Beer Review 0583: AleSmith Old Numbskull Barleywine

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AleSmith Brewing Company is located in San Diego, California, and was founded by Peter Zien in 1995. AleSmith has deep roots in the homebrewing community; Mr. Zien was a home homebrewer himself who dreamed of wanting to own a brewery. Well, that dream came true; Zien is also San Diego County’s only BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) “Grand Master” beer judge. BJCP sanctions homebrewing competitions.

To continue the homebrew theme, the other major half of AleSmith, Tod Fitzsimmons, was a former president of the homebrew club QUAFF. He joined the company as a brewer in 1996.

Very recently, AleSmith earned the #1 slot on the website RateBeer’s ‘Top Brewer in the World’ list. (Of note: I’ve only ever reviewed one other AleSmith beer because they are not distributed here in North Carolina; it was Speedway Stout, and I awarded it a perfect 100 points!)

Old Numbskull is a west-coast style Barleywine that is produced year-round. The name gives a nod to English tradition as Barleywines typically started with “Old” in the beer name. Coming in at 11% ABV (alcohol by volume), this is a fresh bottle produced in November 2013.

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The pour delivered a very nice looking beer, capped by a large, off-white, creamy head that lingered. The beer was a dull amber-brown out of light; held in light, it became red with lighter orange highlights toward the bottom of the glass. The body was hazy yet still remained translucent, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing was perfect, leaving behind thick sheets of solid foam as I sipped. Picture perfect for the style.

On the nose, this is much more Imperial IPA than Barleywine — until it begins to warm. Pungent and fresh hops immediately greet you, with impressive waves of resinous pine, grapefruit, orange, mild tropical fruits, and lime. The malt backing is meek at first, only giving off hints of caramel and toffee, but as it warms, it opens to expose deeper, bready notes with delicate layers of chocolate and a hint of dark fruit.

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The taste is very much the same, with untamed notes of sticky, fresh hops; big orange peel, grapefruit, sweet tropical fruits and a wallop of dank pine. This couples with a stiff note of 11% alcohol to be unpleasant and medicinal at first; when allowed to warm, more of the malt backing starts to account for itself. There’s a thin layer of caramel and growing dark fruits, with bread crust, and it helps soak up some of the alcohol. By the middle of the glass, Old Numbskull turns into an enjoyable drink that showcases the other, hoppy, west-coast side of Barleywine. This beer is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel. The finish edges up the dark fruits a bit, but it needs more time to be greater defined.

If you’ve got a fresh bottle of this beer and you want to open it (which I think you should), allow it to warm for about 25 minutes after you pour it — I think you’ll avoid the stiff alcohol astringency. Don’t get me wrong — the 11% never disappears, and you surely do feel it, but this becomes a much better brew as it warms. Now, as for aging…I think if you check in around 6-8 months, you will be greatly rewarded with a classic beer.

AleSmith Old Numbskull Barleywine, 93 points. Price: $10.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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