Beer Review 0551: Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine (2013)

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Happy New Year! Thought we’d start it out right with what is widely regarded as one of the best Barleywine beers being brewed today. Cheers and here’s to a successful 2014.

Three Floyds Brewing Company hails from Munster, Indiana, and their reputation is pretty stellar amongst beer drinkers. In a recent beer trade with Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin), I jumped at the chance to get a couple of their brews, which are not available here in North Carolina…and just about everywhere else in the United States. Three Floyds have a very small distribution footprint at this point.

Founded in 1996 by Mike Floyd and his sons Nick and Simon, their goal was to breathe life into the then mundane craft beer scene by producing beers that were simply not normal. As popularity increased, the Munster location was created, and upgrade after upgrade took place. Bottling cranked up in 2002, a brewpub was created in 2005…with that being said, Three Floyds are still very small, even when compared to breweries like Dogfish Head, Bell’s, and Great Lakes.

First up in the seasonal lineup each year in January for Three Floyds is Behemoth, a 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) Barleywine that the brewery says is “hugely sweet with complex caramel malt notes.” The bottling year is denoted by the color of the wax used to adorn the bottle — orange wax was for 2013, making this beer about a year old at the time of this review. While highly malted, there should be some significant hops present — the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) check in at 80.

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The pour roused up a small, creamy, and whipped frothy head that had lasting quality. This is a beer that is deceiving in color; out of light, it’s a murky burnt orange, but held to light it becomes a beautiful deep amber with edges of lighter orange. The body is quite hazy but doesn’t contain any particles or sediment. Lacing is very nice, leaving behind thin but solid sheets of foam on the non-sipping side of my glass.

On the nose, the big story of this beer begins to take shape —balance. While it might be the 12 months of age talking, this is an incredibly balanced Barleywine — the massive bready caramel sweetness is perfectly balanced by assertive yet soft grapefruit and pine hops. It’s lovely with undertones of orange peel, and a lot of dark fruits like prune and figs. And the signature of American Barleywine, at least to me — a bit of fusel alcohol that serves to further tame the sweetness. Behemoth is classic in aroma; beautifully balanced and hitting all the right notes.

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I can report that the taste is very much the same. Simply amazing! Sweet candied caramel is tempered with grapefruit, orange peel, and pine; some notes of bread is introduced in the middle of the taste, and a big hit of dark fruits (prune and fig) spring up to wash that out. At this point, it should be said that the mouthfeel is exceptionally smooth; I’d call this medium-bodied, with a creamy, almost silky feel when swirled. The finish is big, with an even split of chewy caramel and biting grapefruit/pine hops, with an edge of spicy lemon. And as you breathe out after sipping, a fusel alcohol greets you, reminding you that while this might be extremely easy drinking, it’s a big boy. Err…girl. Behemoth is medium-bodied, and I’d have no problem polishing off this entire bottle by myself. Then crying because the bottle would be empty, but happy because I’d have a nice buzz going.

As I suspected, this is a great way to start off a new year. Three Floyds have made a textbook definition of what an American Barleywine should be, and the smoothness and high drinkability is just another feather in the proverbial cap. At one year of age, this brew is drinking great and is an ultimate representation of the great things that can happen when sweetness, bitterness, and alcohol collide. Bravo!

(You have NO idea how difficult it was to sit on this beer for the four months I had it in my possession, just for New Year’s Day!)

Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine (2013), 98 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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