Nice surprise in a barleywine
Drinking a bottle of Lost Abbey Angels' Share, about 5 or 6 years old, and I am just stunned by it.
First of all, I rarely enjoy barley wines. Usually they taste hot and harsh to me. But this is just warming, mellow and very smooth..
Second, I rarely enjoy aged beers, or at least rarely enjoy them as much as a fresh sample of the same beer. But this beer has really come together without losing its brightness.
Third, I don't like most barrel aged beers, outside of sours. Again, this proves the exception. Nice notes of vanilla and caramel that do not overwhelm the beer itself.
Fourth, I usually don't much care for sweet beers, and while this isn't cloying, it's certainly sweeter than my typical favorites.
And finally, this beer became somewhat infamous a few years ago when several consumers reported that their bottles had become infected with some undesirable microorganisms that rendered the product undrinkable. Well, that is terribly unfortunate, because this bottle, which is definitely not infected with anything odd, is delicious.
It has a great malt presence that reminds me of some of the great Belgian strong ales from Rochefort of St. Bernardus. Nice carbonation and surprisingly refreshing, the body seems quite light for a beer of this strength, making it dangerously easy to drink.
It certainly shows me that a well made beer is a beautiful thing even if it's far from my usual favorite styles.
Get a couple of bottles of Clown Shoes Billionaire, drink one now and age one. It's aged in cognac barrels and matches your description to a tee.
Barleywine is generally best when aged. Traditionally, they were very long aged.
Some barleywines taste alright when they are consumed young, but a _real_ barleywine will always be much better (and certainly more historically and traditionally authentic) if it is well aged.
How well it stands up to age will depend on a lot of factors including how it was brewed to begin with, the strength of the brew, and how it's subsequently handled during aging and at packaging.
re: Jim Dorsch
Pretty sure that's the difference between American vs English barleywines. A lot of U.S. brewers load up on the aroma hops, which do not age well. Bigfoot being a perfect example. Where as English style will be much more malty/sweet when fresh, with little hop aroma, and will improve with age.
Glad to see you've found a BW to suit your tastes... you're not alone in thinking that not every BW is created equal, but IMO there are a number of good ones, however availability is limited...
"it has a great malt presence that reminds me of some of the great belgian strong ales..."
That's true to my palate too... I drink these two styles basically inter-changeably. If you served them to me blind I'd say they were versions of the same beer style.
I presume most BW ages well. A go-to brew for me that is widely available and consistently comes out high on my taste scale is Anchor Foghorn. Others that I've given highest marks to: Victory Old Horizontal, Dogfish Immort Ale, and Three Floyds Behemoth.
The first release of Angel's Share was remarkable. It was a stunning beer. It motivated a lot of people to buy multiple bottles of the second release, which is the one that was infected (I had the misfortune of being in this number).
I know that after that debacle things improved, so I'm glad to hear you had a good experience with it.
Barleywines are usually hot and harsh when young. They require aging to be palatable, as others here have mentioned. Another good one aged is Stone's Old Guardian. I had a three-year old bottle that was delicious.
Another good one for aging is AleSmith Grand Cru. I had a 4 year old one of those that was pretty remarkable.