Old Birdbrain
Black Raven Brewing Co.

Old BirdbrainOld Birdbrain
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Barleywine - American
Ranked #16
Ranked #1,739
4.31 | pDev: 8.12%
Black Raven Brewing Co.
Washington, United States
Old BirdbrainOld Birdbrain
Notes: This robust strong ale features pale malts and generous hop additions. After primary fermentation, several American rye whiskey barrels are filled and cellared to age. The remaining beer is then cellared in a stainless steel tank. After many months of aging, the barrels are then blended into the remaining batch aged in the stainless steel tank.
Reviews: 23 | Ratings: 104 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of Bosoxfan20
Bosoxfan20 from Missouri

4/5  rDev -7.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle. 2012
Not overpowering barrel notes. Hops still kicking up a a bit of a fuss despite the age. Toffee, charred caramel, and decent about of fruit.

Jul 24, 2015
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rudzud from Massachusetts

3.79/5  rDev -12.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Received as an extra in a trade long ago. 2012 vintage.

A - Poured into my Duvel tulip a...well...this looks like a glass of caramel sauce. Little bit of head fades quickly to leave thin wisps and a light halo.

S - Aromas of caramel, little bit of dirt, old hops, little bit of sweet malts, super faint barrel notes, maybe a little vegetative.

T - Taste is similar to the nose. Caramel, sweeter malts, old hops, really faint whiskey notes. Awfully vegetative. Little bit of cardboard, slightly dirty. Ehh

M - Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated, little bright, not really syrupy. Booze hidden nicely.

O - Overall I feel like this just sat in my cellar a year too long. Clearly has hints of a really good beer, however, it's really a shell of that now which is greatly unfortunate.

Serving Type: Bottle

Jun 25, 2015
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mabermud from Washington

4.04/5  rDev -6.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I had this on tap at Elizabeth Station in Bellingham.

Look: Muted ruby amber with a thin white head.
Smell: Hard candy and sweetness.
Taste: Maple syrup, toffee, caramel, vanilla, and sugar.
Feel: Thick and semi-syrupy.

Overall - Not bad. For me, drink-ability is hindered by overall sweetness. I would like to have this again in the future as my first beer. I would definitely have this again.

May 15, 2015
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Moose90 from Washington

3.85/5  rDev -10.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.25

Served On-Tap

A – Pours a deep ruby amber, highly viscous, initially tall tan colored head forms, but resides to a thin layered cap and leaves behind very nice lacing.

S – Smells slightly sweet, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, sugar, caramel, very nice.

T – Exceedingly malty, begging for more of the sweet and spicy notes from the nose.

M – Full bodied, rich, thick, long lasting finish.

O – Overall a nice beer, smells nice and has a nice and rich flavor profile.

May 12, 2015
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jzeilinger from Pennsylvania

4.41/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

In review is a 2011 vintage.

A - Pours a dark chestnut brown, burgundy color with a very thin lacing ring at the top.

S - Roasted toffee/caramel, whiskey/bourbon, oak, faint vanilla.

T - Blended superbly throughout with not one thing overpowering the other. Roasted caramel/toffee, whiskey/bourbon, vanilla, oak, there's also some orange the surfaces midway through and carries out until the end. There's also a delicate pine bitterness that rounds things out. Alcohol warming is very little to undetectable.

M - Full body, thick, slippery, lip smacking sticky, velvety.

O - This is a superb example of the style, IMO. Seek it out.

Feb 24, 2015
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abeeronthebeach from California

4.27/5  rDev -0.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

2012 Limited Release.

A - Pours dark amber with slender lacings of foam. Deep orange marmalade. Looks very syrupy, and swirling for legs bears this observation out. Per the BJCP Guidelines, Old Birdbrain really does have great depth; my fingers on the rearward side of the glass appear as if viewed through a thick lense.

S - Elderflower cordial, maple syrup and a whiff of aged Jamaican rum. All sweetness and honey. Hints of apple scone. Also getting mild oak which is presumably owed to its partial aging in American rye whiskey barrels.

T - It's very mellow. One suspects the hop presence was originally much stronger for it to be considered an American Barleywine. Cozy, caramelised malts smother the tongue, followed by a wave of drowsy alcohol which warms the heart and the head. The aftertaste is as of a Highland or Speyside Single Malt, albeit it many times milder. Honey fades to bitter orange marmalade as the liquid washes away. My wife described it as a candy liquer, knowing nothing whatsoever about the contents of the snifter handed to her. A fairly apt description if you ask me. A little more fruitiness would have taken this to the next level.

M - Follows the eyes; it really is syrupy and the mild carbonation suggested by the lack of head is confirmed. A quarter of an hour in and I could be drinking Sherry or an aged Sauterne, so still does this beverage become. It is syrupy but I would not describe it as underattenuated. Very rich. Powerful.

O - I've never had a Barleywine of either variety which makes it challenging to evaluate to style. Having read the guidelines for both, it definitely has more in common with an English Barleywine after its couple of years of aging. Starting at cellar temperature, this beer offers more as it warms but never quite reveals the depths of which I hope a barleywine is capable. Time will tell as I have a top drawer barleywine in Sucaba waiting to be drunk. The abv. doesn't burn but is a constantly warming presence, just as it should be. This offering is a great reminder that beer can provide such a range of experiences, from the contemplative to the celebratory; having as it does, much more in common with sipping a Single Malt than with necking pints at your local.

Apr 09, 2014
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LiquidAmber from Washington

4.67/5  rDev +8.4%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

Poured into a Reuben's Brew snifter. Pours a medium orange amber with a thin white, persistent film of a head. Aroma is intense caramel, vanilla with light caramel malt and oak, inviting. Oh, man what great flavor. Caramel, vanilla, sweet dark fruit, syrup, light apple and pear developing before a caramel malt, oak, whiskey and light hop finish. Nice weighty medium to full bodied. An excellent, flavorful barley wine in the English style, although there is a bit of hop kick in the finish. A bit on the sweet side, but skirts being cloying by great depth of flavor. The alcohol is somewhat noticeable in the finish, but actually seems to fit in with the flavor profile quite well because of the light whiskey character. Perhaps the most caramel I've noticed in a barley wine. Superb. In my top five barley wines and at the moment, with the alcohol kicking it, my favorite.

Mar 11, 2014
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BillRoth from Maryland

4.68/5  rDev +8.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Just when I'd thought I'd been there/done that with American Barleywines...yet another pleasant surprise from Seattle. Had heard about Black Raven and Old Birdbrain, but still...

Thanks to Paul! Had finally made it to Black Raven during a recent NW Beer Safari and was enjoying a wide range of BR IPAs, a Saison and an amazing infused porter...when I asked about OB. I was told that the keg had recently kicked, and I was understandably bummed.

But thanks to Paul...he said they had 2012 bottles available, and grabbed me one before I left.

OK...push forward 13 days and I'm back home chillin to Olympics and the beer is calling me...

From what I've read..this has been pretty much all said before, but just to add my big thumbs up...

Caramel, but not sweet; threads of molasses but not bitter, hints of nougat and maybe dried apricot... all enveloped in a warm rye vanilla background.

I thought the blending and aging was masterful. Perfect alcohol. The very moderate buzz just excited all the flavors...did not overwhelm or distract.

Don't really care to compare. Just sign me up for more.This is one top notch winter warmer.

Highly recommended.

Feb 19, 2014
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dar482 from New York

4.16/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 Vintage.

The beer comes in a clear amber color.

The aroma has lots of sweet caramel, vanilla, oak.

The flavor follows with those gentle vanilla notes and then a good amount of toffee and bright sweet caramel, brown sugar. Then onto a heavy hoppy and spicy bitterness. Definitely getting a sense that only part of this beer is barrel aged.

Feb 18, 2014
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czechsaaz from Washington

4.56/5  rDev +5.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

2011 Vintage. The brewery held on to it and bottled in 2013. I then stashed it away for another six months. I bought my limit on release day and this is the first one.

Aroma is seriously malty with lots of fruity yeast. Not much hop aroma. Big crystal/caramel malt nose.

Dark amber colored almost red. Thin white but persistent head with decent lacing. Perfectly clear with lots of rising carbonation bubbles.

HUUUGE caramel malt flavors right off. Balanced very well with hop biterness on the back of my tongue and finishes with a solid malty flavor that lingers for a long time with each sip. If there was hop flavor it's dropped out with age. I get yeast esters of pit fruit like ripe plums. But the big deal is the caramel flavors and vanilla notes.

Big body, kind of chewy with just enough carbonation to keep it from syrup. There's no alcohol harshness in my mouth but a nice warming in my stomach.

Overall, this is a stellar beer. The fact that they aged it for so long before bottling really shows. Totally well balanced big-ass barleywine. Drinking this makes me happy. I will stand in line whenever they release future vintages.

Aug 16, 2013
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Smurf2055 from Washington

4.44/5  rDev +3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Hard Liver

Pours dark amber with little head.

Candy and licorice, vanilla and caramel, maybe a bit of toffee. Very sweet smell.

Taste is like the smell; lots of vanilla up front, malt, oak, and almost marshmallow comes up after. Bit of booze on the end.

Good carbonation, medium to full bodied. Damned good barley wine.

Jul 19, 2013
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MasterSki from Canada (ON)

4.12/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Thanks to Alistair for sharing this one. Think this was the 2011 vintage. Served in a tulip.

A - Nice amount of white foam that settles to a thick collar, leaving behind specks of lacing. Transparent amber body.

S - A nice blend of maple, caramel, mild rye whiskey, oaky vanilla, and some bread and dark fruits filling things out.

T - The taste is very sweet; more in line with what'd I'd expect from an English barleywine. Lots of maple, brown sugar, caramel, and some lingering tangy whiskey and spicy rye flavors. There's still a faint trace of alcohol, even after two years of age.

M - Sticky, chewy, medium-full body. Lower carbonation, and minimal alcohol warmth.

D - A well crafted barleywine, with restrained barrel-aging flavors; you can tell this is blended rather than 100% barrel aged. A good beer that I enjoyed drinking, but not unique or amazing enough for me to go out of my way to acquire it again.

Jun 12, 2013
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UCLABrewN84 from California

3.98/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Thanks to wethorseblanket for sharing this one at drewone's tasting.

2011 vintage.

Pours a hazy honey orange with a foamy tan head that settles to wisps of film on top of the beer. Small dots of lace slowly drip into the remaining beer on the drink down. Smell is of malt, caramel, toffee, and whiskey aromas. Taste is much the same with caramel and toffee flavors on the finish. There is a mild amount of woody bitterness on the palate with each sip. This beer has a lower level of carbonation with a slightly crisp mouthfeel. Overall, this is a good beer with a very nice whiskey smell and tasty barrel aged flavors.

Jun 11, 2013
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TheEarl from Washington

4.9/5  rDev +13.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

I had this most recently at Black Raven's 2013 Flock Party. It was served in a 12 ounce snifter.

Appearance: The beer is a clear, orange/amber with white lacing.

Aroma: Aggressive notes of caramel, vanilla, apple, and oak with a bit of alcohol on the end.

Taste: The taste mirrors the aroma with an initial sweetness that fades into the more complex flavors and finishes with some alcohol heat.

Mouthfeel: Birdbrain is viscous, chewy, and more carbonated than I'd expected. Very nice.

Overall: Old Birdbrain is a masterpiece of a beer. This is easily my favorite barleywine and one of my favorite beers overall. The flavors and aromas are so distinct but also blend together quite well.

May 15, 2013
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mdaschaf from Indiana

4.4/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Review from notes. Thanks to Greg for sharing! 2011 vintage.

A: Pours a clear amber/ruby color with a small off-white head on top that reduces quickly to a thin ring on top. Thin lacing forms down the sides.

S: Rather sweet upfront, lots of caramel right away. There is a vanilla and a bit of oak, a bit of alcohol as well.

T: Again, on the sweet side with plenty of caramel and toffee mixed with vanilla and oak. Some caramelized brown sugar as well.

M: Medium to full bodied, slightly hot, but still pretty nice.

O: A pretty good barleywine, definitely one I want to try again.

Apr 02, 2013
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Treebs from Illinois

4.28/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

12 oz. bottle served in a Black Raven curved pint glass. Thanks to OakedCanuck for the bottle. Thanks Colin!

A: Pours a clear amber color with some dark brown highlights. A light brown head forms on the pour and recedes very slowly to a thin film. Nice retention. The head leaves some sticky sheets of lace down the glass.

S: Lots of caramel sweetness up front. Some mild dark fruit, mostly raisin, with a little bready malt as well. Slightly boozy as well. Light rye whiskey, but it's hard to pull out.

T: Sticky caramel sweetness. Underlying hops. A little citric in nature, sorta like candied grapefruit. A little booze with some oxidation that has brought out a sherry like character. A little booze with some dark cherry. Some light herbal spice, maybe the rye whiskey barrel.

M: Medium bodied, a little sticky, but surprisingly drinkable. Smooth and sweet finish with a medium low carbonation level.

O: A very nice barleywine that has aged gracefully. I'm glad I have a second bottle to sit on for a while as I think it's going to develop a lot more and become more complex.

Mar 19, 2013
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Smakawhat from Maryland

3.82/5  rDev -11.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from the bottle into a snifter at Smoke & Barrel DC for the dc bottle share. From notes.

A real nice light orange amber body, with an off tan somewhat creamy head. Makes a decent collar that always sticks around.

Nose is very small and closed, but there is that pickle brine again, with some indistinct mild hop presence I can't determine.

The palate opens up though on first sip with a good caramel sweetness. Thick malt action with a real crackery mix of crispness and toasty brown sugar. Feel has a good thick body but doesn't get into a huge over kill of sugar and alcohol boozy rush. Coats the palate nicely with it's caramel and lingers nicely.

Overall a real nice solid barleywine, like the toasty angle on this quite a bit.

Mar 10, 2013
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KevSal from California

4.44/5  rDev +3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Boom! huge thanks to stx00lax, Jacob your kindness never ceases to surprise me!

This is a huge huge want that I've been hoping id get to try some day or it would be bottled, my wish came true.

12oz bottle into a tulip

A- looks great, nice and dark red. Looks just as expected. Slight beige head.

S-huge! Lots of wood upfront, smells massive and thick. vanilla and very slight cherry in the back end. The oak is prominent and very pleasant

T- oak upfront with vanilla and tons of malts and some spicyness, reminiscent of ba hifi, maybe there's a lot of rye in this guy? Either way it's fantastic!

M- this one is thick, lots of weight and body, one very noticeable characteristic is it's not super chewy or sticky.

O- fantastic! It's a huge contrast to most ba barelywines that are chewy and tons of dark fruits. This goes in another direction, it's a lot more along the lines of ba hifi (which i found out is my highest rated ba barlywine!) and coast nuptial. I have a strong feeling this one will age along the same lines, in 2 years this will be the real deal ba Barleywine. I dot expect to get that chance but I am very greatful to have this one.

Thanks again Jacob, I really hope this wasn't your one and only! Either way Ot was thoroughly enjoyed!

Mar 10, 2013
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HuskyinPDX from Washington

4.2/5  rDev -2.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2011 on tap at the brewpub.

A - Served a deep red/brown/copper with a very few dark tan bubbles on the top that quickly disappear.

S - Carmel, toffee, vanilla and lots of bourbon greatness.

T - The taste does not disappoint. Carmel, toffe and more bourbon. Drinks so freaking easy it is rediculous. It is scary how good and how easy this one is to drink.

D - Lower carbonation with a lighter than expected body and mouthfeel.

O - I had low expectations and left very impressed with this one. I very good BW that drinks easy and isn't as heavy as most others.

Nov 30, 2012
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dirtylou from New York

4.38/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

on-tap, brouwers. I believe this was the first keg to kick at hard liver 2012

1x12oz pour, 1x3oz pour

appearance: served in unbranded snifters - clear golden orange body, one of the lighter ales served up at the festival.

smell: sweet malts, oak, vanilla, booze

taste: black raven is quite popular in this area and it seems like whenever their kegs hit Seattle mainland, they disappear immediately, probably because nobody wants to drive to Redmond. This was a very HQ barleywine - nice balance of hops and malt, great oak/vanilla presence, citrus, bourbon and caramelized sugars

mouthfeel: creamy medium body

overall: solid stuff

Mar 05, 2012
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jpbebeau from Washington

4.65/5  rDev +7.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Preview of 2011 vintage on tap at the brewery during Washington Beer Open House. To tulip. 10.9% ABV.

From notes.

A: Clear golden amber with beautiful slow-release carbonation rising from the bottom. Very fine bubbles collect at edges of the glass. Minor head and lacing. Legs consist of those fine bubbles.

S: Malts, mild sweet whiskey, floral hops, honey. Lovely.

T: Gorgeous hop/malt balance. Lingering, perfect hop finish. Never over-sweet. Never too bitter. Went well with the provided paired cheeses.

M: So smooth. Such fine carbonation. Not too thick or heavy, but definitely substantial.

Wow. If this is the young preview version of this beer, I can't wait to get a taste of it matured, or, hopefully, the 2010 and/or 2009 vintages.

Black Raven does not disappoint.

Feb 26, 2012
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NWer from Washington

4.97/5  rDev +15.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2010 vintage at the brewery.
I first tasted this at their birthday celebration but my senses were too overloaded to make an accurate review.
Revisited at the brewery today. Very nice young lady allowed me to taste both the 2009 and the 2010 before I decided on the 2010.
I am overwhelmed.
This beer should be shared with the world but alas it isn't bottled. Not even growlers to go.
Nice deep red/brown/black appearance subdued head typical of a high abv beer.
Bourbon. Bourbon notes. Bourbon smell. Bourbon taste.
Taste lingers exceptionally well making this the perfect sipping beer.
I can't wait for Black Raven to re-offer this beer at a celebration of some sort next year to see how it ages since I don't have the opportunity to put some away myself.
Did I say I'm overwhelmed?
Try it if you get the chance. Savoring this beer is one of life's great pleasures.
edit: original review 5/27/2011 revisited 6/5.2011.
Went with the 2009 this time and similarly overwhelmed but even though the 2009 gets all the accolades, I like the 2010 better. I'm sure they will have some around next year to do a nice vertical with the 2012. Can't wait.
Edit 1/27/2012 Tapped a keg today and rushed over. This is my most sought after beer except for Pliny the Younger. Two glasses, savored every drop. Damn I love this beer!
edit 1/25/2014 2012 vintage bottle release snagged my limit of four and had a glass. Forgot how much I love this beer. Been a while. Hasn't missed a step.

May 27, 2011
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barleywinefiend from Washington

4.47/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A: Poured a nice copper color with a small white head with light lacing left behind

S: Nose is super nice with hints of vanilla, American oak and a nice bourbon note.

T: Taste has a BIG but subtle and soothing barrel influence with vanilla, oak and bourbon, caramel being key influences. I picked up a light floral and citrus note with darting hints of toffee and carameilzed sugar. Not overly done on any note but well played and each tasting note is well meshed and not in competition.

M: Mouthfeel is big body but not overly hefty and chewy, pretty easy going; dry, sugary sweet, vanilla, bourbon, oak.

O: Drinkability is very good as this was very impressive

Mar 07, 2010
Old Birdbrain from Black Raven Brewing Co.
Beer rating: 94 out of 100 with 104 ratings