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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 TheDudeRules
2.87/5  rDev -32.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

09 pour from a growler to my Hangar 24 snifter.

Minimal head. Like a fingernail's width. Dark dirty dishwater color liquid.

Smell is sweet dark fruit. Fig, plum,raisin. Toffee and caramel elbowing in. Semi intoxicating. Smell is awful sweet.

Low carbonation. Almost nill. Heavy alcohol bite. Strong resin like aftertaste. Raisin like sweetness is there, but the sucker punch from the alcohol takes over. I'm going to let this warm a touch and come back to it. And I'm back. Well this is exactly the same. Bleh.

Not what I was hoping for. Flat bunk. At least I have 30 more ounces to go. Oh joy.

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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 Sean9689
3.16/5  rDev -25.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Thanks, Mike. 64oz growler into snifter.

A - Pours a reddish/brown color, cream-colored head, thin ring.

S - Dark fruits, lots of booze, light caramel, no real sweetness. The heavy booze and lack of sweetness is a turn-off for me with this beer. I think this needs quite some time before loosing the booze.

T - Similar to the nose, harsh booze/alcohol, dark fruits, and overly oak'd. The booze is too much and actually turns this into a harsh beer to drink. The lack of sweetness and burnt sugars is terribly disappointing, as I was expecting so much from this beer.

M - Medium, good carbonation, creamy oak finish.

O - Not a top-notch barleywine for me. The booze is way too overpowering and the lack of sweetness makes this one too harsh to enjoy a decent pour. Would revisit with some age, but this is a growler, so no-can-do. Average, at best.

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Photo of HopHead84
3.22/5  rDev -24.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2

Growler received in a trade with BobbDigi. Consumed on 12/05/2009 and poured into a snifter. The beer pours out ruddy, murky, and tawny. The hard pour yielded a miniscule beige head that seems to disappear rather than recede. No lacing is on the glass.

The aroma opens up with prunes, figs, dates, and alcohol. The booze is prominent. Sherry oxidation is coupled with an unavoidable cardboard character. Toffee and caramel are evident, and the malt is of baked bread. The nose is quite sugary.

The taste opens with a brown sugar sweetness and notes of toffee, baked bread, and caramel. The oxidation is more graceful in the flavor, imparting sherry notes, and the cardboard isn't as strong here as I found it in the nose. Dates, figs, prunes, and raisins are present. The high moderate bitterness hits midpalate and carries through to the sweet, boozy, and sugary dark fruit finish. The combination of booze and bitterness make for a somewhat harsh finish.

The beer has a very low level of carbonation, creating a thick and sticky mouthfeel. One snifter of this was laborious, and when it was finished I could drink no more.

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Photo of AgentZero
3.31/5  rDev -22.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

64 oz growler from kansascitytrader. Cheers! Shared with the rest of the Rejects.

A - Hazy brown beer. Very brown, looks like a bit of a purple in there. It's a very dark and big looking barleywine. Decent sized brown head.

S - Smells is not the greatest. It's quite boozy, needs some time to cool down. Very heavy on the dark fruits, particularly figs and maybe prunes. Lots of caramel malt.

T - Taste is better than the smell, with a little bit more burnt sugar. Still loads of dark fruits, figs, etc. Quite sweet, with a bit of toffee and some caramel. Quite heavy on the malts for a barleywine, in my opinion. It's not bad, but I was really expecting more.

M - Pretty close to full bodied with moderate carbonation.

O - I was expecting good things, particularly as MasterSki was glowingly speaking of it. I guess his batch was from a few years ago, maybe that made a difference. It's above average, but nothing that is worthy of the top 100, at least not fresh.

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Photo of KickInTheChalice
3.38/5  rDev -20.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a 64 oz. growler courtesy of kansascitytrader through AgentZero. Thanks for sharing guys!

The beer pours a fairly murky, flat brown color with a ruby miniscus and a small wisp of a tan head.

The aroma is harsh and boozy. The smell is heavy on the dark fruits and lighter on the caramel and brown sugar malt notes. Rum-soaked raisins, plums, and figs, with additional sugar and alcohol presence.

The flavor is not quite so severe. The flavor starts and stays very sweet, with a little bit more balance than I was led to believe existed from the nose. Brown sugar and toffee coat the figs, raisins, and plums, but the bready malt gets lost behind a still-intense booze and oak character. The finish is fairly boozy. It has a harsh flavor, but there could be a good beer hiding behind the rough edges.

Old Backus is very light on the carbonation and the grainy nature of the beer contributes to a fairly rough feel on the palate overall.

I have definitely smelled and tasted barleywines with very rough aromas at first that have mellowed out into beautiful beers. Unfortunately, with only the opportunity to try this one fresh, it has not had any time to develop.

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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 Mebuzzard
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Poured in a 9oz snifter. Rich amber pour, with very little head. Looked a bit flat and port-like. Average looking, which isn't all that bad.
Sweet, candied apple smell. Malt was well balanced with the small sampling of spice and alcohol. It has high OG and IBU, but the aroma is rather tame.
Complex taste with sweet malt and caramel, a slight smidgen of hops and a good spicey overall feel to it. The IBUs doesn't quite match the description, yet it doesn't take away from the taste. Alcohol is well hidden, but it does come with quite a wallop.
Easy drinking, complex mouthfeel make this barley wine a must try.

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Photo of birchstick
3.79/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4

Served out of a growler

A - pours a brownish red without much of a head to speak of

S - smells of brown sugar, raisins & other dark fruits, and cinnamon

T - starts off with sugary, sweet malts with loads of caramel in the mix. These fade to dark fruits (figs, raisins). Ends with sticky, piney hops. There is also a weird citrus flavor throughout that I couldn't grasp for a while. Pretty solid taste profile!

M - thin and sticky, leaves a dry finish

D - really good barleywine. This was less hoppy and more malty than most American barleywines, which is a really good thing. I really surprised by this one in a good way and would highly recommend this!

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