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May 16, 2013 09:15 PM

Barleywine Blind-Tasting Showdown: Foghorn vs. Bigfoot

Recent discussions in other threads on various Sierra Nevada offerings prompted me to do a barleywine showdown, haven't done one for years and what would be more interesting than Anchor Foghorn vs. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot... two mainstays of California barleywine...

In prior tastings going back ten years or more, Foghorn has always been one of my top or near-top favorites in this beer variety, whereas Bigfoot while interesting has never scored up with the top brews on my palate...

Results this time... it took literally two good sips:

Both beers tasted blind... poured into identical glasses, about 2 inches of beer with 45 degree semi-hard pour... wait for head to subside...

Verbatim tasting notes below:

RED label glass: Pleasant, slightly sweetish notes that evolve. Lingering dryness at the end. Sort of "okay".

BLUE label glass: More lip-smacking, more interesting, creamier / yummier texture... Did I say lip smacking? Best BW I've ever hand... no. Better than Red... yes.

One re-sip of Red confirms findings.

Unveil the color code: Red is SN Bigfoot, Blue is Anchor Foghorn.

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  1. They are both great examples of the style.

    17 Replies
    1. re: jpc8015

      Aren't they different styles of BW?

      1. re: Chinon00

        Only if you buy into the idea that there are actually 100 individual styles of beer (which is a relatively modern conceit cooked up by the BJCP merely to make amateur beer judging easier to manage).

        In reality, the Barleywines mentioned are just variants of a single style.

        Many would agree with me...and just as many would not.

        It's only beer...

        1. re: Chinon00

          Good question which I've not given alot of thought to previously. While I've always recognized a difference from one BW to another, I guess I've always considered the differences to be within the same overall style.

          Perhaps there are a few sub-categories of BW though? The problem is that by it's nature great barleywine is so big and complex and ... in a way almost overwhelming that any sub-styles I think could tend to get lost in the perfume, the caramel, the sticky viscosity...

          1. re: TombstoneShadow

            Bigfoot epitomizes the American style BW being basically a very very big IPA. English BW emphasizes the malt character.

            1. re: TombstoneShadow

              One of the things I love about beer is the infinite number of styles. You can take a style of beer like stout and divide it up into any number of subcategories: dry stout, Irish stout, Russian imperial stout, milk stout, sweet stout, etc...then you will have some stouts that can fit into multiple categories. You can certainly have a dry Irish stout.

              I imagine the same to be true for barleywine lthough I am not neary as familiar with that style. The website that I order homebrew supplies from carries four different house recipe kits for barleywine; and that does not include any clones of commercial beers they carry.

              1. re: jpc8015

                Some might say the infinite number of styles renders the concept of styles meaningless. There are good arguments to be made on both sides of that one.

                1. re: Josh

                  I agree that there are good arguments on both sides. But I think that for the purposes of comparison it makes sense to judge a Russian imperial stout against other Russian imperial stouts. If you were to compare North Coast's Old Rasputin against Samuel Smith's oatmeal stout, the latter would seem thin and watery. In reality it is a very good beer.

                  While this debate is raging on I will be drinking my way through every style I can find! :-D

                  1. re: jpc8015

                    My point exactly. If you are a hop head it might be unfair to for you to judge an English style BW versus an American style BW.

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      I agree completely. I could definitely judge a RIS on its technical merits and point out flaws in relation to the style.

                      On the other hand, I could not in a million years tell you what a good marzen is supposed to taste like. I could drink one and enjoy it but I couldn't tell you if it were true to style...but if we are not professional judges, and I am not...then who cares as long as the beer tastes good?

                      1. re: jpc8015

                        re:" ...then who cares as long as the beer tastes good?"

                        That sums it up pretty well, and it also hints as to why the hackneyed term "true to style" is pretty meaningless in the end. Every style is and always was open to individual interpretation by individual brewers.

                        There is no "rulebook" with regard to beer styles other than the guidelines developed for judging amateur brewing competitions...and those guidelines have no real meaning or clout outside of the amateur arena.

                            1. re: Josh

                              It's cool.
                              I've been tracking "good beer" for probably _too long_ so I can certainly understand that opinions will always vary. Thanks for listening to (tolerating?) mine...they're sometimes over the top but they do come from a sincere place.

                              It's all good...though I still don't believe there are 100+ distinct beer styles. ;-)


                              1. re: The Professor

                                When I walk into a bar and see that they have twelve different beers on tap that I have never had, it helps me to understand the beer styles. If I ordered a stout and a yellow fizzy beer was served to me I would know that something is wrong.

                                Beer styles also help the consumer understand what they are getting.

                                1. re: jpc8015

                                  Can't argue with that, not one bit. But that's a pretty obvious example.
                                  It's actually more the focus I often see on minutiae regarding the delineation of 'styles' that amuses me (and a lot of beer lovers and pro brewers I've met in my travels) so much.

                                  But at least the drinking public is becoming more 'beer educated'...with so much choice and variety, it's a pretty darned good time to be a beer lover.

                                  1. re: The Professor

                                    Even with all the new beers hitting the market, there are a lot of styles that are just not widely available for one reason or another. That is why I encourage all beer lovers to brew their own. You can make whatever you want and it will more than likely be as good as most commercial beers.

                                    1. re: jpc8015

                                      I'm on board with that suggestion for sure. This July it will be 43 years since I began homebrewing. Sporadically at first, but since the late 1980s I've brewed every 3 to 6 weeks (unless I'm the road with a show).

                                      It's true that you can equal or better the efforts of commercial brewers (particularly the micro/craft guys) once you get accustomed to the procedures. After all, most of the current crop of brewers started off as homebrewers.

        2. And both are rather different from each other. I like both, and would drink one or the other depending upon my mood and how cold it is outside. I'd take the Bigfoot when it's colder outside, and take the Foghorn when having it with food.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Tripeler

            By "with food" I am assuming you mean with a cheese course or dessert. I can not imagine drinking either of those beers with a meal.

            1. re: jpc8015

              What I had in mind were snacks, little crispy things.

              1. re: Tripeler

                I would never think to pair a barleywine with crunch salty things. I have always gone with sweets and strong cheeses.

                I will have to give it a try.

                1. re: jpc8015

                  I find that with all that sweetness, there is nice contrast with a little salt. Plus, the crunchiness collides nicely with the creaminess of such a rich, strong beer.

                  1. re: jpc8015

                    Agree with you here. Cheese, maybe. IMO Foghorn is best on its own.

            2. Also interesting... remember when Foghorn came in those smaller bottles... around 8 or 10oz instead of 12?

              There was a cache to that bottle size I liked... it said "you don't need a full 12 oz of this wine to enjoy it".

              Can't believe I wrote wine instead of beer... but I'll leave that slip up there... these great beers are in the same class in their own way as great wines...

              4 Replies
              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                I liked the 8oz bottles too. It's the perfect quantity for a quality 'sipping' beer. I really don't mind the 12 ouncers though.

                But on a related note, in an era where brewers, bloggers, and beer geeks in general are going to great pains to give beer some kind of high end respectability, I think the current trend of packaging barleywine (or any unusually strong beer) in 22 oz bombers creates the opposite impression.
                I see it as being ultimately somewhat _disrespectful_ to the beer.

                But I guess that' a minority opinion.

                1. re: The Professor

                  Put me into that minority as well, professor.
                  I once talked to Fritz Maytag and he told me one of his favorite nightcaps is a Foghorn. This was back when they were in 7 ounce bottles, I believe. The 12 ounce bottle is fine for most of Anchor's products, but they should have left Foghorn in the little bottle. Just the appearance speaks volumes about this big beer.

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    The bottle size may have been dictated by cost. I recall reading that it was expensive to fill those nip bottles. Of course, that was a long time ago, and things could have changed over the years.

                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                      Likely it was cost, and it also could have been resistance from retailers.