Walking Tree Brewery’s Red Wine Barrel-Aged Barnacled Manatee 2017

Beer Reviews by | Oct 2017 | Issue #129

As I typed out this review, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. It really puts life in perspective when you’re enjoying a luxury and hoping the South will make it safely through a natural disaster. A luxury from an area affected by that natural disaster, at that. Now I know Floridians are veterans of this type of weather event, but I still consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy this bottle of Barleywine from Walking Tree Brewery. Hell, I probably should’ve tweeted a photo of it with a #BarleywineIsLife hashtag.

This beer began with the brewery’s Barleywine from the year prior. As co-founder Alan Dritenbas explains, “this was the 2016 batch of Barnacled Manatee. It was then barrel-aged for eight months to become the 2017 barrel-aged bottle release. This variant was 100 percent aged in freshly dumped French oak red wine barrels from Napa.” Generally, wine barrel-aged versions of Walking Tree’s beers are American styles, though this one is an English variety. “English Barleywines are one of our favorite styles, being a bit less aggressive than American versions,” Dritenbas adds. “We figured an English-style Barleywine would meld well with the oak, wine notes, and oxygen pickup from wine barrel aging.”

To me, a “Barnacled Manatee,” sounds like a mythical beast … some sort of Floridian folklore. Dritenbas assured me it was a real creature, and divulged the origin of the name. “A barnacled manatee is a big, old, dangerous beast,” he says. “Just like an aged Barleywine. There are stories around here of people riding the manatees in the river. They gather in winter around the power plants’ warm discharge water and people jump on their backs and hang on tight. It’s highly illegal to touch them; it’s also very dangerous. They’re powerful! When they get old enough, their backs get covered in barnacles.”

Right away you can taste that this batch is aged in first-use red wine barrels—the sweetness of the Barleywine melds well with the vinous character. Most of the focus here is on the malt backbone and the benefits of barrel aging, with alcohol and a kiss of hops helping to provide balance. Sure, there is some carbonation, though this brew really opens up when the carbonation settles and it reaches cellar temperature. There’s also lots of red wine overtones and fresh wood on the palate. Walking Tree clearly has a firm grasp on what an English Barleywine is, and has the barrel aging expertise for this variant, too. Here is a beer that is worth the hunt. Seek out this brewery if you’re ever trekking down the southeast coast of Florida.

Red Wine Barrel-Aged Barnacled Manatee 2017
Walking Tree Brewery | Vero Beach, FL
STYLE: American Barleywine
ABV: 9.2%
Look 4 | Smell 4.25 | Taste 4.25 | Feel 4 | Overall 4.25
Jason’s Rating: 4.21/5

*Barnacled Manatee is released every year with red wine and now bourbon barrel-aged variants coming in 2018. Sales currently limited to the taproom.