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Old Backus Barleywine - Free State Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Old Backus BarleywineOld Backus Barleywine

Educational use only; do not reuse.

86 Reviews
no score

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Reviews: 86
Hads: 206
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 10.59%
Wants: 187
Gots: 33 | FT: 5
Brewed by:
Free State Brewing Co. visit their website
Kansas, United States

Style | ABV
American Barleywine |  10.50% ABV

Availability: Winter

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: BeerAdvocate on 10-29-2001

Bronze Medal Winner, 1997 World Beer Championships - Barleywines.

Old Backus contains just over 2,000 pounds of malt and 55 pounds of hops. The original gravity is 25.6 P/1092 which contributes to an alcohol content of 10.5% by volume. This is a tremendously complex beer that should be savoured slowly and in moderation. It will continue to change with age as it is served unfiltered.

This barleywine is named after Richard Backus, an old friend to the Brewery.
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
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Reviews: 86 | Hads: 206
Photo of sweemzander
4.36/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

12oz bottle poured into a snifter
(A)- Toasted caramel colored amber with some decent white froth
(S)- Some nice leathery sherry-like caramel and toffee
(T)- Nice toffee and caramel meets some sherry-like fruits and leather
(M)- Nice balance without being overly hoppy
(O)- Refreshing to see a great american style barleywine that isnt completely hopped to the gills. A really nice showcase of sweet malts and a smooth finish

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Photo of kbwalters
4.17/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Poured cold into a tulip glass; been in the fridge since January.
Look = 4.5 Pours a mahogany with red highlights and 2.5 fingers of off white head; head is thick with great retention and lacing.
Aroma = 4.25 Very sweet aroma; candied sugar, fruity (dark and pitted fruits), strong caramel and toffee notes; overall an intense aroma, smells good
Taste = 4.0 Follows the nose for the most part; sweet, candy sugar, toffee, caramel. Mild bitterness on the finish and a decent alcohol presence
Feel = 4.25 Thick and full bodied, syrupy and smooth. Low to medium carbonation.
Drinkability = 4.0 Not bad for a big barleywine
Overall = 4.175 A solid brew all around, very sweet aroma and taste, hops were muted but the brew is at least 7 months old.

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Photo of IMFletcher
4.1/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from 2014 bottle; this is, for me, a refreshingly unhoppy American barleywine. Not too sweet, but not bitter. Would love to see this get some barrel treatment.

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Photo of Beaver13
3.8/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle, dated 2014. Pours hazy reddish amber with a medium creamy off white head that retains well and leaves some lacing.

The aroma is sweet caramel and toffee malt with lots of figgy fruit and some cardboard notes.

The flavor is sweet caramel and toffee malts with lots of dark fruit and a little roast and a bit of sherry like alcohol and some harsh bitter alcohol. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with smooth carbonation.

Overall, there's a lot going on, a bit too much. I bet this would improve with a bit of age to blend it all out better.

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Photo of tempest
4.2/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

It's a big malty barleywine with a peppery citrus edge to balance out the finish. As it warms I'm getting more vanilla and candied fruit with caramel. It's all very smooth and one flavor slides into the next. Great beer, I'm socking away a second bottle for a year or two.

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Photo of Tone
3.99/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Pours a cloudy, brown color. 1/2 inch head of an off-white color. Great retention and good lacing. Smells of alcohol, sweet malt, slight caramel malt, hint of sugar, slight biscuit, and slight yeast. Fits the style of an American Barleywine. Mouth feel is sharp and clean, with an average carbonation level. Tastes of alcohol, sweet malt, slight caramel malt, slight biscuit, yeast, and a hint of hop. Overall, good body an appearance, decent aroma, but only average complexity.

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Photo of ThickNStout
4.04/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle from LambicPentameter (thanks man). 2014 vintage. If I'm deciphering the notch correctly this was bottled in November. Served in a Sweetwater snifter.

Pours a dull, almost fully opaque, orange hued brown with a quarter finger ecrue head. Dissipates quickly to a modest collar and some surface haze. Very little lacing.

Malty aromas of caramel, must, cereal grains, cake and vague fruit. It gets a touch sweeter as it warms.

Tastes grainy and malty. Cereal, orange and caramel notes up front. As it warms a bit the flavors open up with some cake, apple, plum and toffee. The alcohol is subdued for its 10% abv. There is a modest hop bitterness of the herbal/ woodsy variety and it is pretty subtle for an American barleywine.

Medium full, semi oily feel with rather mild carbonation. Toffee, mild fruit and some earthy bitterness linger in the finish.

As it reaches room temperature Old Backus becomes an excellent example of the style. Smooth, sweet and malty with a moderate bitterness. Certainly worth a try if you enjoy American barleywines.

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Photo of Alieniloquium
3.09/5  rDev -27.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3

12 oz. bottle poured into a snifter.

Appearance - Clear amber body. Almost no head. Very thin collar.

Smell - Grapefruit hops. Fruity caramel malts. A little bit of apple.

Taste - Even hoppier here. Grapefruit. Sweet caramel. Fruity and apple-y again.

Mouthfeel - Medium low carbonation. Medium heavy.

Overall - Meh. It's decent. Very fruity, but not a very interesting barleywine.

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Photo of 10Crumra
4.29/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a snifter glass.

Poured a nice reddish brown with a thin white head. A nice amount of lacing.

Strong plum and cherry smells with a pleasant malty undertone.

Nice dark fruit taste with plenty of maltiness. Not very bitter. Definitely tastes boozy, it shows its 10% alcohol.

Fairly weak on the carbonation but medium to full bodied mouth feel. Slightly sticky at the end.

Overall a very complex layered beer that is definitely strong on the alcohol. A nice winter sipping beer.

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Photo of CowsandBeer
4.25/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

12 ounce bottle poured into a Surly Darkness tulip slightly chilled. 2014 label.

Ap: Pours about a finger of sand colored head which quickly fizzes away to a ring. Body is a clear mahogany and leaves nice oily legs down the side of the glass.

Ar: Toffee, woody bitter hops, fruity alcohol and a candi sugar like sweetness.

T: Sweet, fruity and bitter. Starts with some toffee and maple syrup then leads into a sweet candi sugar note that is some kind of combination of booze and American hops. Finishes with a bitter hop bite. The malts have a very nice toasted grain toffee like character to them that almost resembles whiskey as it warms up.

Mf: Oily texture with a full body and low carbonation. Very warming and almost syrupy.

Overall: Kinda hits the nail on the head for what it is, a local barleywine. A warming beer for a Midwest winter; the hop bite exists only to balance the hefty malt profile. Really nice malt build as well making me curious as to what a bit of oxidation would do but I also would hate to see the hops go. Would pair great with a wedge of cheese and kill out of a Templeton Rye barrel.

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Photo of BrownAleBollocks
3.44/5  rDev -19.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Pours a deep copper with red and brown. Head is off white and fairly small. Aroma is mostly malts with caramel, toffee, and some dark fruit. Taste follows the nose with only light hopping. Mouthfeel is medium and a bit more oily than I expected. Overall a fairly good barelywine that hides it's alcohol well.

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Photo of kevanb
4.23/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

12oz bottle, 2014 on the neck, poured into a Brooklyn Brewery snifter.

The beer pours a medium amber color, hues of burgundy and caramel brown, light opacity though fairly clear with a solid finger of off white head, thick and foamy that has very nice retention, settling into a thick ring of film around the circumference of the glass while yielding nice swatches of soapy lace. The aroma is very heavy on the malted barley, caramel and amber malts, with brown sugar, toffee and a bit of dark pitted stone fruits but some definite piney and grapefruit forward hops help to balance this out. The flavors mirror the nose very well, lightly piney and bitter hops initiate the senses, while some grapefruit citrus plays well with the sweeter malts and brings out the richer more chewy flavors of toffee, molasses, raisin and fig though the bitterness from the hops and a bit of the fruitiness linger nicely. The mouthfeel is very nice, quite smooth and almost creamy with very low discernible carbonation, though just enough to prop the beer up, and a velvety finish.

Verdict: An excellent take on the American style barleywine. Definite hop presence that integrates very well with the malt profile and general sweetness of the beer. Complex, but not overly complicated and a very nice sipper that has great nuance as it warms, definitely a very under the radar beer.

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Photo of orcrist_cleaver
4.02/5  rDev -5.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

A: Dark brown bordering black with some red highlights. A lush finger's worth of mocha head with excellent retention.

S: Rising alcohol aromatics follow brown malt, treacle, shaved dark chocolate. Light citrus. Caramelized peaches.

M: Leathery and full bodied. High carb.

T: Bitterness and malt battle it out in this border state brew. Caramel malt body collides worth some tangy apple florals. Cherry and other stone fruits contribute nicely. Having been aged for 9 mos I feel like some of the flavors have mellowed and merged. Seems unauthoratative for a bw. I tend to like more assertive bws with pronounced flavors.

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Photo of zac16125
4/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

12oz bottle into a snifter
no bottling dates

Thanks to mikeincharleston for hooking me up with this one!

A: Pours a dark copper with ruby hues when held to light, good clarity. Just over 1 fingers width of light tan head builds and then dissipates away fairly quickly. Leaves a few small patches of lacing. 4.25

S: Very nice aroma of sweetness, hops, and booze. Candied sugar, toffee. Lots of hoppy characters, with citrus and piney notes. 4.25

T: Nice combo of malts and hops. Citrus, some fruity characters, pine, booze. Good, but flavors aren’t as intense as many in the style, nor is it as complex as I look for in the style. 3.75

M/D: Medium body, appropriate carbonation, fairly smooth, ABV is noticeable but its not hot, drinkability is very good. 4.25

O: Good beer, but I was disappointed. I had very high expectations for this one, considering it was a top 5 barleywine on BA for years. It certainly didn’t live up to that, but tasty nonetheless. Glad I got to finally try it. Thanks Mike! 4

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Photo of --Dom--
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%

A complete home run for Free State. Just an amazing example of the style. A little less heat/carbonation than some other offerings in this category. But jam-packed with character, complexity and flavor. Too many nuances to list. It's sweet that's for sure, but never off-putting. I wish I had the self control to save a few of these for the cellar but there's no chance of that... Don't miss out on this one. I'd even recommend this to folks looking to get into the style... look out though, they might just be ruined afterwards.....

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Photo of russpowell
3.84/5  rDev -9.6%
look: 2.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Unreadable dating code, but it is a recently released Barley Wine, so I'm sure if anything, it's too young...

Pours an effervescent Auburn/chestnut color with a thin sand colored head. Middling head retention & lacing

S: Rich cakeyness, plums & taffy

T: Follows the nose, some woody hops, a bit of booze & grape taffy up front. Toffee comes through as this warms, dryness, woody/oak stave notes, a bit of masked boozeyness & even a hint of apricot as well. Finisihes dry, malty as hell with slight boozeyness & a touch of apricot or Pear Brandy, good complexity

MF: Chewy, moderate carbonation

Drinks a touch slow, a ponderous sipper here on display. Not sure it lives up to it draft/growler credentials, but I bet you this will age fantastic; straddles the American/English BW line with some aplomb. Get some!

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Photo of JuicesFlowing
4/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into a balloon glass.

Look: The body is a thick, syrupy-looking ruby mahogany color. The head is tan and recedes to a cirrus cloud wisp. Surprisingly good lacing coats the glass.

Aroma: Massive malt notes, bourbon, faint honey.

Taste: Very medicinal tasting up front with bourbon and a heavy malt bill. Somewhere in the middle, a touch of honey-like sweetness roams around. Bitter hops come in the finish offering a tangy, bitter balance.

Mouthfeel: Heavy, syrupy.

Overall: I've never had a beer that resembled cough syrup so much. I'm not sure if that's an insult or a compliment.

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Photo of DemoniChris
4.98/5  rDev +17.2%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 5

Poured on tap into a tulip

A - One of the most beautiful beers I've seen. Dark red-brown color with the ruby tones looking absolutely stunning when held up to the light. About a finger of off white head, moderate lacing.

S - Tobacco, leather, vanilla, butterscotch, chocolate, toffee, dark fruits such as cherries, plums and raisins. Even getting some barrel like bourbon qualities even though this beer has not been barrel aged... Astounding!

T - Big sweetness. All of the aromas are extending through the flavor but in a bigger way. Caramelized burnt sugar, brown sugar, butterscotch, toffee, vanilla, caramel, dark fruits, bourbon, chocolate, tobacco. A slight herbal hop flavor comes through beneath the flavors but it works really nicely. It adds a nice underlying citrus quality that really ups the complexity of this beer. The bitterness is hard to detect, but it does linger a bit. It's also hard to detect any alcohol in this beer. In my eyes this is perfect.

M - This is how a barleywine should feel. Super rich medium to full bodied mouthfeel. So velvety and slick. It finishes quite dry as well, leaving the imbiber wanting more. Carbonation is perfect, and the first sip is just as good as the last.

O - This is far and beyond the best barleywine I've ever had. The only one that would come close is Double DBA and maybe BCBBW, but that was an English style barleywine, although, Old Backus drinks more like an English style barleywine rather than an American one. Mostly because the hops felt more in the background rather than obviously prevalent in the forefront. It is crafted with such impervious balance, it's impossible to believe it's 10.5%. This might be the most delicious and rewarding beer I've ever put my lips around. Go try this if you can!

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Photo of LambicPentameter
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Enjoyed on tap at Bridger's Bottle Shop in Westport last month. Reviewing from notes. Served into a 12 oz Belgian style tulip glass.

Appearance - I love the look of this beer, with a reddish clay hue with carmine highlights where the light passes through. The darker parts of the beer appear almost burgundy, and atop sits a one-finger head of khaki colored foam. Retention is moderate, and as it starts to recede, it leaves Lorraine Swiss sheets of lace on the side of the glass, which eventually turn into a ring sheets of residue as I drink the beer down.

Smell - Wonderful blend of barley and grain, brown sugar, burnt caramel, English toffee and some slight alcohol astringency. There are also notes of earthy and herbal hops that provide a counterpoint to the sweeter aroma profiles.

Taste - Delivering on the promise of the nose, but cranked up a little bit, the taste imparts molasses, toffee and caramelized sugar along with an underlying rustic stone-ground grains from the malt base. Some notes of dried fruit reminiscent of figs and dates are now here where I didn't detect them in the smell. There is also a hint of leather and maybe just a touch of tannin characteristic on the finish as well as some herbal hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel - Medium bodied and moderate carbonation, but I must admit there is just a slight touch of oiliness/slickness from the feel that I didn't quite expect. I can't really call it off-putting, but it was unexpected and slightly out of place.

Overall, a beautiful beer with a great taste and solid aroma, and just a small bit of docking on the mouthfeel. Still, it's perhaps my favorite from Free State and could stand up to any American Barleywine in the country in my humble opinion. I wish they bottled it so that others could know just how good it really is. I especially like how the hops don't overpower as they do with some American style barleywines.

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Photo of AmyfaceNYC
4.75/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Very strong and malty, delicious barleywine. Pours a dark, rich color. Tastes like smooth and delicious liquor--only the alcohol is not particularly noticeable. I didn't notice much sweetness or hoppiness. Beer was medium- to full-bodied, with moderate carbonation. This not the most complex beer I've had, but there were lots of different flavors going on--lots to enjoy!

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Photo of zeledonia
4.18/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

2011 vintage, on-tap at the brewpub. Tasted 22 January 2013, reviewed from notes. My review is lacking a bit of detail, due to in-bar note-taking.

Pours a medium-dark reddish amber. Clear. One finger of off-white head that leaves terraces of lacing.

Smell pops with spice, hops, and smooth whiskey. Loads of spice, and a smooth, warm burn.

Taste has zip, zing, and zap. Brandy, candy, and more and more spice.

Feel is quite good. Medium body, very sticky, lasting and rounded, smoothly rising and drifting back down. More carbonation than many barleywines, and I like that.

A really tasty, spiced-up barrel-aged barleywine. The barrel is really cleanly integrated, with no obvious lines between the beer and the barrel. Happy I got the chance to try this.

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Photo of oline73
3.97/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from the growler into a tasting snifter.

Appearance: Pours a cloudy reddish amber with a small amount of off white head that goes away rather quickly.

Smell: This is really sweet and full of caramel and grain. I'm getting a lot of dark fruit along with a mild banana note.

Taste: This is a really sweet barleywine. Lots of caramel like malt. The mild banana shows up here as well. A strong dark fruit note here along with the sweetness. The finish is sweet, but there is a solid hop presence as well.

Mouthfeel: The body is syrupy with a few tingles of carbonation and a dry finish.

Overall: I would say that the main story here is the sweetness. I'd have more if it was offered.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
4.07/5  rDev -4.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Thanks to DrAwkward82 for sharing this one at drewone's place.

Pours a murky brown with a foamy khaki head that settles to an oily film on top of the beer. Small dots and streaks of lace form around the glass on the drink down. Smell is of malt, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, and citrus zest. Taste is much the same with a semi-sweet finish. There is a mild amount of hop bitterness on the palate with each sip. This beer has a lower level of carbonation with a slightly crisp and medium bodied mouthfeel. Overall, this is a good beer with a great smell and a tasty flavor.

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Photo of tewaris
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Thanks Ryan! The growler fill was from a 2009 keg I believe.

A deep mahogany brown colored beer that is relatively still as it should be in my opinion. I do observe some legs. Aroma is slightly alcoholic with notes of toffee and dry fruit. Not too sweet on the taste with notes of wood and roast. Hop bitterness works well. Vanilla and even bourbon like notes although this is not aged in barrels. Medium body and low carbonation. Tastes good, kicks ass; one of the better American barleywines I have had.

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Photo of orangesol
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Big thanks to Kegatron for sharing this one with us all at Stakem's Fish Fry. This growler is over a year old.

A - Pours slightly hazy dark amber with a nice one finger tall light tan head leaving thin strings of lace down parts of the glass.

S - Smells amazing right off the bat. Lots of brown sugar, caramel, toffee, butterscotch, and a bit of dark fruit at the end of each sniff.

T - Starts off with a big dose of sweetness - mostly toffee, caramel, butterscotch and a bit of molasses - slowly giving way to a bit of dark fruits and some dulled hop bitterness. Very little, if any, booze is present but there is definitely a touch of oxidation in this one but, like the booze, it never gets in the way.

M - Big body with a smooth, creamy feel with moderate carbonation. The feel works extremely well with the flavors to create an easy drinking yet potent barleywine.

O - Damn, this is one fine barleywine. I have had some great barleywines in my travels but this one is one of the best. Simply awesome stuff, hope I get to try it again some day.

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Old Backus Barleywine from Free State Brewing Co.
93 out of 100 based on 86 ratings.