Beer Review 0341: 21st Amendment Lower De Boom Barleywine

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You’re not seeing things. Yes, that’s a solid gold 8.4 ounce can of beer you’re looking at, not the latest fad energy drink.

21st Amendment Brewery began operations in the year 2000 and are located just two blocks from AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play baseball. Both principal founders — Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan — took a brewing science course at UC Davis, trading their successful careers to follow the passion of brewing beer.

As you might suspect, 21st Amendment is named after the actual 21st Amendment of the United States, which repealed the evil Prohibition. Could you imagine a world without beer? Didn’t think so.

Lower De Boom is a Barleywine style ale, and it’s packaged in this small can which 21st Amendment calls “a traditional Barleywine ‘nip’ size.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a “Barleywine nip size” can. I’ve seen Barleywines in 12 oz. bottles, and 22 oz. bombers, and 750 ml beasts…but never in a diminutive can. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this format — I’m down with 8.4 oz. being just about right in terms of serving size for a 11.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) brew, but what if I want to share this with someone? One thing is for sure, I’ve never seen a Barleywine in a can… until now.

Brewed with Pale, Vienna, Munich, Crystal, de-bittered Black and Belgian Candi Sugar on the malt side, this brew is hopped with Amarillo, Cascade, and Warrior. Those hops are serious, bringing this beer to 92 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). There’s a fanciful story written on the box to accompany this beer that involves the California Gold Rush; bottom line is 21st Amendment considers this drink liquid gold, and when anyone gives them trouble in the brewpub, “Lower De Boom” is spoken.

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Spilling out from the can came an orange-amber beer that when held to the light gave off red highlights. The head was small, still, and soapy; it was quite thin and faded away quickly. The body was hazy, but there were no particles or sediment, and lacing was very good for such a high alcohol beer, leaving behind small solid sheets of wispy suds.

The WOW factor begins with the nose: straight pineapple juice concentrate! Big, overwhelming, glorious pineapple juice; so prominent that I had to tell my head to ignore it to focus on all the other stuff going on: lots of warm caramel, cinnamon, some dark fruits like raisin and prune, and holiday fruitcake. There’s orange peel, a mild oak presence, and boozy alcohol. Superb. Like hoppy fruitcake.

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Tasting opens with a nice candied orange, some thick caramel and bready sweet malt. While quite sweet, Lower De Boom isn’t too sweet, and there is ample bitterness to be found later. Middle of the taste brings out the malts; layers of toffee, dark fruit, cinnamon, and burnt sugar mix with a woodsy oak. This beer isn’t barrel aged but it sure has those characteristics in nose and palate. The finish brings on a heavy wave of grapefruit bitterness, along with dry dark fruits, oak, lingering caramel, and hot alcohol. Full-bodied with a medium mouthfeel, this beer is foamy when swirled around the tongue and dries out the palate.

I’m not mincing words when I say this: if you have access to Lower De Boom, FIND IT. This is an awesome west coast Barleywine that is drinking exceptionally well right now if you don’t mind hot alcohol beers. The hops aren’t to be missed, either. But in a year or two, this will be even better. Write my prediction down and stay tuned, because we will revisit.

Very impressive, 21st Amendment. Small can and all!

21st Amendment Lower De Boom Barleywine, 97 points. Price: $9.49 US for a four-pack of 8.4 ounce cans.

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