Beer Review 0202: Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine (Birthday Beer Week 2 of 7)

I couldn’t let my birthday beer review week not include a beer from Dogfish Head, located in Milton, Delaware.

Olde School is a Barleywine that I purchased a bottle of last November. It has been aging in my basement for ten months, although at 15% ABV (alcohol by volume), you could age this one much, much longer. In fact, that’s what Dogfish recommends you do: buy a bottle to have now, and bury one in the backyard for later.

Dogfish claims this is the strongest Barleywine in the world, although I have no verification on their claim. When brewed, this beer comes in at 13% ABV, but dates and figs are dosed in, bringing it up to the monster level of 15%. This technique was written about in a cellerman’s manual that Dogfish founder Sam Calagione found. He was inspired to brew this beer after reading it.

Despite the big alcohol, this beer has significant IBUs (International Bitterness Units), coming in at 85 on that scale. As Olde School ages, the pit fruit flavors are supposed to come forward, while the hoppiness will recede.

Olde School pours an average size head, which quickly fades into nothing, not even a thin cover over the beer. The liquid is a beautiful murky deep amber/burnt orange color, filled with chunky particles and sediment. This beer is unfiltered, and with the high ABV, produced no lacing.

On the nose, with almost a year of age on the beer, the alcohol is front and center. There are dark fruits, particularly fig and raisin, giving off a fruit cake-like scent, very sweet, especially when combined with caramel and a tiny hint of chocolate. There are some pine hops in there, too, and a musty, doughy yeast. The alcohol presence is nearly solvent-like and commands your attention. And while the alcohol dominates, the subtle notes of everything else is quite enjoyable and pleasing.

The alcohol rears its head again in the taste, grabbing your tongue and thrashing it about, along with caramel and dark fruits. There’s a cherry note that appears and is medicinal, and the texture is thin but creamy, and actually dries the mouth out. The finish is bittersweet, bitter on the front end with a significant hop kick, and then sweet on the backside with a caramel perfume. The alcohol hit me first in the nose, then the back of the throat, then a full body warmth.

Dogfish’s Olde School is a complex beer that needs some serious downtime. Yeah, this is the second review of my birthday week where the beer needed to chill out more. I think some age, perhaps two or three years, would take care of that medicinal cherry note, and round out the rough edges on the alcohol punch. Otherwise, this is a fantastic barleywine you might want to invest in for the future.

Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine, 89 points. Price: $3.29 US for one twelve ounce bottle.


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