Beer Review 0597: Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Style Ale

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The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.

Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.

Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.

On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.

At 11% ABV (alcohol by volume), Victory’s Old Horizontal is one of the most potent beers in their lineup. This Barleywine is brewed with imported German 2-row malts and whole cone American hops — the name, ‘Old Horizontal’ stems from it’s alcohol potency; have more than one of these and you might find yourself horizontal. Available only in the winter, this beer comes in 22 oz. bomber bottles.

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The pour issued forth a large, creamy, long-lasting head that was light brown in color. The beer was amber in color with lighter orange highlights; the body appeared murky but there weren’t any particles or sediment to be found. It does say on the label that this beer is bottle conditioned, but I didn’t find any yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin and sticky sheets of patchy foam.

There’s a ton of complexity on the nose; the hops hit first with plenty of pungent grapefruit, pine, and oranges. Competing just as strongly with the hops are the malts: waves of sweet caramel, sweet bread, toffee, burnt sugar/molasses lead to a rich bounty of dark fruits (raisin, prunes, and figs). The dark fruits and bready sweetness become more pronounced as the beer warms. There isn’t a noticeable alcohol scent. Very nice.

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On the palate, there’s a thick layer of grapefruit, pine, and sweet bread up front. The hops really linger quite long, and I think it’s partly thanks to the thick mouthfeel this brew possesses. Those hops ring out like they were just harvested — really fresh and pungent, but the middle of the mouth sees the malt take over with a big blast of dark fruit and sugary sweetness. It really is a battle of sweet versus bitter, then the warm fusel alcohol begins to take over and clean things up; the finish brings grapefruit rind, thick caramel, and alcohol bite. Old Horizontal is full-bodied, to say the least, with a thick, foamy texture.

Without a doubt, this is a fantastic beer, but it really comes down to personal preference here: do you like your American Barleywine to be more hoppy or malty? Right now, I’d classify this as being extremely hoppy, and quite hot in the alcohol department. My tastes could go either way, I dig ‘em both — but in my opinion, I think you’d do this brew some good to let it sit another six months or so, then the malt bill will likely truly begin to shine. Either way, pick up a bottle and settle in for a tasty treat.

Victory are knocking it out of the park this year!

Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Style Ale, 93 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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