Lift Bridge Brewery

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English Barleywine
Ranked #91
Ranked #6,557
4.02 | pDev: 13.93%
Lift Bridge Brewery
Minnesota, United States
Notes: The Commander™ is our English-Style Barleywine ale brewed with heavy fists of malts and subtle, sweet Cardamom. Aged in bourbon barrels, its bold, complex flavor reaches heights measured only by the building of its namesake. This 12.5% ABV treat is best enjoyed in smaller portions when you have some time to savor it, between now and 2020.
Reviews: 79 | Ratings: 269 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of gatornation
3.89/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Pours a cola color with a tan head.Smell of caramel,fruit,and spice. Taste followed nose yet had more spice than i would like,notes of dark fruit and vanilla. Mouth feel is thick and hoppy with cardomen in the finish. glad this is now available in a 12oz bottle.

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Photo of REVZEB
3.92/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Had on tap. Light caramel brown pour, no head. Can smell the bourbon right off the bat, with tons of caramel, candied orange, vanilla, and cardamom. The taste is sickly sweet, not enough wood from the barrel played in. The candied orange, vanilla, and caramel dominate, brightening up the whole profile. It's not bad, but it's not great either. Feel is sticky, slightly cloying, and thin.

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Photo of Benish
4.38/5  rDev +9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

2018 batch. It poured as deep opaque brown with an off-white head that disappeared quickly. Aromas heavy in pitted fruits, toffee and sweet caramel-like whiskey. The flavors are precisely the same, whiskey soaked raisins and prunes, a ton of toffee candy, and finished with whisky. Very in depth and sweet, almost beyond what I can describe. Mouthfeel: full bodied and slick. Very smooth with almost no warmth. Overall: finally an outstanding English barleywine without the ‘whale’ hype. For such and exceptional beer, it’s still sitting in stores. People are missing out.

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Photo of Victory_Sabre1973
3.97/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

2016 vintage reviewed on 1-17-2019.

Pours a reddish brown color. Minimal head, but what is there is off white. Dissipates into a ring around the edge of the glass. Even though there's minimal head, there's some carbonation rising in the glass.
The nose has some spices to it, but no idea what. Some vanilla. Some caramel.
Taste - The spice is very up front. It hits first and hard. The vanilla and caramel seem to be more backside.
I really like how this beer feels. Very full bodied. Smooth, with just a very slight alcohol warming on the backside. The spices also linger as a feeling in my palate.
Solid barleywine overall. This is a beer that can age, and it's doing so very well.

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Photo of vette2006c5r
4.39/5  rDev +9.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Commander pours a dark brownish color, with a little, barley lacing head. Big harsh malty aroma, hints of alcohol, and the cardamom is noticeable. Flavor is the same, big full, harsh hops, with a sweet and spicy, abet small flavored, cardamom balancing out everything. Very smooth, and good body. Overall, a nice big, smooth, easy to drink barleywine.

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Photo of StonedTrippin
4.24/5  rDev +5.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

a very cool twist on a traditional english barleywine here! not only is this barrel aged to perfection, but its got a dash of cardamom in it, which really makes it quite interesting, a perfect after dinner sipper following our thanksgiving feast! i know cardamom can be polarizing, but i cant explain these poor ratings here, this is way better than its marks. its pale bronze colored beer with a small white head and a little haze, some serious density, and a very appealing aroma of baked malts, long boiled concentrated grain sugars, and this neat cardamom complexion which i think is splendid with all the bourbon and vanilla this has from the barrels. sweet in the flavor both from the malts and from the whiskey, the cardamom is floral and bright to me, a neat wrinkle in the perfect spot, i get a candied orange peel thing too, a breakfast bread desserty vibe, and a lot of whiskey and oak. its smooth and mellow and not sticky or stupidly strong or heavy, i think the base beer is killer on its own but the cardamom and bourbon barrels pop this off to the next level. suitable for extended ageing i would think. this is awesome wintery beer, a highlight from lift bridge. my label looks quite a bit different than the one pictured below here. insane beer overall, so creative and well done!

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Photo of darktronica
4.05/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2016 bomber, poured to a teku. Muddy and caramelized in appearance, with minimal head and no lacing. Cardamom is not a spice I would think of with respect to a barleywine, but it is quite prominent here and works well! It was instantly noticeable on the nose, and the downside is that it's there in spades, crowding out some of the other more nuanced flavors of a traditional English barleywine (even more so when considering barrel-ageing).

As a result, I have some trouble deciding on a score. It's clearly trying to be idiosyncratic by introducing the cardamom in the first place, but as a result, it's not particularly balanced. But again, it's really pleasant and enjoyable despite the lack of balance.

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Photo of Evilyak
4.13/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

2014 edition, just bought this week. wasn't marked as cellared. that's something.

pretty beer. reddish brown and very still.

barrel and brown sugar jump out in the nose with vanilla. cardamom is subtle but there's a spiciness to it.

vanilla and sugar in the taste. cardamom does show up well in the aftertaste. for 12.5%, the alcohol taste is well masked by the other elements.

mouth is thick and mild carbonation. alcohol warmth is there.

all in all, that's a tasty burger.

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Photo of mnredsoxfan69
4.06/5  rDev +1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

8 oz. tap pour at Selby Bar & Grill (Whole Foods, St. Paul)

This lovely little barleywine pours the color of raw honey with a thin ivory cap and a little bit of lacing on the glass. The aroma of brown sugar and caramel and alcohol fill the nose, followed by the same on the tongue along with brandy and a welcome bitter aftertaste. Medium bodied and silken on the tongue, this brew is a sipper for a cool, autumn evening. Very well made. With some aging it will improve.

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Photo of BlurryVisi0n
3.96/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Served in a tulip glass from the bottle.

Appearance: Slight hazy Amber with an orange tinted head rising about one finger's length above the body.

Smell: Light bourbon scent which is super light.

Taste: Complex taste, you feel butterscotch and an overwhelming sweet alcohol which reminds you of brandy and toffee.

Mouth: super sticky, with sweet loaf cake and whiskey.

Overall: Little souvenir I brought back from Minnesota, nice little find that I personally believe delivered. If you're into barleywines I think it's an easy notch under your belt.

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Photo of yesterdayfaraway
3.92/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

L: looks like liquid rust. No head at all
S: slight barrel, sugary sweetness and a dry alcohol
T: much like the nose, slight barrel, caramel sweetness.
F: thick syrupy
O: a decent ba English barleywine

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Photo of Taybeh
3.72/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

from a bomber, 2015 edition, into a Bad Weather snifter, pours a somewhat swampy reddish brown with a thin cap of white head on it that subsides quickly and no lacing. Nose is vanilla, light brown sugar, marshmallow...pretty sweet but the notes aren't all that distinct or developed. On the tongue, this is better...everything noted in the nose is there except the vanilla...toffee is much more pronounced, maybe a little cardamom at the edge and sweet raisins and very light bourbon soaked bananas that blend into the heavier and sweeter notes pretty well. Not getting much from the bourbon barrels except a little bit on the fruit. Not getting much by way of hoppy liveliness, and it is a little on the slick side, not really drying out a lot at the end. Body is decent, but a little slight for the style and the abv, though from sip to sip, it hides or diminishes the boozy or heavy nature that the actual abv would predict. All in all, this is a little too sweet for me, and it lacks the complexity of the better barley wines... but it is still fairly good and definitely worth a shot. In the absence of lots of alternatives, I'd be happy to revisit later editions, maybe letting them age a bit more.

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Photo of Umdrunner
3.97/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Hazy brown with small off white head that lightly laced. Scent of toffee and brown sugar. Beer had subtle boozy flavor with smooth malty, toffee, brown sugar, and raisin notes. Not the best Barleywine I've ever tried, but very good. Flavors deepened as it warmed.

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Photo of KillerJigger
3.61/5  rDev -10.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

A very dry and roasty version to be sure. Not your typical sweet barley bomb. If drank at a warmer temp. u can get just a bit sweetness of the malt. Very drinkable!!

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Photo of Czequershuus
4.23/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

This beer pours medium brown with a small but lasting head. The aromas lead with sticky sweet bread, followed by pruned and raisins, brown sugar, and almonds. The flavor is primarily sweet bready, with the fruit and nut character coming in later. The mouthfeel is thick and rich. Overall this is an excellent and balanced english barleywine, that was a perfect choice for pairing with blue cheese and walnuts.

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Photo of pat61
4.5/5  rDev +11.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

L: Pours brilliant deep amber with ruby highlights under a thin cream colored foam cap that hugs the side of the glass.
S: Fruit and malt aromas with a little biscuit and a suggestion of pear.
T: Rich malt flavors join with big alcohol with cardamom, vanilla, fruit, and biscuit.
F: Big body with average to below average carbonation.
O: Big alcohol gives this a mixed boubon drink character with a nice warming on the finish.

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Photo of dar482
4.21/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

The beer comes in a dark ruby color.

The aroma is straight huge cardamom, big caramel and bourbon sweetness.

The flavor hits again with that cardamom, which I'm not quite sure is doing in the beer. Then onto vanilla, caramel, dark fruit of dried date and plum, and some oak drying.

The beer drinks below its ABV on the alcohol, with a slightly thinner mouthfeel.

Still, the base is fantastic, I am just unsure what the cardamom does for this.

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Photo of deebo
3.94/5  rDev -2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Cask on chai at town Hall tap gives a different twist on this English style barleywine. Easy to drink barleywine. Smooth and whatnot. This version has less carbonation and more caradamom with a hint of cinnamon.

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Photo of mwilbur
3.6/5  rDev -10.4%

Vintage 2013. Bottle number 1482. Poured from 22 oz bottle into snifter.
A: Pours a clear dark brown amber hue with essentially no head. (3.5)
S: Sweet dark caramel, banana, clove, cardamom, and boozy, bourbon-soaked raisin. (3.75)
T: Sweet dark(-ish) caramel, banana, cardamom, dark dried fruit (raisin, date), and boozy-but-sweet bourbon. (3.75)
M: Moderately heavy body. Sweet with an oily slick feel. Decent lingering on the palate. (3.5)
D: A sipper for sure given the ABV. A decent example of style, but nothing special. The cardamom is an interesting twist. (3.5)

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Photo of bsp77
4.01/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Serving glass: Poured from bottle into goblet.

Appearance: Dark murky orangish-brown with thin off-white cap.

Smell: Mostly bourbon notes in the aroma with just a touch of Barleywine toffee notes.

Taste: The Barleywine notes are more evident in the taste, with toffee and dark fruit notes. But the malts are still not as complex as preferred in a world class Barleywine, but the bourbon does a good job of elevating the beer, with oak, vanilla, coconut and just general bourbon-ness. The cardamom comes through very lightly on the finish, which is unique for the style.

Feel: Thick and chewy with low carbonation. Fairly warming but not as hot as expected for the high abv. Maybe waiting almost a year before opening this helped in that regard.

Overall: While I am not sure that the core Barleywine is anything special, the bourbon and cardamom helps make this Interesting and enjoyable.

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Photo of hardy008
2.54/5  rDev -36.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.25 | overall: 2.5

2013 Release
Bottle number 1789

Pours copper with a small off white head which doesn't last very long before fading. thje aroma has cardamom, brown sugar, spices, and that's about it. I do not pick up any Bourbon, dark fruit, or vanilla. Disappointing. Hopefully this will taste better than it smells.

Has an overly sweet taste with plenty of alcohol heat. Does not taste like Bourbon, just alcohol. There is also cardamom, brown sugar, and a small hint of vanilla. Not impressive at all. There is nothing to balance the cloying sweetness.

On the light side of medium bodied with very little carbonation. Has a boozy aftertaste. Not very well made in my opinion. I will pass on this beer in the future.

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Photo of kojevergas
3.29/5  rDev -18.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

2012 vintage bottle number 4364. "Ale brewed with cardamom and aged in bourbon barrels." [For the record, I have no idea what the fuck cardamom tastes like. Duff27 is laughing right now.] 12.5% ABV confirmed. 22 fl oz with intricate gold foil-ed over unbranded gold pry-off pressure cap acquired as a gift from me sister (I aged it for a year) and served into an EKU 28 stem-snifter in me parents' gaff in high altitude Castle Rock, CO. Reviewed live. Expectations are high given its current ratings as well as the style.

Served cold - straight from the fridge - and allowed to warm over the course of consumption. Side-poured with standard vigor as no carbonation issues are anticipated.

A: No bubble show forms as it's poured.

Pours a half finger wide head of white/off-white colour. Disappointingly thin. Retains for less than 20 seconds. Lacks creaminess. Not real frothy. No lacing clings to the sides of the glass as the head recedes.

Body colour is a translucent pinkish peach-orange. Nontransparent. No floating yeast particles are visible. Appears well-carbonated.

Overall, it looks like a substandard barleywine, to be honest. There's nothing unique or special (or even particularly remarkable) about it. I'm optimistic. There are no egregious flaws here.

Sm: Marshmallow is the first thing I notice. Some spice. Light unrefined caramel. Faint spice-induced bitterness emerges just after the finish. Brown sugar. Faded floral and vaguely fruity hop notes. I don't find explicit bourbon, but there is some faint vanilla - which is neither authentic like true vanilla bean nor syrupy and artificial like vanillicin; it's in-between. Definitely on the sweeter side. Fermented cherry. Treacle. Maybe maple?

Again, I don't pretend to have any idea what in hell cardamom tastes like. I don't even really know what it is.

A pleasant, appealing aroma of moderate strength, though it doesn't really provide much evocative bourbon nor is it consistent with the best barleywines I've tried. In any case, I'm looking forward to it.

T/Mf: Marshmallow, floral hop character, vague fruity hops, pale malts, amber malts, vague toffee, treacle, syrups, caramel, and nebulous vanilla. No definite bourbon presence - there's no toasty refined oak wood barrel notes nor any authentic vanilla bean. I also don't get any bourbon-induced spiciness, which I consider a good thing, but which speaks to the lack of actual bourbon character here.

No hop character or yeast character comes through.

Not as well balanced as anticipated. Average depth, duration, and intensity of flavour. I expected far more from the bourbon barrel, but it doesn't really develop the natural tendencies of the base beer. We're left with a complex enough brew, but one that isn't particularly subtle, intricate, or nuanced.

It's a biteen too sweet, especially on the climax. Not as boozy/hot as anticipated. Wet. Unrefreshing. Smooth. Good thickness and body. Well-carbonated. Pretty nice presence on the palate.

Dr: I figure age has helped it, but ultimately it isn't as good as expected. Drinkable for what it is, but at heart it's a sipper. I'll kill this alone as a nightcap, but you'd really want to share it (as Lift Bridge openly acknowledges). I wouldn't go out of me way to recommend it to friends or trade partners, but it's a pleasing barleywine with interesting elements. Ultimately, I want a lot more from the bourbon and there isn't all that much complexity, but it hides its 12.5% ABV as well as any average barleywine. Well worth trying, but not the kind of barleywine that's ideal for my personal tastes.

As much as I like it, it just doesn't offer that much more than most above-average barleywines.

I'll probably buy it again a couple times, but it's not worth going out of one's way to acquire it. Tasty, but not a paragon.


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Photo of DaveAnderson
4.17/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 release, bottle 5131.

Much lighter than expected for a barleywine. Bourbon is really up front with this one. No hint of the cardamom that seems so polarizing for this beer, but then again, this is a year old, so it may have faded. I have been advised that this beer is hot when young, but it is ever-so-smooth today, if a little sweet.

Drinkability is great, but this is definitely a bottle for sharing. The sweetness gets to be a drag after a couple of hours, which is what it takes to drink this bottle solo. It never stops smelling great, however. Best thing I have had from Lift Bridge so far.

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Photo of feloniousmonk
4.15/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Lift Bridge Brewing Company Commander Bona Fide Barley Wine Ale. 2011 bottle, #3014. Ale brewed with cardamom and aged in bourbon barrels. Alc. 12.5%. Goblet worthy. Brewed & bottled by Lift Bridge Brewing company, Stillwater, Minn.

Beautiful clear, garnet hue, off-white head slims down with a quickness.

Aroma: cherry, vanilla, brown sugar, alcohol…and bourbon. Gorgeous.

Taste: Mmmm, boom! Big malt flavor right off the bat, huge taste, enormous. Maple is here, treacle, rich, warm and delicious. Incredible. Vanilla, sugar, big booze, Amazingly complex, rich, and rewarding. Some chocolate roars in, cocoa, caramel, toffee.
So much.
Maybe a little too much,?
but, no, not really…
not quite...

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Photo of rudzud
3.97/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.75

2011 vintage shared with friends. Poured into a tulip.

A - Poured a nice clear honey amber hue with a quarter inch head that fades to leave light lacing and a thin cloud.

S - Aromas of sweet malts and light vanilla. Fairly standard.

T - Taste is similar to the nose with nice sweet malts and light vanilla. Good barleywine here very solid as age has done this well.

M - Mouthfeel is nice for a barleywine with the alcohol hidden nicely.

O - Overall not a bad barleywine. Alcohol hidden well could use a hair more age but for all intensive purposes a solid beer.

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Commander from Lift Bridge Brewery
Beer rating: 90 out of 100 with 269 ratings