Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale | Mendocino Brewing Company

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Imperial Barley Wine Style AleImperial Barley Wine Style Ale

Brewed by:
Mendocino Brewing Company
United States

Style: American Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.00%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by ThreeWiseMen on 05-29-2010

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Reviews: 94 | Ratings: 211
Photo of BeerManDan
4.8/5  rDev +32.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Poured a thick dark, dark, reddish brown with no foam. The first impression when smelled was of roasted brown sugar, with chocolate over tones. The aroma was so pleasant and i couldn't pick-up the alcohol, even at 11%, it just smelt so inviting. The taste of roated malts, brown sugar or molasses, whatever it was and caramel, not choclate. This is so, so smooth and tasty, without that strong bitter or high alcohol feel on the palate. This, for me, is one great tasting American Barleywine. I, myself, have not tasted such a well blended and balanced ale in a long, long time. I'm out to buy a case or two!

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Photo of Aaron_Ramson
4.73/5  rDev +30.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

Less murky than other barleywines I've seen, but still that soft, brackish-brown without highlights or clarity. A soft head that quickly dissipates. The nose is amazing; candy-like fruitiness, caramel, molasses, citrus hop aromas. Taste is even better; raisins, figs, candied fruit, sweet caramel sugars, molasses, lemon hop flavors with just enough bitterness to balance all the sugar. Thick, heavy mouthfeel with ample carbonation. Pretty fresh bottle judging from the taste. Fantastic barleywine that is my new favorite.

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Photo of ThreeWiseMen
4.37/5  rDev +20.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

Reviewed by Wiseman Justin.

Appearance: Poured a dark amber with a nice looking head. After letting warm up for a while the head dissipates a lot but normal for its style. I've seen better Barleywines although there is absolutely nothing wrong here (except some room for improvement).

Smell: Strong smell of Dough. Some spice, some alcohol. It's a nice smell that reminds me of cooking bread.

Taste: Earthy, I love it. Seriously, was not expecting this random beer to taste so good. This beer reminds me heavily of Firestone 13. Let me restate this. It does not taste like Firestone 13, it reminds me of it. Which is entirely a good thing. For one this is not a syrupy sweet barleywine. It's robust like many of Firestone's barelywines. It's got coffee and chocolate flying in there. It's really a delicious 11% beer.

Mouthfeel: On par with other barleywines. Not nearly as syrupy as some of them though. Which I like but I'm not sure how it matches up with the style. (Well I am sure but I wish more barleywine's would drop the syrup bit).

Drinkability: This is a very drinkable 11% beer. I was poured a 1/3 of a bottle because I didn't want much. When I drank this my body was awakened from it's dogmatic slumber. If you're stumbling around for a barelwine and Old Gnarleywine is out of season get this beer. Get it even if Gnarleywine is in season.

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Photo of Masticon
4.33/5  rDev +19.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Appearance - 4.5 : Deep and dark red with a dark tan foam forming a perfect head. Crystal clear. Color makes me think of a really rich Irish Red.

Smell - 4.0 : Smell points to the definite sweetness of the beer. Very malty with no clear sign of hops. Brings preparation for a very strong brew with toasted toffee and caramel in the mind.

Taste - 4.5 : Very rich and sweet. For those hoping for a dryer beer flavor stay away. Initial flavor contains no hop bitterness, very smooth. Brings to mind a vast array of dried fruit flavors, plum, prune, date, fig, and cherry all come to mind. Sweetness points towards a sherry or port flavor. Slight earthy hop flavor at the finish. Very sweet throughout without any noticeable alcohol hotness.

Feel - 4.0 : Thick and chewy without being overwhelming. Very smooth throughout in spite of it's high gravity.

Overall - 4.5 : This is definitely the best barleywine we tasted tonight. Very fitting to expectations. As a port lover, the sweetness it brought with it was very welcome though I can see how others would be less fond of such a sugary beer. My only big confusion here is what Imperial is doing in the name. There wasn't really anything I found Imperial about it.

You can read a comparison of this and a couple other barleywines on my blog at

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Photo of peacebone116
4.33/5  rDev +19.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

A: I poured this barley wine from the bottle into a tulip glass and it initially formed a caramel colored 0.5-cm to 1-cm thick head. This head dissipates quickly leaving a fair amount of Brussels lace along the leg of the glass. The body is a consistent deep reddish brown.

N: Sweet over-ripe stone fruit and fig with a light butter scent mixed with a passing touch of pepper as sweetness fades (presumably from the alcohol).

T/M: The taste is sweet like fruit (same as it smells) but does not feel syrupy; this beer drinks lighter than the 11% abv suggests it should. The pepper scent is not present in the taste, but instead is replaced by a slight burn from the alcohol.
As the beer warms, the fruity sweetness is accompanied by a alcohol warming that becomes slightly more dominant. Overall, the beer maintains its creamy mouthfeel.

An excellent interpretation of a barley wine style ale! Well done and well received!

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Photo of Jjski
4.24/5  rDev +17.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Vintage 3/2013

Fresh it was average

At 2 years this inexpensive BW is way good

caramel, figs, English BW flavor profile, smooth attenuated hops that are omnipresent, but balanced by sweetness from malts. No heat, just wide flavor. Very satisfying, not cloying.

I've got some expensive BW in the cellar: barreled bigfoot, arctic devil, Scucaba.

I'm not ashamed of drinking this: it's damn good. I will pick up another 4. Too bad I won't try it for 2 years.

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Photo of DrDemento456
4.2/5  rDev +16%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Picked this single up for 2.39. May go back for more if it's awesome.

A - A nice amber in color nice and dark with an inch of head that turns to a light sticky lace.

S - Smells of slight caramel, toffee, a bit of sweet malts and a touch of alcohol

T - My does this drink smooth. ABV takes a backseat as Sweet caramel and toffee along side an almost cherry tone take the palate over hops. Dark fruits as well are used to cover up any alcohol burn my gawd!

M - Medium to a bit heavy. Couldn't imagine drinking more than a couple of sitting.

Overall I regret buying an entire case of the RIS since this barleywine is more ABV and more taste with less hop presence. Man I hate PA for not having the single but love this beer. A very drinkable BW.

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Photo of JoeyBeerBelly
4.2/5  rDev +16%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle served in a snifter.

L - clear cherrywood color with a off-white head that thinned to a ring leaving a few spots of lacing.

S - toffee with a hint of alcohol, it reminds me of a hot buttered rum cocktail.

T - sweet caramel and toffee with very light bittering and a bit of heat.

F - medium bodied, sticky sweet and warming.

O - a good barley wine but as already mentioned it's more like an English BW than an American BW.
The Mendocino website lists the "category" as Imperial Barley Wine

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Photo of Beejay
4.15/5  rDev +14.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: A brilliant copper color. Beautiful red brown like a strong brewed iced tea. Nice full head on this, thick and fluffy.

S: Big wheat/rye bread smell. Some maple syrup in there as well. Some raisons as well. Quite a nice beer to smell.

T: Interesting. Big caramel flavor up front, followed by raisons and bread. The finish lingers with syrup notes and a very solid bitterness.

M: Heavy with a lot of carbonation to balance it out. It almost ripples across your tongue in the finish, first the carbonation, then the lingering bitterness.

D: This is quite a strange brew. The nose seemed all English style, the flavor seems like it is partial English, but with the lingering bitterness of an American. It is a solid beer that's for sure, but it doesn't have enough hop flavor for me for an American Style BW, but too much bitterness for an English. Over all it is a damn fine brew. Just not sure what the hell to grade it as.

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Photo of claytong
4.15/5  rDev +14.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

first off i agree very much this is definitely an english barleywine.
drank it decently fresh. i dont recommend drinking more than one fresh even though its not half bad that way. it seems like a great beer to age.
very malty, not any bitterness as is typical with american barleys. nice barley notes. caramel, raisin and molasses are in there but certainly not strong.
a terrific buy for barleys.

a note: just revisited a bottle i put back in the cellar. its about a year old and was tasting fantastic. sit on this one a bit.

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Photo of johnnnniee
4.12/5  rDev +13.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a deep reddish copper color with a slightly dirty beige head that dissipates slowly to a ring on top. The smell is quite sweet, it reminds me more of an old ale than an American barley wine. Caramel, toffee, prunes, dates, cherries, slight bit of resin and a hint of alcohol in there. There's an almost non existent hop aroma, maybe its an English barleywine? Taste is sweet and fruity. Caramel covered cherries mixed in some toffee, but add a bit of a hop bite. Lingering sweetness in the finish with a little bit of alcohol heat. Sweet almost syrupy mouthfeel, light level of carbonation and a relatively thick body. As an old ale or English barleywine I really enjoyed this, as an American barleywine it misses the mark. Nice sipper, great flavors and aroma, I might have to check out some more brews from Mendocino.

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Photo of oberon
4.08/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

First off by saying this is an American style Barleywine you would be wrong,many are reviewing it as such,this is a big malt driven English Barleywine,it pretty much says so on the label!Poured a brilliant auburn color with a creamy off white head that never really leaves completely,its extremely vinious with juicy dark fruitiness,very cakey,a light shot of resiny hop lingers in the nose.Chewey with a big shot of dark fruit and cake on the palate,the hop come into play as it warms giving a resiny undertone.To me this is a great beer,its English in nature,warming and rich,a winter by the fireplace beer,it is really great!

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Photo of barleywinefiend
4.07/5  rDev +12.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A: Poured a reddish brown color with good carbonation leaving a dirty whote head

S: Plenty of sugar here, caramel, light booze, dark fruits

T: Extremely tasty. Very sweet. Plenty of brown sugar, dark fruits, some raisin, fig, toffee, syrup, perhaps maple,caramel.

M: Nice, well carbonated for the style, sits well, drinks well and leaves me with a booziness dose of sugar

D: Oh yeah! I can and will drink again, especially for the price.

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Photo of BrewCrew2010
4.06/5  rDev +12.2%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: A dark clear amber, almost brown, body with a one finger off-white head; light spotty lacing.

S: Sweet toasted caramel malts dominate the nose with notes of earthy hops, a hint of vanilla, brown sugar, dark fruits, and light booze.

T: Again, sweet robust malts are the dominate flavor. Caramel and toffee are balanced with bitter hops, dark fruit, anise, molasses, and some sherry notes; warming finish.

M: Medium-full body; light carbonation; thick and chewy texture.

O: I don't know why this is labeled as an American Barleywine because it definitely taste like an English Barleywine. Nice flavors and nose, but high ABV make it a 1 at a time beer. Definitely would like to age this to see how the flavors would improve.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.05/5  rDev +11.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Mendocino Imperial Barleywine Ale

I'm not sure what an "Imperial" Barleywine is, but OK. It's 11%, whereas their other barleywine, "Talon" is only 10.5%. And this seems much more English, whereas the Talon was more American. But "Imperial"? Really? I think they're just using it to fit in with their "Imperial IPA" and "Imperial Stout". Moving forward...

In the glass it's a hazy mahogany brown beneath a very nice head of frothy yellowed-white foam. The head retention is quite good and it initially leaves rings of lace about the glass following each sip - although in the end they end up sliding down into the glass. (I've used a beer-clean glass for sure - no soap, just hot water and then air-dried).

The aroma expresses a very delicate spice and soft, sticky-sweet dried-fruit notes over a caramelish and doughy malt base.

In the mouth it's full bodied and creamy with a moderate carbonation. - I should also note here that I served this at cellar temperature, which would affect the head upon pouring, allowing it to foam up a bit, and thus soften the mouthfeel. It also opens up the nose a bit, and allows the flavors to come through more fully.

The flavor is fuller than the nose suggests, as is usually the case, and I can see that at least some of the spice in the nose is coming from alcohol. It's not overpowering or "hot" however, and to a certain extent it's expected of the style so... OK. The fruitiness is quite nice though, and I get a bit of cherry, some raisin, and fig. The malt is richer, but not really any more complex than the nose suggests. Well, maybe a little bit, but in all honesty I think it lacks the depth that a better quality malt bestows. And some hops are present, which is nice, lending a leafy and minty note that combines with the malt to become almost herbal. In fact, it develops into a very welcome note of black licorice towards the end of the glass. It's solidly bitter, and not overdone: stiff, but balanced; and that herbal/licorice character it develops helps to balance it in the lingering finish.

So what to say of this beer in conclusion? Stylistically it works. There's nothing off about it. Hedonistically it falls a little bit short for my personal tastes, but I still like it. I wish the malt character was a little wider, but if every beer hit the mark for what we've decided we personally "like", then there would be a lot less beers to choose from, and eventually a lack of beers that would allow our tastes to evolve. Right now I'd like to see a little more golden malt here, but a year or two from now I might feel it needs a little more hops. So let me take a step back and say that I really enjoyed the cherry note in the fruitiness, and that overall it was a pretty good barleywine. Would I recommend it? Yes. Certainly worth trying for barleywine fans. Probably not so much for newbies.

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Photo of chugalug06
4.03/5  rDev +11.3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Purchased January 2011

Nice lasting (for an 11% brew) straw colored head. Brew looks like the color of raisins.

Lots of grape skin, relaxed pine, tons of malty caramel,

Dry, slight funk, WAY fizzy, strong sweetness without being over done. Not a sugar bomb. Crisp, tons of thick grape peal. Yeasty and smooth. Slight bite from unsmoothed abv. Carbonation is highly distracting, sweetness is nearly spot on, bitterness is almost non-existent.

Recommended, but I think it may have been better fresh...

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Photo of glid02
4/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle purchased from Hop City in Atlanta. I'm surprised to see this with so few reviews, I'm wondering if the recipe differs from "Talon".

Pours a slightly hazy dark copper color with a one-finger off-white head. The head recedes into a wispy layer on top leaving decent lacing.

Smells of sweet caramel malts with hints of deeper toasted malts. Also present are good amounts of mild toffee aromas.

Tastes similar to how it smells. Sticky caramel malt flavors with large amounts of toffee and lighter amounts of butterscotch kick things off. Midway through the sip the sweetness subsides as mild amounts of toastiness make an appearance, carrying through to a smooth and moderately bitter ending.

Mouthfeel is good. It's got a nice thickness with smooth carbonation.

Drinkability is also good. I finished my glass without any problems and could easily have another.

Overall this was close to being a very good beer but the malt flavors aren't quite smooth enough. Still, it's a tasty beverage that's worth a shot. As a side note Mendocino is up there as far as the most affordable micro's go while still being above average.

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Photo of samtrillo
4/5  rDev +10.5%


Looks a bit like Dr. Better with a tannish half inch head that mostly dissipates.

Smells of a barleywine, fruity sweet caramel malt and maybe some citrus.

Taste is similar but I do get a little smokey tobacco which is nice with the fruity sweet malt. Some bitterness at the end is expected and a pleasant warm feeling from the .

Mouthfeel is medium bodied and a little sticky but not viscous. Crisp but light carbonation.

Overall this is actually one of my favorite barleywines so far, but maybe the style is just growing on me. Can't wait to go back to the ones I tried last year.

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Photo of bucklemyshoe
4/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle at 48 degrees into a Stone IRS tulip.

A: It pours an over-steeped tea-looking clear dark red color with two fingers of cream-colored head that does not hold nor lace very well.

S: A wide array of fruits; citrus, figs, and sweet apples, as well caramel and molasses.

T: Sweet apples, citrus rind, figs, candi sugar, and booze. This is definitely one of the fruitier barleywines.

M: The body is medium-thick and palate-sticking with a little alcohol heat.

D: This is goes down easily until it warms too much. When it reaches about 60 degrees, it becomes a little too hot.

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Photo of colforbin73
4/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

there is a component missing from the review categories and it is obvious, PRICE. price should not be heavily weighted but it matters. this Imperial barley wine is a mere 6.99 a 4/pack -- and even at a dollar or two more, it is a great value.

pours a very dark amber with a little tan head, but this is a good frothy brew. it can sit for a while half gone and when you slosh it around it comes to life and foams up a little...

the smell is sweet and a little spicey, a little leather a little rum... the drink is sweet and rich. it says "old style ale" on the label and it really is. you can imagine the wort was very thick and sweet. for 11% it is not overly boosey, but it's there for sure. as far as the style goes -- imperial barley wine seems wrong to me, maybe it should just be "old style strong ale" -- i don't get a lot of floral character -- this is ALE, rich well-developed malts. i usually think of barley wine as being high ABV with a good hoppy/floral/fresh element... the malts dominate this thick brew.

i could see this ale in the little barrel around the st bernard's neck. quality old strong ale...

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Photo of streetcommander
4/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured in lager glass. Beer temp is 56F.

Pours a dark mahogany with tan head. Laces and maintains a foam slick throught the session. Very nice.

Smells of malts, caramel and a hint of spice. Hops are present as well, pine in nature.

On the draw, immediately hit with a lurid bitterness and crisp viscosity, not at all slimy or syrupy. Carbonation is on point, not overly carbonated.

Flavor is full bodied. Malts, brown sugar, caramelized roast drippings, and yes booze. Very well balanced, not at all harsh. Very well done. Very smooth and drinkable at 11abv. One could easily drink 4 or 5.

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Photo of jzeilinger
4/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A - Pours a crisp copper red color with one pinky of creamy white head and minimal, tight, tiny bubbled carbonation coming from the sides of the tulip glass.

S - Nice mellow caramel smell with pronounced toffee, some raisins, and surprisingly, very little to no alcohol smell. Wow!

T - Didn't get the alcohol in the nose but it's definitely surfaced in the mouth and the back of the throat. Booziness is mildly moderate, but still not too bad for 11%, nice job. The tip of the tongue gets the toffee caramel sweetness while the top of the tongue experienced a dark frutiness all the while being hit on the sides with hop bitterness. The sweetness is picked up in small waves of flavor but quickly gets hit with bitterness. The flavors don't hit in waves but rather blends accross the majority of the sip. There's very mild dark chocolate buried below, and that's reaching slightly. Not complex in any way, very straightforward in taste.

M - Heavy body, somewhat thick, a little chewy, mild carbonation on the tongue, and leaves the mouth with a coating of light bitter chocolate, dark fruit, and some citric tang leftover from the hop/malt combination. Mild warming in the throat

D - Very good. I really like this beer, wish I bought more than a four pack.

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Photo of bgjohnston
3.98/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a coppery color with a thin tan head that quickly dies down to a little bit of foam around the glass. Would have gone higher in appearance if it were a bit more lively in there. Smell is fruity with a hint of caramel, very nice. Taste lives up to that: hearty, sweet, and just a touch of hoppy bitterness to dry it out and finish it off. Feel is full without being at all cloying, and drinkability is excellent for something claiming 11% ABV.

A very nice beer for an excellent price. I hope to score another 4-pack soon.

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Photo of superdedooperboy
3.97/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12-ounce brown glass bottle poured into a snifter glass. Served at approximately 45 degrees F.

Lovely in its initial appearance, pouring deep ruby-copper with sparkling clarity and a smallish quickly-fading off-white head. Sadly, there's no remnant of lacing on the sides of the glass as the bubbles disappear.

A delightful bouquet enters the nose, with loads of dried fig and golden raisin, some caramel and turbinado sugar and lovely rich, sweet malt.

Certainly not very heavy, with a rather lively carbonation for the style lending an uplifting, slightly prickly quality. Up front, sweet malt and some faint toasty melanoidin shows through; things move into a warm and bitter middle, with spicy, herbal, slightly lemony hop notes peeking through before caramel slides in around the edges. Dried fruit, mostly fig and date, enters in at the rear, serving as the lead into a surprisingly sweet finish; some grapefruit-like bitterness does show its face near the end, along with a hint of that warming alcohol, to round it out a bit and move the finish more to the bittersweet point of the spectrum.

Rather drinkable, with the moderate carbonation and semi-sweet finish helping things out immensely. Aside from the bit of light warmth, the alcohol really doesn't show itself much until long afterward. With a fairly restrained hop bitterness and character, this really straddles the line between American- and British-style barleywine, but the meeting point between the two is most certainly a pleasant one.

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Photo of waltersrj
3.97/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2010 Bottle

Nose: Sherry like oxidation and sweetness, cherry, oak, vanilla, dates and figs and slight hops. This smells like an English barleywine.

Taste: Slightly metallic and oxidized, figs, raisin, cherry, oak, vanilla and resinous hops at the finish. Tastes a bit like an American barleywine at the end.

Mouthfeel: slightly oily but without being heavy. Sticky.

Overall: Nothing amazing but not bad either. The abv is decently hidden. A good barleywine but not sure why it's labeled "imperial."

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Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale from Mendocino Brewing Company
3.62 out of 5 based on 211 ratings.
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