Redux Review 0012: Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine (2011)

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Several weeks ago, I asked you to pick the next beer for a redux review, where I take a second look at a beer I’ve already reviewed. You chose the 2011 batch of Dogfish Head’s Olde School Barleywine, and you chose it by a wide margin. So, now with about two years of age, we’re pulling another bottle of this from the basement and seeing where it stands.

Coming in at a very large 15% ABV (alcohol by volume), Olde School is certainly built to age — in fact, on the side of the bottle, it recommends you dig a hole in your yard, bury a bottle, and return to it in a year. Well, we’ve already did that; the first time I reviewed the beer, it had a year of sleepytime on it, and I scored it 89 points.

My initial review:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 29 of 35 points
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 31 of 35 points

Final Score: 89 points, or very good to excellent on my rating scale.

On first blush, I noted that Olde School was a bit hot and medicinal, noting a cough syrup-like cherry note in the flavor. I recommended two or three more years, but we’ll take a look now and see.

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Pouring spilled out an average size, off-white, creamy head that lingered for a bit before disappearing to all but the edges of the glass. The beer is deep amber in color with some orange highlights when held to light. You’ll also notice it’s opaque when in the light thanks to the heavy, chunky particles and sediment that are floating throughout. If you’re not down with floating particles in your beer, you probably won’t like this — have no fear, this stuff is good for you. To say the body on Olde School is muddy and murky is an understatement; this stuff is like dirty river water. And despite all that sediment, it doesn’t lace up the glass one bit. Still, it’s a great looking beer.

The nose. Oh, the nose — it’s almost straight up sweet caramel and cookies, but there is a lot of other stuff going on here, too — the hops are in the background, although faded, giving off pops of grapefruit and pine. There’s plenty of dark fruits to be had, including raisins, figs, and mixed with the high alcohol, rum-soaked raisins. It should be noted that as compared to the first sample, the alcohol is very well masked in aroma. Mostly at play here are sweet malts, huge notes of caramel, toffee, and even a little bit of chocolate and Tootsie Roll.

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On the taste, we’ve got boozy rum-soaked raisins paired with caramel and burnt sugar. It’s a fantastic opening that gets more intense, including some soft grapefruit and pine hops. This beer is quite chewy; brace yourself for the swallow, because that’s where all the alcohol unloads, and it does get a little medicinal the longer you sip. Olde School warms the throat and body with the full 15% ABV, along with strikingly deep flavors of caramel, candied orange, brown sugar, pine, and even a little sweetened coffee. As if you had to ask, it’s full-bodied, with a thick, creamy, viscous mouthfeel. You’ll get a lot more enjoyment if you sip slowly and allow it to warm up a bit as the flavors only intensify; besides, after a couple of sample sips, you’ll quickly realize that you don’t want to gulp this brew.

On the whole, I found the beer to be greatly improved over last year’s sampling, but the alcohol is still a major player in the finish. I think another year will be just right for this beer, putting it at the three year mark — then, the finish that nearly takes your breath with its strength should be more rounded and gel with the soft, plush (yet intense) sweet flavors going on in the rest of the palate. Still, this is a tasty beer and fun to drink, especially if you like your Barleywine with plenty of alcohol backend.

In redux:

Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 31 of 35 points
Drinkability/Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points

Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine (2011), 93 points. Price: $3.29 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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