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!

Old Backus Barleywine - Free State Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Old Backus Barleywine
No picture uploaded.
Have one? Upload it now.
BA SCORE
95
world-class

129 Ratings
THE BROS
-
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 129
Reviews: 70
rAvg: 4.34
pDev: 9.91%
Wants: 163
Gots: 6 | FT: 2
Brewed by:
Free State Brewing Co. visit their website
Kansas, United States

Style | ABV
American Barleywine |  10.50% ABV

Availability: Winter

Notes/Commercial Description:
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 added by: BeerAdvocate on 10-29-2001)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Usefulness | Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
« first ‹ prev | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75  | next › last »
Ratings: 129 | Reviews: 70 | Display Reviews Only:
Reviews by zhanson88:
Photo of zhanson88
4.7/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Had this beer from the source in Lawrence. 2010 vintage, served in a snifter.

Appearance: Pours a hazy ruby-caramel color, with 1/2" of light caramel head. Lacing is great, and retention is very good for something of that ABV.

Smell: Very malty overall, with lots of caramel, toffee, and toasted coconut. A smaller amount of dark fruits are present as well. There is some hop character present, as this is a fairly new vintage. Mostly piney, but some citrus components in there too.

Taste: The malts continue in the taste. Toffee, caramel, toasted coconut, and dark fruit flavors are apparent immediately. Citrus and pine hop character forms on the back end, but is light all in all. Lingering bitterness and caramel on the finish. This is extremely nuanced and flavorful. Super.

Mouthfeel: Just under full bodied, with a moderate amount of very fine carbonation. Just the right amount of carbonation for a brew this big. Very creamy. Overall, this is a really great barleywine. Very impressed.

zhanson88, Dec 22, 2011
More User Reviews:
Photo of nuggetnectar01
4.97/5  rDev +14.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Had this on tap and taken from notes

Served in a snifter

Pours a dark amber color with an eggshell color head. Good head retention and lacing. Aroma is dominating of dark fruit and malts. Plums, figs, toffe, caramel, vanilla, dates, and cherries. Taste is of caranel and toffee, dark fruits with cherries, plums, dates. Bit of bitterness pursues with a sweet finish and aftertaste. Full bodied with good carbonation. Excellent beer and definitely the best barleywine I have tasted.

nuggetnectar01, Mar 01, 2011
Photo of alienlifeforcecube
3.75/5  rDev -13.6%

alienlifeforcecube, Mar 06, 2014
Photo of bpfrush
4.5/5  rDev +3.7%

bpfrush, Aug 13, 2012
Photo of glid02
4.55/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Growler shared by Grant - thanks!

Pours a very nice ruby-brown color with a one-finger tan head. The head recedes into a patchy layer on top leaving solid lacing.

Smells of moderately sweet caramel malts with good amounts of earthy and pine hop aromas. Also present are hints of dark toffee and very slight dark fruit aromas. As it warms the malt aromas sweeten a bit but never to the extent of an English barleywine.

Tastes very similar to how it smells. Simple and robust caramel malt flavors kick things off and are joined quickly by pine and leafy hops. Midway through the sip the mildly dry caramel malt flavors are sweetened with the addition of soft toffee flavors. The toffee fades out shortly thereafter, allowing the hops to carry through to a moderately bitter ending.

Mouthfeel is great. It's got a very nice thickness with grainy carbonation.

Drinkability is very good. I finished my glass quickly and could easily have a few more.

Overall this beer has been on my wants backburner for quite some time and I'm glad I had the opportunity to try it. A nearly flawless American barleywine with no bells and whistles. Well worth a shot.

glid02, Dec 12, 2010
Photo of JasonFromLA
4/5  rDev -7.8%

JasonFromLA, Mar 29, 2013
Photo of augustgarage
4.53/5  rDev +4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

Many thanks to monsterfat for my first growler - I have forgotten the vintage, I think it is from '02 or so. Opens with a mild hiss, thankfully. Poured into snifter.

Tuscan red body with raspberry highlights, clear with a thin dense cosmic latte head that recedes to a thin collar. Poor lacing, but viscous legs.

Oaky, malt-rich, carmelized brown sugar, light burgandy, dark fruit, and even roasted bacon aromatics.

Figs, smoke, wild honey, maple sugar, and deep carmel malt flavors coat the palate. Mild earthy pine-like hops come through to offset the sweetness and meld with the faint tannic roastiness into the finish. Clean, deep, and well balanced.

Medium-bodied with low but sufficient carbonation. A hint of astringency adds complexity. The alcohol adds depth of flavor and body without excess heat.

Remarkably smooth and drinkable - straight-forward and gimmick-free - among the best examples of the style I've had.

augustgarage, Aug 13, 2010
Photo of Photekut
5/5  rDev +15.2%

Photekut, Nov 15, 2011
Photo of Kegatron
4.9/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

64 oz growler into a couple of snifters. Vintage 2009. Huge thanks go to JeepCop for helping hook me up with this long time want. Dale is a relatively new trader but I would wholeheartedly recommend doing business with him. Stand up guy.

This pours a deep and murky ruddy brown at first but letting this clear up and holding it up to the light actually reveals more of a dark ruby body on this. There isn't a ton of head upon first pour but this is one of those ones that takes it's time and just slowly releases carbonation until it ends up thin and creamy mocha colored head. This retains with mostly a thin foamy ring around the edges of the glass, leaving back just some light spotty lacing. The aroma really sets the stage for this beer and upon first whiff; I knew that I was in for something special. This is just so dense and full with flavor in the nose, including notes of brown sugars, molasses, cocoa, and toffee, while fading hop character puts off some earthy ripe fruit character and a bit of an oxidized sherry feel. There is no alcohol to this per se but it does sit in the nostrils with a beefy heft. Lush, sticky, and rich, this is about as good as it gets for the bouquet on an American Barleywine. I love it!

The taste brings it very strong as well, with caramelized burnt sugars, softer notes of sweet butterscotch and toffee, and a light creamy, almost vanilla like character. This is overall coming off to me as sweet, sticky, and malty in the mouth but the roasted undertones make sure that things don't get out of hand. Hops have more of a presence here (and controls things a bit more to) than they did in the nose, adding an almost herbal earthiness to the profile, as well as some overripe juicy citric fruit flavors. The finish is memorable, with lingering residual sugars, herbal and resinous hops and an almost dry tannic feel on the very tale end. The mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy with a moderate carbonation at first but subsequent pours yield much more of the thick and creamier feel that I would have expected. One thing that was consistent the whole way through my experience with this beer though is the RIDICULOUS smoothness of this for a 10-11% beer. Hell, there is barely much of a warming nature or hint of the ABV, except for the general fullness of the body and the boozy fog that slowly crept its way over my brain as I worked through multiple glasses of this. This just has a fantastic feel and drinkibility here for such a large beer.

Wow, this was just one of those beers that was a flat out experience and makes me glad that I'm in this hobby. The complexity, depth, and integration of the flavors (especially the hops) in this were something that I don't think that I've ever come across to such a degree in a Barleywine, especially one that was still this relatively young and not barrel-aged in any way. This is just a tremendous overall beer that definitely sits at the top of the style for me.

Kegatron, Feb 03, 2011
Photo of bditty187
4.93/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Brownish-red in color, great depth to the eye with slight shade differences where the light danced off of it, somewhat murky. It was served with a finger of an off-white head that turned to a soapy cap halfway through consumption. Subsequent lacing was spotty, and as expected, not very prevalent. I must say the presentation in the smallish snifter was quite impressive and very fitting for the grand ale. The nose was simply awesome. Perfect. Lovely, complex with layers of maltiness that allowed sweet candies, figs, yeast induced fruitiness, and toffee to become prevalent. There was a kiss of hops at the far, far back of the bouquet, right next to the alcohol. This is a great smelling Barelywine. The palate was breathtakingly wonderful, I mean simply heavenly… I’ll be dammed if this was brewed in a brewpub in Kansas. The caramel-toffee maltiness, candied sugar, figs, dates, and spicy alcohol all interconnected into a well-rounded palate that had a long lingering aftertaste. It was almost impossible to set my glass down. The hops were noticeable at the finish; they lent just a smidge of bitterness and balance. The alcohol gleefully burned my throat as it slid down, while at the same time, numbed my mind and warmed my belly. This is a force to be reckoned with. Damn near full-bodied. The amount of carbonation was ideal, low and distant, in other words, hardly noticeable. It was also served only slightly chilled, kudos to Free State! Terrifically drinkable for how potent it is, which might be dangerous. No matter how many trains, planes, and automobiles it takes, you must get to Lawrence and quaff this masterpiece. Highly Recommended.

Via Free State Brewing website: 10.5% by volume

bditty187, Dec 15, 2003
Photo of Beertracker
4.43/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Old Backus Barleywine is a rare treat when it's pouring from the FSBC taps in Lawrence. OBB pours up with a modest carbonation that creates a moderate creamish-tan head that nicely rings the snifter above the slightly murky, dark brown body. The strongish-sweet grainy aroma shows some grassy, herbal hops laced with a tinge of fruity esters (dried orange, grape seed, oroblanco) that barely escapes the huge toasty, burnt caramel maltiness. Lots of oaky goodness from the barrel with hints of dry sack sherry, cherry-vanilla, tobacco leaf, etc... as it warms in hand. Alcohol strength is noteable, but certainly not ditracting. The flavor is very multi-layered with the caramel sweetness upfront followed by a firm toastiness (crackers, flatbread) with a hint of chocolate. The hop bitterness is firm creating a balanced, but slightly astringent, cheek warming finish. This chewy, full-bodied barleywine drinks more English than American with an unsurpassed (almost scary!) drinkability for its strength. Lots & lots of goodness going on here. Here's to Old (Richard) Backus an his namesake barleywine from Steve Brandt & crew.

CHEERS! Beertracker

*Thanks to amateurbeerguy for sharing some of this magical elixir.

Beertracker, Mar 11, 2009
Photo of dtx00
4/5  rDev -7.8%

dtx00, Mar 24, 2012
Photo of sammo
4.5/5  rDev +3.7%

sammo, Jun 23, 2012
Photo of emerge077
4.4/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Thanks to Alex for sharing the growler, this was a highlight of the evening.
Review is from written notes.

Reddish copper color with nice head retention: there's a sticky halo of drippy lace all around. Really pleasant confectionary aroma of golden raisins, figs, and dates, some shortbread or sugar cookie also. Fruit leather and subdued flavors of dried apricot and other fruits. Rich and boozy feel (notes say 12%) yet the harshness of any alcohol is absent. Very full bodied with low to medium carbonation. A snifter of this would be my personal limit, as a perfect nightcap. A standout American Barleywine that's very fruit forward. Thanks again Alex for sharing this outstanding beer...

emerge077, Dec 06, 2009
Photo of theminutemen
4.5/5  rDev +3.7%

theminutemen, Dec 20, 2011
Photo of jaydoc
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

jaydoc, Nov 16, 2013
Photo of mikesgroove
4.9/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This beer simply put might be one of the best, if not the best BA barleywine I have ever had. I am soo gracious to the kind BA who sent this one my way. Served chilled and pourd into a pint glass, this one was consumed on 04/24/2009.

The pour was fantastic. Deep, dark caramel brown with no light making its way through except a small amount on the sides and the bottom. A really nice head of tan rose up to a height of two inches before it settled down to a nice inch layer and huges amounts of clumpy and sticky side glass lacing. The aroma was unreal, rich vanilla, tobacco, loads of caramel malts and a bourbon like smell that was just too good to believe. As it warms lots of oak notes start to come through. I go in for a taste and this is like heaven. Smooth, subtle flavors all wrapped up perfectly. Lots of vanilla, tobacco, and oak flavors. Big malt bill here left a nice sweetness underneath of everything. Creamy rich, beautiful. Really hard to put into words just how good this beer really is.

Overall I am blown away by this one. I did not even see it coming but this was elixer of the gods material here. easily one of the best beers i have ever had.

mikesgroove, Apr 25, 2009
Photo of largadeer
4.38/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Big thanks to Andrew for sharing this long-time want.

Murky, turbid amber topped by a thin crust. Barely translucent, lightly carbonated.

Fantastic caramel malt aroma. Brown sugar, dark ripe fruit, molasses. Quite a bit of hoppiness too, floral and earthy in character.

Fruity on the palate, jammy, like blackberry preserves. Heavy on the caramel and toffee. Full-bodied with low carbonation. This has a lot of hop flavor, too; fruity and floral, more earthy in the finish, though there's little bitterness, no perceptible alcohol. This beer impressed the hell out of me, it's brilliantly balanced and surprisingly drinkable for an American barleywine.

largadeer, Jan 07, 2011
Photo of bismarksays
4/5  rDev -7.8%

bismarksays, Apr 01, 2014
Photo of WeisGuy
4.38/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Growler of '09 vintage brought back from the brewpub by Sarah - thanks! I've been wanting to try this for a long time and never thought I'd get the chance outside of a trip to Lawrence.

Pours a ruddy, cloudy medium brown color with a one finger tan head. Head retention is pretty good and leaves a nice lace for a big barleywine. The aroma is quite strong with lots of caramel malt, dark fruits and hints of red cherry. There's also a slight note oxidation and sherry wine, which actually works nicely for this brew. The taste is much of the same with substantial caramel malt and toffee flavors without being overly sweet. The dark fruit and cherry notes stand out as well and mix nicely with a mild boozy heat. The beer is pretty full-bodied with moderate to lower carbonation and a lightly sweet and hot finish. This stuff is full of intense flavors yet fairly drinkable for the high abv. Overall, this is a very good barleywine worthy of its ranking.

WeisGuy, Nov 30, 2010
Photo of oline73
3.98/5  rDev -8.3%
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.

oline73, Jan 14, 2013
Photo of weeare138
4.55/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Much thanks to hopdog for this...
Appears a dark opaque brown with crimson highlights. Small bubbles slowly rise to the top of the glass. A small, light tan cap fades into a mild film and hearty collar of batter-like bubbles. Scattered streaks of lacing are left around the glass.
Smell is of heavy malt, raisins, toffee, cocoa, figs, tobacco, brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, sugar cookies, ripened dark fruits, mild hints of black cherries. This is what I've been craving.
Taste is of the mentioned aromas with a sugary blend of fruit, raisins, vanilla, and an array of gourmet cocoa, molasses, and toasted nuts. Hot damn! This is a definite winner that I'm proud to say I've had the pleasure of drinking.
Mouthfeel is full bodied, chewy, smooth, mildly fruity, creamy, syrupy, with a touch of heat and rum soaked raisins lingering along the palate.
Steve, Tom, and Eric...thanks a bunch for saving some of this delicious nectar. This was truly a treat! This could possibly be one of the best barleywines that I ever recall having.

weeare138, Jun 02, 2008
Photo of swaghawk
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

swaghawk, Jul 02, 2013
Photo of marc77
4.4/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Murky chestnut hue. Thin, but tight rim of beige bubbles mananges spotty lace. Toffee and pronounced caramel dominate in aroma, with secondary mellow diacetyl and hints of nutty, toasted malt. Butter laced caramel sweetness leads into a slightly roasty, deeple toffeeish malt profile. Ample aging has diminished the hop bitterness significantly, leaving it overshadowed by residual malt sweetness. Subdued citric hop flavor. Sweetness becomes candyish late, lending an impression of caramel coated apple. Viscous, velvety, supremely dextrinous mouthfeel. Lightly carbonated. Finishes with suggestions of nougat and bittersweet chocolate. Delicious. Old Backus is an outstanding barleywine. With more hop bitterness to balance malt sweetness this would be phenomenal. It's not unlike a J.W. Harvest Ale, albeit a touch more tame and with a subdued American hop character. Worth travelling for.

marc77, Feb 16, 2003
Photo of barleywinebrewer
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

thanks to goliath for the chance to try this gem from KS!

A - cloudy mahogany color with a nice off white head.
S - dark ripe fruits, brown sugar, slight abv note.
T - dark ripe fruits, molasses, burnt caramel, cocoa, cirtic hop bite.
M - full bodied, lighrtly carbonated, syrupy with a lingering roasted caramel and abv note.
D - nice sipper with a layering of flavors

reminds me in some ways of a local barleywine from VT. if this was in bottles I'd consider throwing a few in the cellar to see how this matures over time. If I was in town I'd definitely stop by for a pint or two!

barleywinebrewer, Oct 26, 2008
« first ‹ prev | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75  | next › last »
Old Backus Barleywine from Free State Brewing Co.
95 out of 100 based on 129 ratings.