are delivered in a small snifter glass, similar to something you would typically use for brandy. When one of our rounds came ’round with each glass filled only half way, we felt cheated, and possibly taken advantage of. After all, our first round was filled almost to the top! After catching the attention of our server we politely expressed concern that these glasses were not properly filled. In return, she politely informed us that were drinking from vessels which held a maximum volume of six ounces, thus the half-pours were indeed appropriate. Though I maintain that we had every reason to be confused, it didn’t make me feel any better that I was coming off as ungrateful for the generous pours of our first round.
- Malt vinegar tastes awesome on fries. Who knew?
This weekend is the Washington Cask Beer Festival here in Seattle. This will be our first time and I’m excited to report on all the warm, flat beer I’ll be able to enjoy.
* Granted, three of those six were voted the top three barleywines of the event, but it was a small price to pay.