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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

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 86
Hads: 206
Avg: 4.25
pDev: 10.59%
Wants: 188
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 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 msubulldog25
4.25/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a growler after what was *supposed* to be a night of celebrating back-to-back Blazer victories over the Lakers and Cavs...oh well, 1 out of 2. Filled a snifter with this brew, which was a wonderful treat sent by travlnlt several weeks back. The cap was shrink-sealed AND electrical-taped and the growler was held in the chilliest part of the basement. Let's hope she's ok...

A: Good news! Opens with a lengthy 'pffft', carbonation held true. Pours a murky pecan brown (it's unfiltered), with glowing auburn tinting. Look closely and there's still a flurry of small bubbles creeping up the glass to a waifish head, one which which recedes to a pencil-line ring of ivory and smoky swirl. Lace holds well, a thin coating of broken cream.

S: Malt/grain toastiness married with sweet/candied fruit (berry, light orange), a bit flowery. Definite toffee/honey presence the more it warms, pairs nicely with nutty qualities.

T: Heavier roast with a not-so-sugary backing: caramel reduction on burnt nuts, dusty cocoa, sage/herbal hoppiness (maybe minty?), spicy and subtly 'woody' (a recent cedar-aged beer is brought briefly to mind). Coffeecake, nutmeg, plus a fair amount of fruit (berry and raisin and definite cherry, with a deft tartness). Seems to have a little of everything, yet balance front-to-back.

M: Really, REALLY smooth. Carbonation may have dulled a tad while languishing in a growler, but there's no denying the creaminess here. Velvety texture, vague warmth mid-mouth, blanketing feel building on tongue and cheeks with each sip. A 'cooling' finish, a little on the thin side or a possible '5'.

D: A fine sipper, but - as is usually the case - a night-capping ale to linger over. That's not to say a second snifter wasn't in order, because it was...and the remainder of the growler won't last much longer. Quite an enjoyable brew and a very good example of the style. Thanks for granting me the chance to try, Geoff; Free State has a winner with this one.

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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 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 Quaffer
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This was a lovely barleywine, served in a proper snifter and at the proper temperature at the brewery in Lawrence.

Smell: The aroma was perfect and made my mouth water from the second I raised the glass to my nose. Strong malt, a nice hop kick, and all the complexity that one expects from a beer of this style were all present.

Taste: Whether it had been aged or not, I don't know, but this barleywine came across like one that has been around for awhile. Heavy malt and a strong (but not too strong) raisin component dominated the flavor. There was no heavy hop bite that accompanies many young BWs. There was just enough present to balance out all the malt and add a little "umph" to the character.

This beer came across as big and complex, but was very drinkable. While I only had one, I could have easily drank this beer throughout the entire evening. I wasn't expecting much when I ordered it, but ended up being very inmpressed. Keep in mind that I am very hard on barleywines when it comes to reviewing. A 4.15 is high on the list in my book for this style of brew.

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Photo of hoppymeal
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a murky, dark apple cider brown with a small light cream off white head that quickly fades back to a ring around the edge of the glass. Aroma is big english barleywine, sweet and malty, cereal and grainy maltiness. Very rich caramel in the nose, some nice dark fruit notes as well, raisins and prunes. I get just the faintest hint of leather, also some sweet bubble gum / cotton candy-like aroma, and some sweet grape-y maltiness. Taste follows with a big rush of caramel sweetness, more grainy maltiness, fairly rich, some raisin and berry fruitiness, more of the grape-y sweetness along with just a hint of citrus and smaller hint of spicy hoppiness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to heavy in body, low carbonation, but what there is is soft on the tongue; a little sugariness coats, but it is not overly done or too cloying, instead well balanced before a dryness creeps in and builds into the finish. Alcohol is well hidden to me, quite drinkable and gets much better as it approaches room temperature. A very good barleywine, wish it were bottled to age a bit of, but this experience was delicious as well! A huge thank you to Bobby for helping cross off this long wanted bwine!

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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 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 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 jokelahoma
4.17/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This one was served in a small snifter.

Came out a deep, deep garnet red, almost purple. There's hardly any head whatsoever.

The nose is very vinous, very much full of dark fruits. You really don't pick up much hop, but it would be hard to discern hop aromas in the face of this malt wallop. Nice and appealing!

They didn't advertise this as being on cask, but I'm starting to wonder now. The little tiny bit of head, and now, when I take the first drink, I notice it's at cellar temp. Nice! The taste is surprisingly subdued and understated, if one can truly say that about anything having to do with a barleywine. It doesn't give you that heady sensation with the aroma wafting up the back of your nose that way many highly aromatic brews are wont to do. This is a sweetish barleywine, with the hops staying well in the background. They serve only to keep this one from tasting like syrup, with just enough bitterness to make it palatable. One can detect plums, prunes, raisins, apricots, and tropical fruits in this at various stages of the drink.The aftertaste provides the first real clue this is a strong beer, as the tiny bit of alcohol burn is felt. It stays more in the roof of the mouth than the back of the throat, though, which makes it far less invasive than other strong beers I've had. The oily malt sweetness lingers in the aftertaste, going on and on and on, coating your mouth with a very nice taste.

Mouthfeel here is pretty viscous, heavy and chewy. That seems to be expected from a beer this big, and really adds to the perception that you're drinking something formidable.

This barleywine is sweeter than I usually prefer, but it's very good and well made. If you happen to be fortunate enough to stop in when it's on tap, definitely give it a shot. You'll be glad you did.

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Photo of younger35
4.17/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Received a growler of this delicious brew at Dark Lord Day from rlcnmeyer. I tasted some that day from another growler and was excited to get this home and dive in. Drank from my Port Brewing pint glass.

Appearance- Pours a deep crimson brown (almost purple) with a small, barely detectable, dark tan head. After a couple minutes a small ring forms leaving a very small amount of lacing.
Smell- Loads of deep dark fruits (prunes, raisins, figs, the usual deep dark suspects) and some bright red cherries. Brown sugar and toffee add a fair amount of sweetness to the nose as well as a bit of toasted malt. In a way, this brew has some red wine tones in it the more I inhale. A bit of alcohol is noticeable in the nose as well but very little.
Taste- Very English and fairly sweet with boatloads of toffee and caramelized sugar. Bitter and sweet at the same time as the hops add some cherries and raisins. After your mouth acclimates, the bitterness tends to take a back seat to the sweetness though and it can become slightly cloying. Not too bad though and the beer is good enough you don't mind much. Some yeast and more malt in the finish as the beer just lingers on and on.
Mouthfeel- Big and rich with an extremely heavy feel and very light carbonation that lends to the creaminess. Slightly warming on the finish from the 10.5% ABV.
Drinkability- All in all, considering how big this brew is, it's quite easy drinking. A buddy and I polished off the growler very easily and honestly I could have used another glass when we finished. It's big and rich and a excellent Barleywine. Thanks Randy!

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Photo of maxpower
4.15/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Deep clear dark amber-copper, small head foamy off-white head, sweet fruity aromas of apples and pears. Sweet and malty like a good barleywine, sweet slick finish, very smooth and full bodied with a full and syrupy mouthfeel, this is a damn good barleywine.

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Photo of corby112
4.12/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2009 vintage.

Pours a cloudy amber/chestnut brown color with a one finger beige head that slowly settles into a lasting ring. Sporadic spots of lace left behind.

Earthy aroma with lots of leathery malt, booze and dark fruit. Hints of caramel, toffee and hazelnut along with hints of sweet fig, plum, raisin and subtle hops.

Medium bodied with a good balance of earthy/leathery malt, dark fruit and boozy sweetness. Hints of caramel, toffee, nut and caramel along with notes of fig, plum, raisin, date and alcohol. There is a slight hop bitterness but at this age it has faded quite a bit into a faint presence. Some nice alcohol sweetness and slight heat but the overall the high ABV is decently masked. I would love to try this fresh for a comparison.

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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 amatuerbeerguy
4.09/5  rDev -3.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Reddish brown color, although hazy. Some head dissipated quickly no lacing, or other indication of head. Aroma of malt, some sweetness, fruity, with alcohol warming the nostrils. Flavor of chocolate, fruit, malt sweetness, caramel toffee. Slight hops appear for a delicate bite in the back of the throat. Alcohol is apparent but not overwhelming. Definite winter by the fire drink. Full-bodied although quick dissipation of head ( I believe do to the improper seal of growler, cap was not on tight, leaked a little). Very nice beer, Free State hats off. Can not wait to go back to the brewery.

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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 callmemickey
4.05/5  rDev -4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2009 Vintage

A: Brackish orange-brown body, thin pale khaki head, a few stray wisps of lacing.

S: Rich caramel malts are accented by earthy notes of tobacco and leather. Some dark fruits and citric hops in the background.

T: Like the nose, caramel dominates. Toffee, lightly roasted malts, leather, tobacco, raisins, orange-hop bitterness, and residual booze notes.

M: Medium-full bodied. Moderate carbonation, creamy texture, with a clean, slightly bitter finish and some residual heat a few seconds later. Nice.

O: Overall I could see why this beer gets high marks, the nose and flavor are complex... ultimately, however, I thought the creamy caramel complexion was a little out of balance and perhaps tiring. M, Wooden Hell, King Henry, CWBBBW, and Alpine Great are superior beers in this category.

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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 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 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 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 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 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 Rhettroactive
3.95/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

From 64oz growler to Portsmouth glass on 3/29/12
*From notes

-- Thanks, Siege --

Growler filled around Christmas 2011

A: Muddy cider in color. A standard pour yields a creamy one finger off-white head. It lingers for a minute and leaves a thick collar and moderate lacing.

S: Stodgy pine oil. Hints of sliced green apple and a touch of toasted malt.

T: Creamy malt up front. The mid is nothing if not a bit sweet. The hops then jump right in and bite the palate. It's more of a biting pine resin then fruity.

M: Decent. We're talking about a growler that was filled and driven all the way back from Kansas a few months ago, so it's not gonna be crisp. A bit oily and thin as well.

O: A nice take on an American Barleywine. Being as this is non-barrel aged, this instantly is put at a disadvantage, though having said that, this is still a solid beer. I'd recommend drinking it fresh, or waiting quite a while to get into it, as the hops here were a bit stale in my opinion.

Not quite up to the rDev or lofty status, and certainly not worth dumping your cellar for.

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Photo of barleywinefiend
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

So I get to try the infamous. Thanks Joel.

Poured a murky light burgundy color with low carbonation and a small beige head. Nose is lots of dried fruits like raisins, figs and booze. Taste is a bit flat at first, rush of figs, raisins, wood and cherries and even taste oxidized a bit, cardboard. Mouthfeel is big sugar, sticky sweet, caramel, dried fruits and booze.This brew got better and better as it warmed and the dynamic changed alot. At first i was not a fan but it grew on me later on.

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