Beer Review 0456: Olde Hickory Irish Walker Barleywine (2013)

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Editor’s Note: Beer 4 of 7 in my birthday beer week, in which I celebrate my birthday by reviewing beers I’ve sat aside for the occasion. I turn 31 on August 14. I advise you to celebrate your birthday accordingly, too!

Olde Hickory Brewing is located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Hickory, North Carolina. Founded in 1994 by Steven Lyerly and Jason Yates, production started on a seven barrel system and quickly outgrew, forcing upgrades.

Still, this brewery isn’t a giant mega facility, instead choosing to make beer in small batches, 800 gallons or less at a time. Just to show you how small batch Olde Hickory are, all of their bottled offerings (as of this writing, the brewery only produces 22 oz. bomber size bottles and few scattered 750 ml containers) are hand dated. Distribution is limited to Tennessee and North Carolina, so most of my readers might have trouble finding anything Olde Hickory.

Olde Hickory is located about two hours from where I live (Winston-Salem), and on a recent visit, I tried their Irish Walker Barleywine. Of the twelve beer flight sampler, it was the most impressive of the bunch, so I had to pick up some bottles of it — and I deemed the beer good enough to want to have on my birthday, which is today. Irish Walker is an English-style Barleywine, brewed with Fuggles and UK Golding hops. It is also dry-hopped, but don’t let all those hops fool you; there are plenty of malts here and the brewers are going for a spicy, malty beer that has notes of dark fruit. Irish Walker is 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) and hits 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Is it as good in the bottle as it was on tap?

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The pour only eked out a very small, light tan head, which was soapy in texture and quickly faded away. With 10% alcohol, that was to be expected. The beer was ruddy dark red in color, quite murky as it seeped from the bottle and into my glass. It’s opaque but there aren’t any particles or sediment floating. Lacing is pretty sparse, almost non-existent, but there are some little bits here and there.

On the nose, despite all the hops involved, this is a malt bomb. Tons of dark fruits are present after the pour, and those scents only get deeper as the beer warms. Prunes, raisins, figs, even rum-soaked raisins create a dessert-like aroma that just begs to be sipped. Add in some sweet caramel and lots of toasted notes, and you’ve got a beer that screams to be consumed. But wait, it gets better: fruitcake, and a touch of herbal hops. It’s sweet and it’s big and it’s AWESOME!

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Tasting, and Irish Walker completely holds up to what I expected and to the stellar nose — tons of sweet raisin, prune, and plums with a mildly sweet caramel. The palate only gets more complex as it warms, if you can save enough of the beer for that occasion — this is highly drinkable, with the alcohol completely hidden. Some rum-soaked raisins come to the forefront, and makes you swear this is barrel aged, even though it isn’t. MIddle of the mouth issues up some hoppy spice and fleshy grape notes, and the finish comes on with a mega-dose of toasted bread and subtle notes of dark chocolate and even some coffee. Irish Walker is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.

Wow. Blown away here — perhaps Olde Hickory’s most underrated beer, Irish Walker is a beer that gets made every year but tends to sit on shelves, making you wonder if they’ll make it again the next year. Let me tell you: Olde Hickory should never, ever NOT make this beer, as it is a fine example of an English Barleywine and a malt lover’s dream. This is super tasty, and one of the finest beers I’ve had in a long time.

Olde Hickory Irish Walker Barleywine (2013), 97 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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