1. The wait is over! Download the BeerAdvocate app on iTunes or Google Play now.
  2. Get 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine for only $9.99!

John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale - Mad River Brewing Company

Not Rated.
John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.

462 Ratings

(view ratings)
Ratings: 462
Reviews: 349
rAvg: 3.73
pDev: 13.14%
Wants: 20
Gots: 21 | FT: 1
Brewed by:
Mad River Brewing Company visit their website
California, United States

Style | ABV
American Barleywine |  11.00% ABV

Availability: Winter

Notes/Commercial Description:
Same recipe each year. ABV varies slightly 9.5-11.0%

(Beer added by: xlperro on 10-26-2004)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Usefulness | Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale Alström Bros
Ratings: 462 | Reviews: 349 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Chuggnutt
3.8/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Dark brown, murky—like dark maple syrup. Almost no head when I poured.

Smell: Sweet, alcohol, plummy fruits, fig, raisin, brown sugar.

Taste: Strong alcohol (phenols?), coffee, caramel, dark berry, brandy, hint of vanilla and molasses.

Mouthfeel: Nice and syrupy thick, alcohol numbing, pleasantly warming.

Overall: A very decent barleywine with a lot of complex character happening there.

Chuggnutt, Aug 23, 2007
Photo of Imstillthegman
3.33/5  rDev -10.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2006 harvest.

Pours a cloudy brown with loads of yeast particles suspended throughout the liquid. There are some lighter orange highlights on the edges of the glass...but it still looks like Hudson River water. No head at all, only a thin ring of bubbles.

The aroma is very malty for an American Barley Wine. Sweet toffee, caramel, alcohol, light floral and citrus hops, dark fruits and just a hint of earthy tobacco.

The flavor is in need of some aging, imo. Alcohol burn is present from almost beginning to end. Sweet, dark fruits (plums, prunes), bready, boozy, resin bitterness in the finish. This is definitely a sipper.

Mouthfeel is a thick medium with light carbonation. The burn from the abv is not very enjoyable to me. Not enough flavor to complement it , imo. I will let the other five bottles I have sit for a while in the cellar before I come back to this one.

Imstillthegman, Aug 06, 2007
Photo of walshclimb
3.65/5  rDev -2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours cloudy, medium brown with thin lacy off-white head. Smells malty and sweet with maple syrup or molasses and a touch of alcohol. The initial flavor is malty and very sweet with only slight balancing bitterness. The aftertaste is malty and lightly sour. The mouthfeel is full-bodied, slightly oily, and pretty smooth. This beer is a little sweet for my taste, but nice to split a 12 oz. bottle. I suspect it may improve with age, mellowing the sweetness..

walshclimb, Jul 31, 2007
Photo of Phyl21ca
3.5/5  rDev -6.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Bottle: Poured a deep brown color ale with a nice foamy head with good retention and some lacing. Aroma of sweet malt with some dry and bitter hops also noticeable. Taste is a balance mix between some sweet malt and some bitter and citrusy hops. I personally like more malt heavy barley wine then hoppy barley wine so this was not necessarily for me. Body is about average with some good carbonation and no sign of alcohol.

Phyl21ca, Jul 27, 2007
Photo of mcallister
3.58/5  rDev -4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

2006 Vintage at 9.5% ABV.

Pours russet colored with some sediment abound. Head of tan arises too around a half inch then fades quickly into spotty clusters.

Sweet toffee aromas with caramel in a close second. Citrusy hops with a great floral touch that makes the nose quite lively. Fig, raisin, dates, and prune with a pineapple, grapefruit twist that leads into a maple brown sugar ester.

Nice hop bitterness on the mid palate and ending of this but it leaves an unpleasant film that hurts both the taste and mouthfeel. Would probably mellow out overtime and be no problem. Cherry, fig, dates, brown sugar, some citrus although not as showing as the nose, hazlenut, and chewy caramel. Mouth is big, full and overtaking but like mentioned earlier some time to rest is needed.

A good barleywine I'd like to lay down for a few years and try again.

mcallister, Jul 01, 2007
Photo of ChainGangGuy
3.53/5  rDev -5.4%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Pours a clear, bright carnet body with a small, off-white head.

Smell: Whiskey-scented aroma with hints of sweet caramel, vanilla, spiced plums. Some perfumy peach notes.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy, yet also earthy and grainy, with flavors of caramel, stewed plums, and brown sugar. The sweetness is backed by plenty of hop bitterness and, again, hints of peaches which meld with the alcohol is provide a shot of peach schnapps. Ends with a dryish, woody finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Dense, sticky mouthfeel. Relatively low carbonation. Quite warming, alcoholwise.

Drinkability: Paired very well with the movie "The Lost Weekend".

ChainGangGuy, Jun 24, 2007
Photo of Boppar
4.47/5  rDev +19.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Vintage 2005.

12 oz. bottle pours into a chalice with a very thin head, but nice lacing. A tawny brown orange. Nice color, but I was hoping for better lace and/or head.

Smell is sweet summer squash and dank, resiny pine hops. An alcoholic spiciness turns into a mild burn about half way up my nasal cavity.

A bold malty sweetness is up to bat first. Good, biscuity flavor, with notes of honey and maybe orange rind. Some nice smokiness in the second half and right on through. Some well-balanced mid-palate hop bitterness kicks in, and transitions seamlessly to a ridiculously long dry finish that tastes primarily like oak, but some residual hoppy pine action and faint citrus notes. There is a little alcohol spice, but the 9.5% ABV is remarkably well-hidden.

Mouthfeel is thick, chewy and moderately carboated. it works great for this style.

Barleywines are meant to be sippers with big, robust flavors. They are also supposed to pack a wallop ABV-wise. This brew is definitely a heavy-hitter in the flavor department, and its well-disguised 9.5% ABV is no small-fry either. So when I say that John Barleycorn accomplishes both of the goals, and yet goes down so nice and smooth that I wish I had another 12 oz. for later, I want you to understand how well-crafted this beer is.

This beer has all the balance and complexity I had hoped to find in Bigfoot.

Boppar, May 15, 2007
Photo of Vancer
4.38/5  rDev +17.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Solid hitter here, proper ol’ dark oak pour, lacey tan head, nice lacing. Yum.

Cherry and plum in the aroma, sweet malt too. The malty quaff is pleasing me, as I work thru this snifter. Woody and resinous, I’m still drawn back to the black cherry backbone. Sharp and dry, the cherry sweetness doesn’t over power in the finish. Just a top-notch brew. I could drink this all evening long. I sure hope to hell have more of these down the road.

I’m in debt to Dubbercody
for this nice brew, sent for my BA annv.

Vancer, Apr 23, 2007
Photo of russpowell
4.08/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2006 Pours chestnutwith 1 finger+ of sand colored head. Average lacing & above average head retention

S: Bready, doughy with chocolate & brown sugar

T: Bready & boozey warmth up front. Earthy hops & a little roasted grain. Brown sugar, itense dryness & pecans as this warms. Finishes dry with bakers chocolate, sometimes harsh boozeyness( mellows as it warms ) & piney bitterness at the back of the throat

MF: Medium bodied, slight oilyness & low carbonation

The 9.0 abv is evident here, not a bad one to sip a bottle or 2, but after that, move on! A bit pricey at $12 a sixer (my biggest bitch about this beer)

russpowell, Apr 09, 2007
Photo of Braudog
3.38/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

From a 12oz botle, this poured shockingly dark, although the deep crimson color shows up if you hold it to light. There’s little life to it and almost no head. The aroma is sugary sweet, syrupy and molasses-like. This is extremely rich, sugary and full-flavored, definitely a dessert beer. To my palate of limited range, I’d be forced to say that raisin is the predominate flavor here, although there’s also a tingle of hoppy pine/resin, along with the strong baked sugar strength of the alcohol. (#2770, 4/8/2007)

Braudog, Apr 09, 2007
Photo of GClarkage
3.68/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

01/20/07- Purchased at Ledgers Liquors in Berkeley, CA.

2006 Release****

Presentation- 12oz bottle, bottled in late 2006. Poured into my Alesmith tulip.

Appearance- Dark caramel brown pour. 1/4 inch head from a very slow pour. Nice patchy lacing.

Smell- Super dark roasted malt with pine hops beneath. Smells very bready.

Taste- Intense deep roasted malt flavor. John relies more on malt than hops for sure. It does have a nice woody hop profile though. Kind of a nice change of pace for a barleywine. Seems to have a slight touch of a cardboard taste.

Mouthfeel- Pretty smooth with a lower carbonation rate. Very nice malty aftertaste.

Drinkability- Overall a very tasty barleywine. More of a malt bomb than based on hops. Very drinkable.

GClarkage, Mar 10, 2007
Photo of Neehan
4.08/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Celebrating the 2006 Harvest. Cheers.

A ruddy and hazy dark bronze with a nice ring of lacing that stays alive with each sip. Pleasant webbing and foamy head. This year's harvest reaps apples, plums, grapes, and perhaps a very slight hint of grapefruit. The taste is very smooth, much smoother than what I remember of last year's offering. With a bitterness that quickly and quietly disappears. A back and forth between sweetness and bitterness with each sip, mellowing more as the drink warms. Very light and foamy in the mouth that eases down quite nicely. Very drinkable for the genre because of its smoothness and relaxing character. Far better than I had expected, this year's offering is fantastic.

Neehan, Mar 02, 2007
Photo of khiasmus
3.68/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

A-Deep amber color, with light head that quickly dissipates to a lace. Very slightly cloudy.

S-Almost a three way tie between hops, malt, and alcohol. Very sweet with notes of nuts and honey.

T-Very sweet and malty, with hops almost balancing. Overall very sweet and slightly fruity. Citrus, maple, honey, cane sugar, cocoa, coffee.

M-Slick and buttery, with a slight astringency and dry finish.

D-More drinkable than many barleywines, but once again, unless your a freak for them, you won't have more than a couple.

khiasmus, Feb 23, 2007
Photo of phisig137
3.93/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Bottle dated for the 2006 harvest. Pours a deep brown with ruby tinges, fairly cloudy, and a one finger creamy head. Decent retention doesn't leave much behind.

Aroma is full and enjoyable. Well balanced between malt and hops, and with only a little hint of alcohol. Nice and pine like hops give this an american spin.

Flavor is quite nice. Huge toffee notes up front, with some complex caramel, malt, and molasses flavors. Finish is firmly bitter, with only moderate hop flavor. Not sweet and not bitter, but very nicely balanced. I can see this aging quite nicely for a few years. Mouthfeel is stick, full, and heavy. Drinkability is quite good for a fresh barleywine.

Without a doubt, this is the best organic beer I've had to date. I'll be very curious to see how this ages in around three years. It's pretty delicious now, but has the potential to be amazing. It's not as in your face as many other american barleywines, but it stand up well to the competition. Recommended.

phisig137, Feb 23, 2007
Photo of barleywinebrewer
3.88/5  rDev +4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

another tasty treat acquired through the wonders of trading!

A - Nice rich burgandy color, creamy tanned head.

S - Rich malts, toffee, ripe dark fruits and a warm alcohol hints.

T - similar to the smell but not heavy sweet. A wisp of hops finishes this one off nicely.

M - full bodied, smoothly carbonated. Nothing better when natural carbonation does it's thing!

D - while not overtaking some all time favorites, this one was quite tasty. I only had two and it was enough for once sitting, not enough in the cellar.

I could see cellaring this for a few years. Of course that is if I could get it in NH. Enjoy if you can get them.

barleywinebrewer, Feb 12, 2007
Photo of Enola
3.63/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Served in a Chimay glass.

This beer is a nice plum color with a fair hed the receded into a thin layer. The smell is a sweet combination of hops and fruit. The taste is sweet and the hops present a slight bitterness. The beer is very smooth, with only a slight sour bitterness in the aftertaste that hopefully will lay down with time. Drinkable for sure, as the bottle lists a slightly higher abv than listed here. Whatever the avb, it does not show at all. A good barleywine that should get better with time.

Enola, Feb 08, 2007
Photo of rallison
3.9/5  rDev +4.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

A: Rich reddish brown with a nice white head that lasts.

S: Lots of sweetness. Caramel, brandy, etc.

T: Definitely sweet. Tastes of sweet caramel and has some brandy. Some bitterness at the very end, but only barely enough to counter the sweetness. Also get some alcohol burn. Sort of works in this case, since the beer is so rich, but it's there. Although, for a 9% beer this rich, the alcohol could be a little more hidden. You want something after dinner to go with your sweet dessert? This is the beer.

M: Rich, thick, full. No doubt about it. Some carbonation to keep it from being overly syrupy.

D: I like the beer, but it's a bit too rich to be really drinkable. A 12 oz bottle is just about right.

Semi-recommended. If it's what you're in the mood for, it's enjoyable. Just be ready for it.

rallison, Feb 02, 2007
Photo of Foxman
3.58/5  rDev -4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

It pours a very hazy brownish coppery amber, more orange at the edges. A finger-plus of khaki head lasts a fair while. Scoops of lacing dollop the inside of the glass.

The aroma is disappointingly sparse, and barely indicates roasted malt, some sloe and currants, and a sprinkle of hop scent. Not so sparse is a sinewy tendon of alcohol.

Upon sipping, there comes a quite sweet twist of earthy, sugary malt, caramel, plum, and vanilla. A slightly floral and peppery hop presence tempers a sherry vinous aspect of hot alcohol. A decided turn of gritty bitterness overlaps some biscuit. The finish is dry and very bitter, lingering stoutly. The flavor strives for mainstream, and it does end up being manageably alright.

Full bodied, the slick viscous malt and glowing bitterness impress the palate well.

The nose is very thin and made me work too hard, and the flavor almost did the same, but to a somewhat lesser degree. It is quite bitter, and almost refreshingly dry in the finish, but it doesn't overload the tastebuds with hop lava. The ABV is gutsy and hot, but while it hits hard, it doesn't strike as out of place. The size alone makes it worthy of caution, and the rather mundane presentation leave it moderately drinkable. So while I don't think John Barleycorn must die, he doesn't have to stop around real often either.

Foxman, Jan 25, 2007
Photo of BeerRun13
3.58/5  rDev -4%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a dark ruby brown with some floaties & just visible bubbles. An agresive pour still ony produced a thin film that quickly faded to a ring.
Malty and raisiny in the nose. Something in there reminds me of those Red Hot candies.
Strong malty flavor with a slight alcoholic kick. Nice hop flavor and bitterness. Bittering with a slightly spicy finish.
Full malty body with moderate carbonation. Very warming alcohol down the throat. Bittering finish.
A sipper for sure, but pretty good overall.

BeerRun13, Jan 20, 2007
Photo of TastyTaste
4.68/5  rDev +25.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Clear maroon body, although very dark, doesn't let a whole lot of light through. Big off-white slow fading head.

Smell: Maple syrup and oak, sugary sweet with nice fruity hops, nice and 'bright' smelling barleywine.

Taste: Rich and malty, strong hops, very west-coast, hops and malt are balanced, and both are very strong. Cereal-grainy flavor smooths things out, alcohol lingers and tinkgles on the way. Finely crafted, has a nice unique flavor.

Drinkability: Enjoyable, another treat from Zorro.

TastyTaste, Jan 17, 2007
Photo of rkuhnel
3.95/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

I tend to like most of what Mad River attempts, and being local I can always get this. This was the early 2007 vintage, and they seem to have made this even better. It pours what I guess you would have to call a cross between red and brown, sort of deep mahogany color and up popped a big light tan head that settled slowly and left lots of big chunks of lacing in the glass. What actually greets you first when you take a big sniff is alcohol, then you get caramel malts, piney hops, and fruits like cherry or figs. Mouth feel is somewhat more dry than the nose would suggest. Flavors are of sweet caramel and chocolate. A very decent Barleywine, and it would be interesting so see how it would do if I could just buy a six-pack and leave it alone for a year.

rkuhnel, Jan 16, 2007
Photo of akorsak
2.42/5  rDev -35.1%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

A 12 oz bottle from a trade with Boolshot.

A: The barleywine is a deep copper red, very hazy, with a small white head and no lace.

S: The aroma is almost nonexistent, regardless of temperature of the beer. A very grainy, unsweet malt scent manages to waft up but it is weak.

T: The flavor is grainy malts. The body is very light, lacking the intense complexity and malty overload of a good barleywine. On top of that, there are no hops to be found. As the ale warms, it takes on a slightly medicinal malt flavor with some residual sweetness, but it is still lacking for hops.

M: The mouthfeel is bland, lacking a memorable hop or malt body.

D: I would not grab this one again, it seems to come up short in every category.

akorsak, Jan 04, 2007
Photo of Zorro
3.78/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2006 Bottle with a listed 9.5 ABV.

In the glass this is a clear coca cola brown colored beer. The head doesn't really form here what there is of it is tan.

Smell is sweet and very malty with a strong pine cone scent. Alcohol is evident and adds a black pepper aroma. Fruitiness is in this mostly cherry and prune smell.

Taste is sweet and very bitter at the beginning. The bitterness doesn't get much stronger and this quickly becomes malty and woody in flavor. Not real complex but it is fairly good.

Mouthfeel is good.

An OK Barley Wine that is of the bitter and woody type. If you like a strong woody beer then this is for you.

Zorro, Dec 31, 2006
Photo of dirtylou
3.6/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

12oz single split with blackie, from the these go to eleven bif, 2004 bottle

appearance: poured into snifter...murky/muddy mahogany-amber. foamy beige head with light retention

smell: bitter hops dominate the aroma, heavy pine, strong citrus, boozy plum, light brown sugar, boozy malt

taste: boozy at 9%, bitter pine cones, fig, dark fruit, brown sugar...not terribly complex, but a nice bitter barleywine

mouthfeel: boozy, hop kick is heavy

drinkability: alright

dirtylou, Dec 29, 2006
Photo of TheLongBeachBum
4.1/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2006 Harvest (Sampled Fresh)

Presentation: Stubby 12 fluid ounce bottle sealed with a twist off standard brass crown cap. Single main label has a light tan brown background with dark brown printing and text. Labeled as ‘John Barleycorn’ but described as ‘Certified Organic Barleywine Ale – Celebrating 2006 Harvest’. Listed at 9.5% Alcohol By Volume, no Freshness Date.

Appearance: Creamy tanned head soon forms a very smooth and uniform looking vicars collar that starts at ½” thick and settles at no less than ¼” when it relaxes, leaving some large bubbles on the surface when it does. A light haze sits like a Victorian London mist in the pastel looking horse chestnut body. The carbonation is broken in places but always finely dissolved. Exhibits a very traditional looking English Barleywine appearance which I love.

Nose: Soothing toffee, alcohol laden caramel, dark fruits, soft chewy malts, brown sugar, hints of raisins and a nice low key bitter hop pinch at the death. Warming, soothing and very relaxing….if only I had a roaring fireplace to sit next to and a clay pipe to smoke on.

Taste: The chewy toffee malts kick things off; there is only the mildest hint of sweetness in this Barleywine, which is rare treat these days. This low sweetness is a positive advantage; it discretely gives way to dark fruits, brown sugars, a little anise, some toasted bread and caramelized raisins in the middle with a firm bitterness in the finish to pick up the excitement in the ending. Dry and bitter with a lovely warm malt presence. A few mouthfuls later and a healthy punch of pine hops and oils coat the cheeks. The bitterness gives way to a thick oily hop death. Super stuff.

Mouthfeel: This doesn’t so much have Mouthfeel, as Nosefeel, a warming waft of nasal alcohol heats up the back of the throat and leads you into the firm body. I think this Barleywine got a Bowflex for Christmas; there are no flabby bits anywhere, nothing but a firm, well toned, mid-rift with some thick calfs for long distance drinking. The alcohol plays its part here, but perfectly balances the traditional English Barleywine character.

Drinkability: I wished this one had arrived in a Bomber, though at 9.5% ABV and with a work day tomorrow, it is probably better that it does not. John Barleycorn has an archetypal English Barleywine composition with a projection that reminds me of the days of the Empire, oh I digress. Suffice to say, this is a very enjoyable brew, a great libation that allows you to forget the days stresses and helps you to sink into a time past and happy memories.

Overall: I haven’t seen this one knocking around before, so it was a ‘so-so’ pick-up. ‘so-so’ because I like some of the Mad River Brewing beers, but not all. I’m impressed by this though, it’s very English, and I would hate that to come across as Xenophobic or biased, but by that I mean that this Barleywine has a solid chewy toffee malt base, a restrained hop character in the middle but a lovely liquorice pine oil hop bite in the rising finish. Lovely. Didn’t seem to be much in the way of yeasty detritus in this one, but I’ll wager it will age for a year or two and improve for sure. $2.49 from Hollingshead Deli of Orange. Recommended.

TheLongBeachBum, Dec 27, 2006
John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
84 out of 100 based on 462 ratings.