Beer Review 0135: Duck-Rabbit Barleywine Ale

Duck-Rabbit, “the dark beer specialists,” brew out of Farmville, North Carolina, which makes this a local beer for me. I have reviewed several offerings from Duck-Rabbit in the past, and all of them have impressed.

The first batch of beer officially came out of the company in August 2004. The logo is indeed an optical illusion, which speaks to the fact that Paul Philippon, founder, taught philosophy before becoming a dark beer expert.

Unfortunately, Duck-Rabbit have a website that looks like it was last updated in 2004. Information about their Barleywine Ale is largely unavailable on the web, so I’ll just tell you this from the bottle: this beer is 11% ABV (alcohol by volume). Yep, that’s all the information I have.

For each beer Duck-Rabbit produces, the logo dons a different hat. For the Barleywine, it’s a nice brown fedora-looking-but-not-fedora hat. A derby? I don’t know, I’m not a hat expert…anyway, to the beer.

The pour executed an average size head, which was on the large side considering this is 11% ABV. The head was creamy and extremely long lasting, and off-white in color. The beer was a deep amber color, almost red (in fact, when held to the light, there were plenty of red highlights) and the body was free of sediment but the beer was fairly cloudy. As it warmed, some of that cloudiness went away, but not all of the cloudiness was chill haze. And the lacing — wow, superb.

The aromatics delivered a complex array of malt and miscellaneous scents; up front, there’s a big belt of caramel, accompanied by a host of dark fruits, figs, prunes, raisins, dark cherries. This one had sort of a mustiness to it, very similar to an Old Ale. It was bready and slightly vinous, like a crisp white wine. Lots of complexity on this nose, if you like Barleywine, you’ll love this aroma.

Immediately on the palate, I noticed that this was very thin and slick feeling for a Barleywine, but don’t be fooled — this beer coats your mouth with a sticky sweetness that is almost overwhelming. Most of the flavors found in the aroma are there: caramel, rich dark fruits, plums, raisins. This beer is sweet during the taste but the finish after swallowing turns quite bitter and pounds you with an alcohol kick. The alcohol is well hidden in the taste of the beer, but you begin to feel the punch immediately, and it attacks the pit of your stomach first before delivering a full-body warmth. Then, the sweet mouthfeel — not the sweet taste — kicks in and you almost feel the need for a drink of water.

Duck-Rabbit have produced a nice complex Barleywine that doesn’t quite fit the traditional Barleywine style. I could have done without so much of the sweetness feel, and I thought the alcohol was a bit too much.

Still, lovers of serious ale ought to try this one.

Duck-Rabbit Barleywine Ale, 90 points. Price: $2.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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