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Old Backus Barleywine - Free State Brewing Co.

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Old Backus Barleywine
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131 Ratings
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 131
Reviews: 70
rAvg: 4.34
pDev: 9.91%
Wants: 164
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
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Ratings: 131 | Reviews: 70 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Theogre83
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

Theogre83, Dec 25, 2013
Photo of starrdogg
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

starrdogg, Jan 14, 2013
Photo of BdubleEdubleRUN
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

BdubleEdubleRUN, Mar 19, 2012
Photo of t0rin0
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%

t0rin0, Oct 01, 2012
Photo of tewaris
4.25/5  rDev -2.1%
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.

tewaris, Oct 17, 2012
Photo of msubulldog25
4.28/5  rDev -1.4%
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.

msubulldog25, Jan 11, 2010
Photo of BigMcLargeHuge
4.28/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

According to eboats rating this appears to be a 1999 Vintage. Pours murky brackish brown with thin off white head that fades to nothing in about a minute. This beer has a huge aroma of dark fruitiness with sweet caramel around the back of the smell. Very nice. The beer has a nice thick syrupy mouth feel that's seems just right. The dark fruity taste is composed of smooth silky cherry compote to apricot to dates. There's also sweet malt and caramel that go very well with the fruitiness. Very enjoyable barleywine.

BigMcLargeHuge, Nov 17, 2008
Photo of hopdog
4.33/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4


Poured a medium and cloudy / muddy brownish color with a very small sized off white head. Aromas of caramel, dark fruits, and a little earthy. Tastes of caramel, dark fruits, toasted nuts, and brown sugary sweet. Alcohol content well hidden.

Notes from 2/29/08

hopdog, Nov 10, 2008
Photo of FosterJM
4.33/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1170th Review on BA
Growler to snifter

Thanks to my mom for sending this from KS

Shared with GuruDel, Jazzpatel, MrHirschybar & BdubleEdubleRUN

App- Rich deep ruby red with light more vibrant garnt edges. More of a liquer look with zero head but a ring of bubbles. Creamy and silky looking.

Smell- Loads of citrus open this up with a lot of sweet and malty thick. Really smells to me like red licorice.

Taste- For only a non BA BW things drinks alot bigger. The malts open on this with a large rich citrus flavor and then move to a more dark fruit, raisiny, plum and dark brown sugar flavor.

Mouth- Its more of a creamy low medium body with a lighter medium carbonation. A lot of creamy malts and deeper citrus and dark fruits.

Drink- Its been four years since I have had this and this version is better than I remember. More rich vs sweet and savory vs harsh. Glad some of the growler is left.

FosterJM, Mar 20, 2012
Photo of zeff80
4.33/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A - Poured a cloudy, copper/burgundy color with a foamy, thick, long-lasting, off-white head. It left thick, sticky rings of lace.

S - It smelled intensely malty and sweet. Tons of floral aromas increase as the head settles.

T - It tasted very, very sweet. Malty sweet and boozy alcohol flavors dominate with a mild hoppy bitterness.

M - It was very smooth and chewy/bready. A full-bodied beer.

D - This is a great tasting barleywine. Very sweet and delicious however, a single 9 oz serving might be all I can handle at once.

zeff80, Jan 20, 2009
Photo of LambicPentameter
4.35/5  rDev +0.2%
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.

LambicPentameter, May 22, 2014
Photo of dreadnatty08
4.35/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to the Free State and their anniversary celebration, I was able to taste the 2000 bottling. The hoppiness is gone and this beer goes down incredibly smooth, sweet and amazing. Served in a snifter at proper temperature. Bartender was excited to pour and seems as though many others were getting a taste at this one. Really would like to see how a fresh one is, but impressed to see how well it ages.

Update: They recently brought out the 2004, with a dramatic change from the 6 yr old brew. Hops are in the forefront, and I believe I like it more this way. Sweetness isn't as dominant as in the older, and it's more balanced. Have to give it up to Free State for doing something like this!

dreadnatty08, Feb 23, 2006
Photo of billab914
4.35/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Growler shared by Siege06nd last night. Poured from a growler into my CBS snifter. It poured a dark caramel color and somewhat murky. A thin, sticky head formed after the pour. Nice color and nice lacing to it overall.

The aroma shows a lot of dark fruits to it with raisin, fig and a little cherry to it. It also has a little more of a crisp, almost apple like fruitiness mixing with some yeasty spices. I get some nice caramel and toffee sweetness to the malts as well as just a hint of chocolate. A good amount of hoppiness is also present contributing an herbal bitterness with a touch of citrus. The aroma had a lot going on, but I really think they brought it together pretty well.

The taste also has a pretty bold dark fruit component with cherry and fig both playing a decent role. The caramel and toffee maltiness is really good in it. Crisp fruits and some earthy spice are there as well. Some bitter hoppiness comes through in the finish with a slight citrus. It's a little leathery in the finish as well. Very balanced and well integrated for the style. So many American versions the hops seem to clash for me, but they really worked pretty well in this one.

The mouthfeel is somewhat creamy but also feels a little thin for the style. The low carbonation works pretty well for it though.

Overall, I thought it was a really good beer of the style. It was surprisingly balanced which helped it be pretty smooth and drinkable. I don't think it compares to some of the best barrel aged beers of the style, but for a regular American Barleywine I think it's a very good beer.

billab914, Mar 30, 2012
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 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 d0ggnate
4.38/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Had the opportunity to try this fabled beer at Free State tonight.

Poured to a small snifter and settles a rich black/brown with a single finger off-white head. Heavy malt on the nose, but rounded off and not overwhelming. Board reads that this is from 2003. Toffee and candied sugar notes. Hints of coffee, molases and subtle smoke, too. Taste continues with rich malts and red smashes grapes. Also hints of molases and dark chocolate.

Extremely clean mouthfeel. Rich and complex. Very well balanced and a treat. Glad to log the chance to drink this one. If the bottled it, it would stand along side great, classic barlewine examples.

d0ggnate, Dec 31, 2009
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 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 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 womencantsail
4.43/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A huge thanks to Dale for helping me out and sending me a growler of this! It's a fill of the 2009 vintage.

A: The pour is a dark amber color with a pretty decent sized tan head (considering the time spent in the growler).

S: Smells like a good barleywine. Lots of caramel, toffee, and perhaps a touch of butterscotch. There's some nice dark fruit aromas to it as well, and some earthy hop notes.

T: There's a good hop flavor, but not really all that bitter. Toffee, molasses, and caramel provide plenty of sweetness to the beer. Some dark fruits like figs, plums, and dates are present too.

M: The body is medium to full with a relatively good amount of carbonation.

D: A very solid barleywine, and amazingly easy to drink for a beer that's over 10% alcohol. Very glad to have tried this.

womencantsail, Dec 26, 2010
Photo of brentk56
4.43/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2003 Vintage

Appearance: Pours a cloudy dark amber color with a modest head; legs but no lace

Smell: Dark fruit dominates, with raisins, figs and dates most prominent; plenty of caramel, as well

Taste: Opens with rich caramel and dark fruit flavors, with a developing bitter balance to counter the raisins, figs and dates; after the swallow, the flavors meld together to provide a balanced, but layered finish

Mouthfeel: Full bodied with low carbonation

Drinkability: Amazing that a seven year old barleywine has retained some hop balance that blends to a complex flavor marriage with the malts; worth seeking out

Thanks, mreusch (from the other site) for the opportunity

brentk56, Jan 10, 2010
Photo of Thorpe429
4.47/5  rDev +3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to rbald42 for sharing a growler of this at the Sexual Chocolate release.

Poured a dark amber with a pretty good head (especially out of a growler) with good lacing. The smell was pretty intense and complex, including caramel malt, toffee sweetness, hints of vanilla, some dark fruits, and a bit of alcohol. The taste is quite similar, with a beautiful malt sweetness coming through in addition to the characteristics of the nose. Very nice mid-to-full-bodied mouthfeel with good carbonation and outstanding drinkability for a beer of this size and complexity.

Thorpe429, Feb 10, 2010
Photo of woosterbill
4.47/5  rDev +3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I couldn't make it to the bottle-share where my tasting group opened this growler, but they generously hand-bottled a pour for me to enjoy shortly thereafter. Poured into a snifter.

A: Warm brown body; cloudy, but nicely translucent. No head, but gorgeous legs. I didn't expect any carbonation given the treatment this sample has received, and for what it is it looks nice.

S: Rich toffee, nuttiness, sherry, marshmallow, and some dark fruit. Very complex, very pleasant.

T: Dark fruit, caramel, toffee, sherry, and lovely hints of tobacco. Dark chocolate and nuts on the long, bitter finish. The sweetness up front + bitterness on the back end balance beautifully. Booze is present, but restrained. Delicious.

M: Thick, slick, and smooth. Not too sticky. Carbonation is low but present.

O: This is a terrific beer, and has held up great for a while (I was told this was a growler from 2010, but I'm not entirely sure about that). I do know that I'd love to try it fresh some time. Terrific stuff.


woosterbill, Oct 29, 2011
Photo of tmoneyba
4.47/5  rDev +3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured hazy golden brown color with a minimal frothy off-white head that mostly diminished with fair lacing. Moderate to heavy dark fruit, hop and small alcohol aroma. Medium to full body with a smooth texture and flat carbonation. Moderate to heavy complex sweet flavor with a medium to heavy complex bittersweet finish of moderate to long duration. This is was a standout beer.

tmoneyba, Jul 12, 2011
Photo of orangesol
4.48/5  rDev +3.2%
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.

orangesol, Apr 20, 2012
Old Backus Barleywine from Free State Brewing Co.
95 out of 100 based on 131 ratings.