John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Mad River Brewing Company

John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Write a Review
Beer Geek Stats: | Print Shelf Talker
Barleywine - American
Ranked #350
Ranked #29,578
3.78 | pDev: 12.7%
Mad River Brewing Company
California, United States
Very Good
John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Notes: Same recipe each year. ABV varies slightly 9.5-11.0%
Reviews: 368 | Ratings: 526 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of stevoj
stevoj from Idaho

3.74/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

barley wine bottle share on 1/31. Malty, sweet aroma... fruity and floral. Malty, alcoholic and sweet up front. Nicely balanced, yet moderately bitter on the tail end with plenty of alcohol. Full-bodied with an oily mouthfeel and lively carbonation. Long, astringent, bitter-sweet, slightly dry finish.

Feb 04, 2020
Photo of neenerzig
neenerzig from Ohio

4.35/5  rDev +15.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

My very good friend Jon Passow from northern California sent me a bottle of the Cellar Reserve 2014 edition of this beer about 13 months ago. It was aging in my cellar until tonight. This batch clocks in at 10% AVB. Poured out of the 12 oz bottle into my snifter glass, this beer pours a very dark copper color that brightens nicely when held up to the light. Has a slightly tan head that;s about 2/3 of an inch thick when first poured that settles a few minutes after being poured to a nice film layer of big cluster swirls of foam on the beer's surface along with a nice, thick ring lining the inside of the glass and some pretty good lacing. Aromas of dark fruits of figs, dates, a hint of plum, alcohol, some yeasty esters, and some toasted, bready malt sweetness. Also a hint of earthy, slightly resinous hops. The flavor profile is very similar, with the aforementioned dark fruit sweetness of dates, figs, and plums along with a yeasty, bready, toasted malt caramel sweetness that is rounded out with a touch of earthy, resinous hops that add just a hint of bitterness. The 10% ABV is well masked in the flavor profile. Has a slightly crisp, incredibly smooth and somewhat creamy/frothy, medium to full bodied mouthfeel with light to moderate carbonation. Just a really excellent flavor profile. Very well balanced, and for the most part, the different flavors here are each sort of laid back, yet this works very well here indeed! Has a slightly syrupy, sweet fruity and slightly toasty bread malt aftertaste. I am very glad I got the chance to try this one! Thanks again Jon!


Jan 22, 2020
Photo of unlikelyspiderperson
unlikelyspiderperson from California

3.94/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a deep toffee/red with a thin but persistent nearly white head of dense foam. stupendous legs on this bad boy, makin the wine geeks jealous
The smell is subdued, vaguely sweet. Some of the dark fruit notes, not very prominent
Taste is malty, lightly caramely, with a spiced and stewed fruit character. Cardamom and a brightly bitter, almost gingerlike note balance out the heavy caramel/toffee body. There is a bit of a buildup of syrupy ness that seems to gather a floral/herbal bitterness as you sip through it, the only real reveal that this is an american barleywine (they don't release it until it has aged a year from fermentation so I'm sure that helps)
Mouthfeel is good, as mentioned above there is a bit of syrupyness that builds and makes it unlikely I would want to drink too many of these at a time, but it is full bodied and smooth.
Overall I'm glad to have finally revisited this old favorite. The release party when I lived a few blocks from the brewery 10 years ago was what turned me on to barleywines as a style but I probably hadn't had this in about 3 or 4 years. Might have to go back for a case as this one seems like a prime candidate for cellaring

Jun 08, 2019
Photo of argock
argock from Virginia

3.79/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

2012 Version
Pours opaque dark brown-Auburn. Aroma is not very inviting with some cardboard and some weird smell most like the inside of a bag of dog food. With agitation this dissipates to leave more caramel aromas. Flavor is very good with a good balance of hip bitterness still lingering but solid mid- and darker-range malts coming through. Feel is also good but could have a touch more heft. All in all, pretty impressive but I think is probably better a little hotter and younger. Twhs.

Oct 31, 2017
Photo of DavidR_9
DavidR_9 from California

4.02/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

12 oz. bottled in 2014, heavily poured into a belgian tulip glass. The heavy pour creates a half inch of tan-khaki colored head on top of a deep reddish-brown body. Dark fruity aroma with a small hint of alcohol. The taste was really pleasant and balanced with darker fruity notes of tamarind and maybe a hint of dates. Not much of a lingering aftertaste, the alcohol definitely becomes more prominent as the brew warms up. Overall an enjoyable brew when served cold right out of the refrigerator.

Mar 14, 2017
Photo of PA-Michigander
PA-Michigander from Pennsylvania

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

I had a 2007 bottle in August 2016 and it had held up wonderfully. Lot of caramel left in the thick body of the beer. Smell was a little odd, but the flavor allowed me to look past that.

Jan 29, 2017
Photo of TheSixthRing
TheSixthRing from California

3.63/5  rDev -4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

On tap at Alley Katz in Citrus Heights, CA

Appearance - Served in a snifter, the brew is muddy brown and has a frothy looking khaki colored, finger width head. Good retention, leaving a thin, consistent film across the top. Thick sheets of lace coats most of the glass, with a pattern of spots making up the rest.

Smell - Fermented fruit with plenty of underlying apple cider vinegar.

Taste - Thankfully more fruity and less vinegar on the tongue. Fermented red apple, moderate citrus, fair tobacco spice and bit of leather. Light astringency creeps up in the finish.

Mouthfeel - Medium to full in body with moderate carbonation. Creamy texture with a slight tingle, then a dry finish.

Overall - Its a quirky one, but it has its charms. The aroma is definitely the low point, but thankfully that vinegary character isn't as prevalent when drinking. Might be one worth aging.

Apr 16, 2016
Photo of tone77
tone77 from Pennsylvania

3.34/5  rDev -11.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.25

Poured from a brown 12 oz. bottle. Has a cloudy, dark brown color with a 1/2 inch head. Smell is of fruits, yeast, some malts. Taste is fruits, malts, some sweetness. As it warms, the alcohol takes over and dominates the flavor. Feels medium bodied in the mouth and overall a decent beer, but nothing special.

Feb 21, 2016
Photo of rodbeermunch
rodbeermunch from Nevada

2.28/5  rDev -39.7%
look: 2.25 | smell: 2.25 | taste: 2.25 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.25

Red and brown with a shit ton of sediment and whatever else floating around. Lacking head, 1/10" maybe. Tan. Aroma was hot. Hot alcohol. Feel the burn.

Taste jeez, this is brutal heat. Gritty liquid, not quite sand territory, but damn if some of this malt wasn't 'malted'. The raw. Body seems too thin for the heat.

Feb 03, 2016
Photo of Spikester
Spikester from Oregon

4.02/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Dark brown and hazy with two plus fingers of light tan head. Good amount of lace as head falls.
Smell is ripe plums with some molasses.
Taste is same fruits with some bitter hops as the liquid warms. Kind of reminds me of fall holiday breads and cakes.
Mouthfeel is full and good carbonation. Finish is on the sweet side but not too much. Alcohol is felt more than tasted.
Overall a very nice Barleywine Ale.
My bottle lists abv. at 10% not 11%. The label says this is the 2014 version.

Jan 30, 2016
Photo of BbyDigital
BbyDigital from Oregon

4.67/5  rDev +23.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I couldn't believe it when I saw how low this beer scored from the Bros and the community in general. the only thing I can reason out is that its not a traditional style of barleywine. I understand that angle but I have to disagree on rating this beer and just 'good'. Tons of flavor start to finish from ripe fruit to citrusy piney hops. This beer at 10% abv is absolutely delicious and trusted sources tell me it gets even better with age which, if true, would make this a good candidate for a medal in a "Best West Coast style Barleywine"

Dec 04, 2015
Photo of sweemzander
sweemzander from Illinois

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

12oz bottle poured into a snifter. 2012
(A)- Pours a deep mahogany color. Some off-white froth and lacing
(S)- Big leathery resin notes with brown sugar and fig
(T)- Leathery fig meets brown sugar with some resinous hoppy notes
(M)- A good carbonation level. Quite hoppy and bitter but loaded with some sweet and rich characters too
(O)- Nice with a few years on it, but could go even longer with what I see in the glass

Sep 10, 2015
Photo of pat61
pat61 from Minnesota

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

L: Cloudy Chestnut with copper highlights, slight head, delicate lacing, low head retention, very dense but clear.
S: malt, dark fruit, not much hop, esters, maltiness is intense, no diacetyl, no DMS.
T: Rich malt balanced by alcohol and hops, strong malt and dark fruit balanced by alcohol. Hops are strong but compared to the malt, not prominent.
F: Full body, chewy but not syrupy, low to moderately low carbonation
O: While hoppy, the big malt dominates and the hops are not as prominent as an American IPA.

Jun 06, 2015
Photo of demon
demon from California

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

L - Nice very dark brown. Some light passing through the sides. Enjoyed my beer on the warm side so it developed a nice two finger thick head that died down nice and slow.

S - The second I cracked this bottle open a fruity aroma was released. Peaches and apricots come to mind. Smells like a very STRONG beer. At 11.40%, yeah, no kidding.

T - Very nice fruity, alcohol-y, malty flavors here. Caramelized sugar pulls in strong, and the malty aftertastes are awesome. The alcohol is very well balanced in proportion to the other flavors here considering how strong it is.

F - Nice and smooth. Quite a bit sticky. Feels great.

O - I respect my liver enough to don't drink barleywines all that often, so I'm probably not the best judge of this style here. Looks like the consensus is that this beer is "okay", but I thought it was actually pretty good! It definitely exceeded my expectations. Considering it's an 11.40% barleywine, it is offered at a very reasonable price point (paid ~$2.75 for a single 12 oz @ Whole Foods).

I would buy this again.

Feb 26, 2015
Photo of danieelol
danieelol from Australia

4.25/5  rDev +12.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Absolutely extremely solid. Cannot believe the exceedingly low ratings here.

Pours basically black with a whitish slightly tan head, thinking more of an old ale than barleywine

Smell is altogether slick smooth malty yeast...reminds me of the smoothness of Hangar 24 Hammerhead just with a little less bourbon...just so perfectly reserved and you only get the good parts

Taste is similar, just a good big black barleywine. Not too much and surprisingly tame for the alcohol content. Just nice and subtle all the way through.

Real solid beer.

Feb 16, 2015
Photo of mxchap
mxchap from California

3.83/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 3.75

Overall: A solid barleywine, especially considering the price. If pressed, I would describe it as a more sweet and less bitter version of bigfoot. [3.75]
Look: If oil was dark brown, this would be that. No head, and minimal bubbles from a straight down the middle pour. [2.5]
Smell: Soy sauce, booze, plums, tobacco, leather. [3.75]
Taste: Follows the smell. Similar to bigfoot in a lot of ways, except less bitterness and a sweeter malt presence. [4.0]
Feel: Pretty well balanced. There is a viscous thickness associated with the malty sweetness, but it doesn't linger too much on the finish. Very drinkable for 11%. Adequately carbonated [4.25]

Feb 04, 2015
Photo of ThisWangsChung
ThisWangsChung from Maryland

3.45/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

12 oz bottle into a wine glass.

Appearance: Pours a murky dark brown color with lots of chunky sediment. The head is around a finger high (maybe a bit less), and off-white in shade. While it's quite creamy looking, it doesn't have very good retention. There are splotches of lacing left behind, redeeming its aesthetic appeal slightly. (3)

Smell: The hoppiness has been subdued well, which makes it almost seem like an English-style barleywine. Though if I concentrate, I do pick up touches of tobacco. This also has very powerful candied notes in particular, along side a mild hint of leathery booze. Overall, this has a sweet nose, but one that's also well rounded considering. (3.5)

Taste: At first, some of the faded hops come through with some pine and tobacco. After that...well, it turns a malt bomb. Featuring notes of raisins, caramel, brown sugar, and rum, there's no doubt this is a massive beer. After warming up appropriately, it even becomes a bit salty. My only problem with this is its lack of depth - because a little bit of alcohol comes through, I'd expect that to help reveal some additional complex notes. Alas, it doesn't. I'm still enjoying it, don't get me wrong, but it could have been even better. (3.5)

Mouthfeel: While it's a big beer, it manages to restrain not only some of the sweetness (surprisingly), but some of the booze as well. The key word is some - there's still a mild prickle on the tongue and a heavier warming of the esophagus. It's still a massive, full-bodied beer, which means one couldn't chug this...and thank cripes for that. Even with the lowish carbonation, it's still a steady sipping beer. (3.25)

Overall: The brewery actually aged this in the bottle a year themselves! Seriously, what a brilliant yet seemingly simple idea. Having said that, this one lacks the complexity to become a great barleywine even after a year of age. But I still enjoy it enough to want to buy a bottle or two I can age even further. (3.5)

3.45/5: Fairly rudimentary for a barleywine, but at least it's well balanced

Dec 22, 2014
Photo of BeerAdvocate
BeerAdvocate from Massachusetts

3.35/5  rDev -11.4%

From BeerAdvocate Magazine #72 (Jan 2013):

John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale, 2011 Cellar Reserve

Its always a good time when you can hunker down on a cold day with a Barleywine, JB has been around longer than most and may have not gained absolute national recognition though it certainly has reached cult status amongst the more weathered beer geeks. Very bold and pretty much an “in your face brew”, bordering massive at 11% abv so clearly this is a sipper which is just what this winter will be calling for.

STYLE: American Barleywine
ABV: 11.0%
AVAILABILITY: Winter seasonal

LOOK: Garnet amber hue, beige lacing

SMELL: Very estery, fresh grass, citrus rind, caramel, brown bread, tangerine zest, pungent hop, cherry compote

TASTE: Very smooth, creamy, slightly chewy, husky, dried grass, leafy, tobacco, toasted orange peels, rose water, faint cherries, spicy, hop bitterness, biscuity, nutty yeast, drying semi-bitter finish

From BeerAdvocate Magazine Volume III, Issue II:

A winter seasonal brewed to honor the harvest (maybe in Cali, but not Mass.) and holidays, in limited 10-barrel batches with certified organic barley malt.

Out of the 12-ounce brown, twist-off stubby, this brew pours a thick, dark copper with rich ruby hues and an impressive two-finger, off-white, creamy head and sticky lacing. Up front, the nose is subtly teased with herbal and raisin notes and ripe, fruity esters. Firm, full bodied and creamy on the palate. Semi-sharp bitterness followed by softer leaf and resin hop flavors. A smooth maltiness coats the tongue with some sweet caramel, brown sugar and soft toasty/bready notes. Overripe stone fruits, esters and a grape-like back. Then, it's all gone. Warming and peppery alcohol pricks the palate, with a very strong, solvent-like presence. A bit biscuity toward the end with an astringent hop finish and alcohol on the breath.

It's decent, and certainly a strong beer, but both the malt and hop profiles seem to be lacking some depth and definition, resulting in flavors that are quick lived and fall flat. As with many of the reviewers, we agree that this one is too boozy.

Dec 11, 2014
Photo of happilyhopped
happilyhopped from Oregon

4.26/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured the 2013 Vintage on November 25th, 2014 into a large snifter glass. Beer case says beer was aged a year in bottled already, but i cannot verify that. Here is my review of the beer however:

Look - Pours cloudy and is a volcanic soil kind of mud brown. Think hawaiian soil (a little red, a little orange, but mostly muddy brown). There is about a quarter inch of head after a decently aggressive pour. The heads is milk white in color and dissipates quickly leaving almost no lacing. When held to the light, the light permeates the peripheries and you see colors of orange and red/amber. The center is still a dark murky brown that light does not penetrate.

Smell - I get the caramel malt right away and it smells like it will taste sweet and delicious. Definitely get a little rustic bread smell and a bit of the the alcohol heat flares the nostrils. Also pick up the smell of sweet apple. It smells creamy/milky.

Taste - Right away i get a lot of that caramel sweetness that you find in an english style barleywine. Somewhat of a honey wheat bread with butter kind of flavor. Really good. Then, after the initial sweetness fades, comes the hop bitterness. It isn't as strong as a beer like Bigfoot, but it definitely bites through the sweetness to remind you this is an american barleywine.

Mouthfeel - Nice and syrupy on the front like most barelywines. Coats the tongues and allows you to taste everything the beer has to offer. But there is also a nice carbonation that comes through and bites into the tongue...almost similar to that tingle sensation you get from rye whiskey. Medium carbonation...not too intense, almost like a mild champaign.

Overall - I think this beer is better than its rating. It reminds me of a cellared Bigfoot Barleywine from SN. The malt has had some time to cut through all the hop bitterness, but that bitter hop flavor can still be found if you let the brew linger on your tongue for a split second. I am going to cellar some of these to see how the hop and malt profiles play out.

Nov 25, 2014
Photo of Fatehunter
Fatehunter from Oregon

3/5  rDev -20.6%

Pours the thinnest head on a dark brown body.
The aroma is grain, both dry and wet, honey and slight barnyard. Nice.
The taste is malty but not too sweet. A mild lemon and grapefruit bitterness in the middle. Finishes with a sticky sweet note and a little alcohol heat.
The texture is thicker and sticky.
It's got a nice alcohol heat but the rest of the flavor is muddled.

Nov 13, 2014
Photo of Dan_McNeely
Dan_McNeely from Wisconsin

4.41/5  rDev +16.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A- Decided to try it from a wine glass. Very strong bold look. It's a bit lighter in appearance at the top. It had a deep brown almost dark toffee color. A very muscular look to it.

S- Roasted Barley smells very fine and smooth. If it tastes like it smells, it will go down easy. I don't smell the booze. It's has a confident aroma, an almost I'm better than you feel. Again, very masculine, in a suave sense.

T- The taste sweeps in letting it self be known. As suspected, much like the aroma it's like Fabio from a romance novel. It holds a welcoming bitter aftertaste that I can enjoy. A bit of a deep chocolate after taste.

M- Heavenly. I've not had a barley wine with this much distinction and just makes my mouth feel good. Light, but not too light. I can tell it's a high percentage, but it's telling me, "Don't worry, you'll enjoy this", in a not so creepy way.

A gentleman's beer, dark, handsome, intelligent, confident something I can be proud to drink. This is a fantastic beer, it really improved my attitude after a long day at the office. Even if you've never had or usually don't enjoy this style, I highly suggest to pick it up.

Jun 19, 2014
Photo of Huhzubendah
Huhzubendah from District of Columbia

4.1/5  rDev +8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle from RussianDragon. Thanks Dave!

2012 Vintage

The beer is slightly murky with a chestnut brown body and a half inch of tan head. Aromas include toffee, dates, booze, malt, perhaps prunes or raisins. Thick body with a mild but present sweetness. Big flavor with malt complexity, a touch of brown sugar. A nice beer to sip and savor.

Jun 15, 2014
Photo of spinrsx
spinrsx from Canada

3.92/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

12oz Bottle from the Total Wine Palm Desert CA for $3.50 - 2012 edition

Appearance - Hazy brown colour with a good size frothy beige coloured head. There is a low amount of carbonation showing and there is some good lacing. The head lasted for around 5-6 minutes before it was gone.

Smell - Malts, caramel/molasses/toffee, anise

Taste & Mouth - There is a below average amount of carbonation and I can taste malts, molasses/toffeel, and hops. There is also some vanilla, some burnt notes, and anise.

Overall - Pretty solid stuff. The booze is well hidden and there is a nice balance of sweet and bitter. Maybe a little thin for a barleywine, but lots of great flavours. A wood aged version of this would be excellent I'm sure.

Jun 10, 2014
Photo of minterro
minterro from Colorado

3.63/5  rDev -4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Bought at Little's Wine and Liquor store. Bottle is from 2011 and store cellared, so anywhere from a little over 3 years old. Never heard of this brewery before, I like the label though (different from the BA pic).

A&S: Almost opaque garnet colored beer. Lots of unfiltered specks floating around. Light tan head that doesn't hang around or leave lacing. Not a whole lot of aroma coming off this beer, but includes sweet maltyness, some alcohol, lacking a hops presence (not surprising with the aging).

T&M: This beer has got to be pretty bitter fresh even after 3 years aging, must be pretty brutal fresh. Alcohol presence is great with this amount of aging. Heavy on the malts with hints of carmel and apple cider. Kind of a nutty finish. Has sweeter elements of an English Barleywine and the bitterness of an American Barleywine. Semi-dry finish. Medium body, low carbonation. Pretty palate cleansing, no real chewy lingering effects.

Overall: Without having it fresh, this seems like a good one to site on so it can cool. Not spectacular, but not bad. At less than 3 bucks and 11% ABV it is work a try, but I personally wouldn't buy it again. Admittedly, this is my favorite of the two barleywine styles.

Apr 06, 2014
Photo of zac16125
zac16125 from South Carolina

4.03/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle into a tulip
no bottling dates

A: Very dark brown, almost black, with just over 1 fingers width of light tan head. Head dissipates down fairly quickly and leaves a decent amount of lacing.

S: Dark fruits, caramel/toffee, cinnamon, bakers chocolate. Pretty sweet, with some balancing booze. Components are very nice, but its fairly mild.

T: Fig like dark fruits, toffee, vinous notes, bakers chocolate, some bitterness. Tasty

M/D: Full bodied, appropriate carbonation, ABV is very well masked, drinkability is good.

O: A solid barleywine. I really enjoyed this one. Worth checking out, for sure.

Mar 15, 2014
John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
Beer rating: 85 out of 100 with 526 ratings