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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.
very good

475 Ratings

(view ratings)
Ratings: 475
Reviews: 351
rAvg: 3.74
pDev: 13.1%
Wants: 22
Gots: 24 | 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
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Ratings: 475 | Reviews: 351 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of BitterBrian
4.53/5  rDev +21.1%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This is one of those beers that I think is very under-rated. I just don't get it. This might be top five material.

Poured a nice mahogany brown into my delerium snifter. Not much head there - I even let it warm up a bit after taking it from the fridge. What head was there left some light lacing.

But, the smell? . . . Mmmmm mmm. Raisins, red grape, cake, blueberry muffins. . . It sounds like I'm pulling this stuff out of my ass, but really, it smells like a tastycake truck met head on with Sara Lee. - Which is pretty damn close to the taste too. Throw in a little fig and some alcohol and there you have it. Really a nice complex, yet mild barley wine - despite it's 9.5% content. The finish is very fruit like and not too alcoholic. It's more like I just ate a grape a few miniutes ago instead.

This gives the same impression as a nice quad, but not as filling. If I'd find this again, I'd definitely pick some up.

Photo of Sammy
4.05/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1997 bottle that i was saving for a special occasion but had anyways. It had mellowed marvelously and was a magnificient aged barleywine. Reminded me of a mellow balanced cantillon open fermentation. A cloudy fruity appearance. Clearly barley and malt in taste.

Photo of brentk56
3.73/5  rDev -0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Pours a hazy copper color with a frothy head that displays good retention and a bit of splashy lacing

Smell: Toffee and leather notes; a touch of raisin

Taste: Opens with caramel and raisin flavors that are quickly subsumed by the piney hops; slightly medicinal and astringent on the finish

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and creamy with plenty of carbonation and some warmth in the gullet

Drinkability: A little too over the top on the bitterness; lacking a good malt backbone; definitely not cloying but the beer lacks the balance between the sweet and bitter flavors that define the best barleywines; aging a couple of years certainly helps this brew

Photo of rodrot
3.63/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2005 bottling. This beer poured a hazy reddish brown color with a small tan head that lingered in the glass. The smell was malty and fruity with a spicy hop aroma in the backround. Taste was very fruity and malty with notes of caramel, rum soaked cherries, dark fruit and bitter hoppiness in the finish. However, I kept tasting a slight funky cardboard flavor that was unpleasant. This was a pretty full bodied barleywine, but it tastes like something is off and unbalanced. I gave the taste a 3.5 because of that cardboard aftertaste. I plan on aging my last 2 bottles for a year or more to see how this beer matures.

Photo of RedHaze
3.68/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2005 Harvest, courtesy of bditty187.

Pours a dark red tinged brown, with a two finger off-white head that settles slowly to a thin cap and leaves behind tons of thick lacing.

Smell; sweet caramel malts, citric and piney hops and there's some dark fruity aromas as well.

Taste; a rather strong alcohol taste on the first sips, along with those hops, which have hints of grapefruit and pine trees. Sweet caramel and toffee, with a nice touch of cherries and figs. The alcohol presence fades quite a bit as it warms, making this quite drinkable. Mouthfeel is medium to full, and almost velvety smooth.

Photo of Crosling
3.68/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Enchanting deep red color. Spotted, yet well laced film coating the surface. Aromatics of maple and honey covered dark fruits, along with a touch of caramel and toffee. The flavor, like the aroma, is much more malt accented with maple, caramel, fruit and toffee characteristics. Well balanced, not amazing, but balanced and pleasing to drink.

Photo of IrishRedRock
4.1/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Recently picked up a bottle of this 2005 vintage. I always grab a few bottles of this beer whenever I see it, because the different vintages are so vastly different, and being that I'm in love with the cherry cheesecake 1997 version, my mind always wanders to that upon seeing any vintage of this, and thus I MUST pick it up.

Very murky red in color with a solid ring of lace. Pouring this beer I knew it would be different from past vintages I'd had - I could smell leafy hoppy goodness immediately. The past vintages I've sampled, even when fresh, don't have that American Barleywine hop kick that can be found in so many of its counterparts. Along with the hops, the aroma is tangy, fruity, and mildly smoky. Quite soft and lush on the palate, and melding with the sticky caramel maltiness and earthy hop undertones is the signature plum sweetness that it seems can be found in each vintage, to varying degrees. Finishes with moderate bitterness and a lingering apple flavor.

Really interesting. This is a vastly underrated barleywine (all vintages) but the 2005, at least when fresh, would surely satisfy fans of more highly regarded American barleywines. This isn't thick and overpowering; the body is thinner than the barleywines from the likes of Rogue, Great Divide and Victory, but nonetheless is quite complex and enjoyable. And you can bet I'll be purchasing a few more bottles, as these age in a most interesting fashion. (Send me more '97!)

Photo of jameaterblues
4.4/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

So I sit here with the second half of the 2005 John Barleycorn. It poured a reddish amber color, with a very thin off white head that laced the sides of the glass. It has the slight smell of hopps, but predominant sweet malty tones. The taste is wonderful. Very smooth, with the malt taste(maybe a slight hint of caramel) really standing out to me, almost sweet, but not really. It finishes with a slight bitterness. The smell of this beer, to me is much more sweet than the taste, and that is part of the reason I enjoy it so much. I highly recommend it. The carbonation is moderate and I love how it feels on the tongue. I could drink alot of this(it is kinda high abv so be careful), it probably good that my supplies are limited.

Don't forget to check out the label. The bottles have wonderful wood cuts on them, and they are different every season. I don't get to encounter enough organic beers, I'm really happy this one made it to my fridge.

Photo of CRJMellor
4/5  rDev +7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Year 2000 vintage.
Pours a very hazy amber, copper and gold. Thick ring of light tan head. Some visible sediment.
Aroma of caramel, toffee and a touch of gingerbread along with citrus and pine hop notes.
Flavor seems to be dominated by brown sugar and toffee with a touch of sweet caramel. Almost a hint of peaty, earthy notes in the background.
Mouthfeel is lush and full with a awarming almost scotch-like alcoholic pop. Definitely powerful and full.
Drinkability is solid though high ABV, as advertised would make it tough for more than just one.

Photo of Iguana
4.22/5  rDev +12.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance - Pours a dark amber, with a nice half inch head that laces up and lingers throughout the whole experience.

Smell - Smells of sweet fruit, very strong pleasent aroma.

Taste - Tastes just like it smells, of sweet fruit, with a pleasent hop bitterness finish. Very smooth and nice.

Mouthfeel - Quite smooth, and well balanced. Bitterness is noticeable but doesnt stick around for ages like some barleywines i've had.

Drinkability - Really tasty, gonna have to try and score a few more bottles of this while its still in season. Dont know as i'd chain drink em, but more then willing to drink this again!

Photo of AlexJ
3.83/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

My first taste of this for about 6 or 7 years, and still a respectable brew. Nice deep mahogany color with burgundy highlights and a thick head of dense khaki that retains nicely, eventually settling into a thin veil. Abundant lace.

Aroma is nice but understated. Scorched caramel and brown sugar with gingerbread spice. Gentle nuances of berries, arpicot, and dark cherry. Deeply candied orange and grapefruit peels drenced in herbal-pine hop resin.

Flavor has the same deeply carmelized sugar and malt character and a great candied orange skin hop note that is very attractive along with hints of pine and sticky green herbals. It has a wierd void in the middle though, it's just missing something. Where's the fruit and delicate spice I found in the nose? It starts and finished well enough, the middle is just empty, odd.

Body is solidly medium, perhaps a bit light to hold all the interesting flavors. Texture is smooth and creamy nevertheless. Very sessionable for a barleywine, it doesn't overwhelm you the way an Old Ruffian or Double Bastard does. Worth trying.

Photo of MuddyFeet
3.5/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Vintage 1997. I believe it came from Nerofiddled for helping to kickstart BIF 17. Sorry if I got the credit wrong, let me know and I will fix that error in memory.

Poured an off-brown that was scarred with some red tinge. No head or carbonation. Absolutely flat but not negatively. There was a slight hiss of CO2 when I popped the cap. Unfortunately, not one iota remained in the beer.

Nose was ful of fruit--cannot quite place it but they are more of the acidic and sour varieties. Those fruit aromas come out as cherries and raspberries in the flavor. Just a full wallop in the teeth of sour fruit. However, I cannot find any hops and the malts are just being crushed by all the fruit. Not exactly sure I would quantify this beer as a traditional American barleywine. Much more of a fruit wine.

Medium body and very puckering from the sourness. Bit sticky too. This is alright for what it is, but if you're expecting a hoppy/maly barleywine you should look elsewhere.

Photo of oberon
4.28/5  rDev +14.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2005 bottle,poured a deep burgundy with a fluffy,sticky off white head that sticks to the glass as it settled,big orange and caramel aromas and as it warmed a herbal hop presence really showed thru quite nice.complex and flavorful raisin and deep orange with a light spiciness almost like gingerbread finishing quite dry.Iam not sure if this years vintage is better than pasts but this beer is vastly underated,flavorful and complex a top notch American Barley Wine.

Photo of RootedFool
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

This year's release of Mad River's John Barleycorn Barleywine pours lagubrious mahogany with an aura of crimson radiating along the edges of my Duvel tulip glass, an appropriately regal vessel for this lumbering diva of a brew. The head rises at least an inch tall, dim white (slightly more off than off white) and has the consistency of whipped cream. The nose is softer than I expected, causing me to draw my nose so close to the beer I snorted a little bit of it -- no worries, as I think the high alcohol content (9.5%) cleared my sinuses. The smell opens with some cotton candy sweetness that segues quickly into tangerine rinds, fresh cherries, sour dough bread, a few hard shakes of black pepper; a solid coupling of hops and malts. An upper-cut of hops greets my palate upon the first taste, welling up from beneath my tongue and circling around to the roof if my mouth in a slow arc; strong flavor of grapefruit rinds encrusted with brown sugar. The middle brings out the hop bitterness even further, to a puckering degree, but it quickly recedes into the finish where the malt sweetness -- maraschino cherries, fruit cake, gingerbread -- has more room to move. Alcohol is warmth is evident as a warming factor at the back of my throat, but doesn't intrude into the taste. The mouthfeel is dense and chewy -- sticks to the ribs.

Photo of NeroFiddled
4.03/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 2.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

When I reviewed this beer 3 years ago (the 2000 bottling) it was nice, but a bit aggressive; and I noted that I felt it would take a few years of aging. It was 2 years old then, it's 5 now, and I'm happy to say that I was correct in my analysis. It still looks like mud from all of the yeast, but it has mellowed a bit, and it still retains almost of the nice fruitiness, hops, and maltiness that it started with. Still, I'm not sure the results are worth the wait... maybe I should have given it 10 years!

Photo of NoLiberty
3.75/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Nice full caramely head that retains some surrounding lacing. Pours a clody rich amber.
Aroma: Strong malty sweetness with hints of raisin. Almost Belgian?
Taste: Also full malty front with initial sweet fruit. A clean low-alcohol middle with hints of nuts. Mild finish with lingering wild , sour afterntaste.
Mouth: Not completely full but very smooth.

Photo of sulldaddy
3.58/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Wow I get to review this oldy and give it the 5th review to be official.I am sampling a cold 12 oz bottle in a snifter. Picked it up @ Kclingers pub. Pop the cap and there is some oxidation on the underside of cap. uhoh.
The beer pours a slighty cloudy deep mahogany color with zero head even with some aggressiveness on the pour. The aroma is fruity with pears and red grapes. Also some sour cherries and funky musty vinegarness that reminds me of a flanders red.
That is exciting for me!
I swear I get some cinnamon in there too, which strikes me as odd and makes me sniff twice to be sure.
First sip reveals a liter body than expected and mild yet tingly carbonation. The beer is a little syrupy in texture but thin, almost like if maple syrup was heated up and poured.
The beer is tart and fruity up front and through middle with a bit of funky bite on the finish. The finish is also a little hot and the alcohol comes through on swallow.
While I am a fan of trying old beers, I am not sure how well this one held up. It seems a little funky but not way off, just not expected barleywine qualities.
It is a good experience, so if you see a bottle give it a shot, who knows what you will think.

Photo of Fish113d
3.65/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours a rich, thick, dark brown color with 1/4" of fizzy, tan head that dissipates very quickly like a soft drink leaving a defined edge layer around my glass. Pretty hazy to peer through.

Aroma is of some serious caramel and piney hops tones. Alcohol tingles the nose as well. Maybe a slight biscuity smell comes through as well.

Taking a sip, I gets lots of caramel and rasberries, as well as lots and lots of bitter hops. On the finish I also get a shot of nutmeg as well as a decent alcohol presence that tingles my tounge just a bit, leaving a dry oak flavor.

Rather dry and full-bodied. Carbonation is present but the alcohol quickly burns that off as well. Nothing too spectacular, but decent overall.

Very drinkable, however, not one of the best I've ever had. I had fun drinking it as I always do, and I'd suggest trying it out.

Photo of WesWes
3.68/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pours a dark ruby red color with a thick offwhite head that fades to lacing. The aroma is decent. It has a warm, malty scent that boasts of crystal and roasted malts. It has a mild hop aroma; nothing over the top. It has a nice scent, but nothing too incredible. The taste is decent also. It has a run of the mill malt bill. It showcases crystal and roasted malts. It's slightly sweet with a bitter hop finish. It warms you up a bit, but it doesn't really impress me. The mouthfeel is fine. It is a full bodied beer with adequate carbonation. This is a good brew, but nothing I would go out of the way to find. I like the flavor and aroma, but it lacks originality.

Photo of ppoitras
4/5  rDev +7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle obtained as part of BIF XMas from wezil. Thanks for the opportunity.

Poured into an imperial pint glass, formed 1" light tan head over the slightly cloudy reddish brown brew. Head fades is reasonably resilient, with average to good lacing for the style. Aroma is sweet malts, dark fruit, and alcohol. Taste is a quick shot of sweetness upfront, quickly giving way to a hoppiness, and then a warming presence dominates the departure. Mouthfeel and drinkability are both good. A stereotypical american barleywine, which is what it is advertised as. We have sweet malts, alcohol and hoppiness, nice to see a brew fit the style...

Photo of mntlover
3.85/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a dark red with brown tints cloudy lots of yeasty goodness floating in suspension always makes a persons day.
Aroma is deep caramel malt, molasses with some fruit hidding underneath. Nice hop aroma more herbal then citrus also toffee hints mixed in.
Taste is good, malt caramel some fruity flavors also with hints of toffee towards the finish. Nice hop flavors mix with fruit and end with a light bitterness. Good barley wine flavors, but seems more English style to me then American. Not enough hops for American version.
Mouthfeels is a little light in the finish.
Drinkability is good not good enough to become a regular in my frig but definitely good enough for you to try.

Photo of filabrazilia
3.78/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a semi-cola brown with a touch of amber hue when held to the light. There is little to no head, but no matter, this is still a nice looking beer.

There is a pronounced malt aroma that is joined by a strong but pleasant alcohol presence. The sweetness and alcohol beckon you to take a sip.

The taste is not as balanced as other BW's but is still awfully good. The malt and alcohol blewnd together to create a remarkably easy drinking beer.

This is a nice and chewy beer. The finish is slightly bitter with a dry grab of the tongue as you swallow it. The beer linger on the pallate well after the last sip.

All in all a nice offering. Not the best BW I have ever had, but very easy to drink and infinitely enjoyable.

Photo of feloniousmonk
4.15/5  rDev +11%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Hazy burgundy hue, a cloudy crimson, with a slim helping of whitish foam.
Nose is rich, bold, and fruity, giving alcohol notes from the start, ripe berries and cherries, grape and plum, lush and leathery...perfect fit for a barleywine, very, very nice...
Taste is full and flush with flavor, tangy and the slightest bit tart, ultimately well-rounded...mighty mellow,...this is an exemplary old ale, by anyone's reckoning, and by mine, it's a winner. The 9% is there, but doesn't intrude, and slips through slyly...a restive nightcap this, and very tasty, highly rewarding.
John Barleycorn must live!
(had to do that...forgive me...)

Photo of francisweizen
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Dark murky brown with a nice head of foam that lasted for quite a while. The aromas are of alcohol, brown sugar, herbal hops, and more. The taste followed suit with some lovely sweet alcohol flavors up front, a nice brown sugar heat in the middle, and a dry herbal hoppy finish. Mouthfeel was medium bodied and just right and the drinkability was good as well. Maybe i'm alone on this, but I thought this was an excellent barleywine that held up well over the past 7 years!

Photo of meathookjones
1.7/5  rDev -54.5%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

This was a 1997 harvest bottle tasted 10/7/04. This poured a murky brown with no head and no lace. Smell is sweet with a strong alcohol and vinegar scent coming from it. At this point I was pretty sure this would taste like crap. Sour, strong alcohol and vinous is about all I can say to describe the taste. A bit of sweetness some where but not enough to keep this one from puckering me up with every sip. Mouthfeel was okay and drinkability was non-existent. Maybe the years didn’t take kindly to this one, but this is the first beer that made me involuntarily twitch with almost every sip. Hopefully I can come across a much younger bottle next time.

John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
85 out of 100 based on 475 ratings.