Old Backus Barleywine - Free State Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Old Backus BarleywineOld Backus Barleywine

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BA SCORE
94
outstanding

159 Ratings
THE BROS
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no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 159
Reviews: 74
rAvg: 4.28
pDev: 10.75%
Wants: 175
Gots: 19 | FT: 3
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: 159 | Reviews: 74 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of drabmuh
4.78/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

At the time of this review, this beer is the #3 beer on the beeradvocate.com "Top Beers - American Barleywine" list. A great honor for sure and a well deserved position. Finally opened this growler over Christmas with Huhzubendah, a huge want for me for a while, thanks to Mizzouguy for hooking me up.

Beer is brown, ruby at the corners. Nice tan head, small bubbles, tan, some lacing, low carbonation but definitely carbonated. Looks good.

Aroma is complex, sweet, malts, figs, prunes, nice overall, I really like it, very enticing.

Beer is medium in body, smooth, smooth, smooth, seriously this is the biggest beer without a single trace of alcohol in the palate, the finish is a little roasty, a little tobacco, but it is awesome throughout. I really enjoyed htis beer. I had half a growler of it (probably a bit more since I drank 15 more ounces when I got home) and I would do it again, anytime.

Photo of Huhzubendah
4.8/5  rDev +12.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Growler shared by drabmuh. Thanks Matt.

2006 vintage

Merry Christmas!

The beer is a beautiful copper ruby hue. Crystal clear appearance with a thick, whipped merengue head. The head displays excellent retention and coats the pint glass with lacing. A superb appearance.

The aroma brings an array of scents, including toffee, caramel, oak, malt, booze, fruit.

The flavor Is phenomenal. Ridiculously smooth and easy to drink. This beer hides the alcohol about as well as any beer I have had. Toffee, caramel, vanilla, oak. A slight leaning toward an English style barleywine, with some candy sweetness, though never cloying. The beer is so soft and mellow, surely aided by the hands of time, yet tastes so fresh and clean. Fantastic stuff.

Perfect carbonation level. The feel is so fresh and clean on the palate. A dangerous beer, it would be easy to get ahead of myself and consume this too rapidly. Perhaps the most quaffable barleywine I have ever had.

Overall, a world class example of the style. Two pints was perfect. This is the only American barleywine that tempts me for a second serving. Highly recommended.

Photo of jophish17
4.5/5  rDev +5.1%

Photo of zhanson88
4.7/5  rDev +9.8%
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.

Photo of siege06nd
4.65/5  rDev +8.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Served in a snifter at FSB....

A. Pours a ruddy copper orange color. About a quarter finger cream colored head. Pretty good lacing on the sides. Very good retention through the session. Great looking bw here.

S. Leather, toffee, a little burnt tobacco, dark fruit, caramel, vanilla. One hell of a complex nose here. It would take me an hour to discern all the notes in this. Spectacular.

T. Dark fruit, cherry, tobacco, charred leather, raisin, plum, caramel, and a subtle hop presence. Wow. The complexity here is great. I like how the dark fruits really carry it. Nice.

M. Home run. Amazingly complex and full flavored but retains a fruity, light mouthfeel. Drinks like a wine, which I suppose is the point. Minimal carbonation lets the flavors shine. Nice hoppy and fruity finish. The flavors are perfectly balanced. Wow.

O. At first blush, I was bored by this one. The glut of barrel aged bw's has made the standard version seem boring. But after giving this time to warm up, it surprised me. A great barleywine and well deserving of its status as one of the best American versions.

Photo of theminutemen
4.5/5  rDev +5.1%

Photo of corby112
4.1/5  rDev -4.2%
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.

Photo of sideshowe
5/5  rDev +16.8%

Photo of tisthesaisson
5/5  rDev +16.8%

Photo of jtrockchalk
5/5  rDev +16.8%

Photo of JAHMUR
4.5/5  rDev +5.1%

Photo of Photekut
5/5  rDev +16.8%

Photo of woosterbill
4.47/5  rDev +4.4%
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.

Cheers!

Photo of birchstick
3.8/5  rDev -11.2%
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!

Photo of tmoneyba
4.47/5  rDev +4.4%
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.

Photo of tr4nc3d
4.78/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

09 Vintage 64oz Growler- Used a snifter

Appearance is a dark amber color with just the slightest bit of light passing through. Pour produces a two inch creamy off-white head. Great head retention with magnifecent lacing. Siimply superb appearance as this is coming from a growler and its an 09 vintage. Shows how great this beer ages without losing carbonation.

Overload of aromas coming up my sinuses. Huge dark fruit aromas of dark cherriesk dates, and plums. Dark licorice, oak, toffee, vanilla, and caramel. Tobacco, leather, and some alcohol heat finish. Man oh man what an aroma.

Flavor starts off sweet with a cola like taste with some brown sugar. Midway flavor pursues into dark cherries, dates, and plums. Finish is toffee, caramel, oak, vanilla, and tobacco. Flavor wise this was more than I expected, simply great.

Mouthfeel is full bodied, very smooth and with adequate carbonation, alcohol well hidden. Very balanced and well done unlike many other barleywines that are overly sweet.

Overall I was skeptical if I should try it or trade it, as I'm not the biggest fan of barleywines, and I prefer Englis to American. Let me just say I'm GLAD I did not trade it as this beer is fan-fucking unbelievable. Its a rare treat as its hardly ever on tap, and a bitch to try and get a growler, so I'm glad I got the chance to try it and hopefully I will again. If you like Barleywines then this beer should be on the top of your list to try. Imagine if this beer was in bourbon barrels, now thats something to dream about!!!

Photo of nuggetnectar01
4.97/5  rDev +16.1%
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.

Photo of Kegatron
4.9/5  rDev +14.5%
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.

Photo of largadeer
4.38/5  rDev +2.3%
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.

Photo of womencantsail
4.43/5  rDev +3.5%
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.

Photo of glid02
4.55/5  rDev +6.3%
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.

Photo of gford217
4.5/5  rDev +5.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Can't thank Dale enough for sending this growler my way. 2009 vintage I believe.

Pours pretty dark for a barleywine, a murky mahogany that shows amber around the edges with a one-inch tan head that shows decent retention and lacing for a growler pour.

The aroma is fantastic and has all kinds of things going on. There is a dominant sweetness that's a combination of toffee, caramel and fruits. The fruit has both plums and raisins but also a little bit of green apples and sherry.

The taste actually has more hops than I was expecting with an initial bitterness that gave way to a toffee and caramel backbone with sugar-coated dark fruits. The finish brings back the hops and leaves a slightly roasted but bitter finish.

Mouthfeel is so smooth and close to full bodied. Almost chewy with soft carbonation and a sweet but slightly dry finish.

I had heard good things about this but probably wasn't prepared for how really great a beer it was. It's one of the better non-BA barleywines I can remember having. Exceptionally complex but still remains drinkable. Really impressive.

Photo of WeisGuy
4.38/5  rDev +2.3%
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.

Photo of augustgarage
4.53/5  rDev +5.8%
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.

Photo of Thorpe429
4.47/5  rDev +4.4%
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.

Old Backus Barleywine from Free State Brewing Co.
94 out of 100 based on 159 ratings.