John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Mad River Brewing Company

John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
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American Barleywine
Ranked #339
Ranked #27,331
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: 366 | Ratings: 524 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Reviews by PDXHops:
Photo of PDXHops
2.48/5  rDev -34.4%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Vintage 2010 12-ounce bottle poured into a DFH snifter. A viscous-looking beer for sure; looks kinda like hazy sorghum. Just a whiff of foam on top, but periodic swirls confirm that there's not shortage of carbonation here.

Plenty of toffee and caramel in the nose, with light grape, raisin and baked apple notes. I'm not sure when this was bottled, but even if it was the last day of 2010, there's still a surprisingly potent dose of bitterness in this stuff. Earthy and burnt flavors join in to provide a counterpoint to the sweetness. The fruitiness isn't as pronounced as I'd guessed it would be, and something's a little lacking here. Instead of a coating, lingering warm feel, it almost finishes clean and a tad on the thin side. This could be quite nice with a few tweaks, I reckon.

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More User Reviews:
Photo of blackie
3.97/5  rDev +5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Vintage 2006

a: Negligible head, soon disappearing. The beer is a medium-dark brown in color with some floaters.

s: Interesting rich butter-toffee malt with an underlying subtle toasted malt aroma. Some sweet, dark fruits and a possible touch of cola. Hops are well tempered. Nice ethanol presence.

m: low carbonation, pretty full body

t: Pretty standard barleywine toffee and caramel barleys dominate the palate, with hops taking a backseat. Cleans up pretty well, with a light bitterness. A touch of nutty toast builds. Nothing stands out, nothing really detracts.

d: a pretty good, straightforward beer...a nice sipper

single bottle from Whole Foods Raleigh

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Photo of zac16125
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.

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Photo of klewis
3.02/5  rDev -20.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

2007 Bottle

A: Pours a reddish amber with just a few bubbles for a head. No lacing.

S: Caramel and toffee with just a hint of booze.

T: Bitter with a burnt rubber taste up front that eventually gives way to a malty and sweet taste. Quite a bit of kick from the alcohol.

M: Full-bodied with a lingering bitterness. For a BW, this has tons of carbonation and feel way to fizzy.

D: Drinkable but a definite pass the next time I see it.

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Photo of airheadmtrcycle
3.76/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from a bottle into a Duvel tulip. Brown with red highlights, a foamy head that fades with some lacing.

Smells semi-sweet and fruity with some pretty strong booze that dominates. Tastes similar with a strong bitterness and a very dry finish. A sipper for sure. If it rolls down to my throat immediately it burns. I have to be careful to hold the sip on my tongue to get a full appreciation. Letting it warms helps enjoyment some too.

The mouthfeel is coarse. Quite carbonated with a very dry finish and extreme bitterness that left my mouth cottony. I needed a glass of water to drink next to it. Not too drinkable in my opinion.

This beer needs to be aged. I'm going to put the other 3 away until next year. Maybe it wasn't meant to be consumed right away.

It's also possible I don't understand the style well enough to appreciate some of its better qualities. I won't give up on the beer or the style.

Addendum: 01/17/11

I tried another from this 4-pack and it was a completely different beer. It seems the one I reviewed above was a bad beer. (I've never had a bad beer before.) The second one was delicious, sweet and fruity, but the alcohol balanced everything with a pleasant spiciness. There was no bitterness, and the mouth feel was far less carbonated and not course at all. This one was very drinkable. I'm going to have another right now. The scores now reflects the second beer.

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Photo of emerge077
4/5  rDev +5.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Despite sharing it's namesake with a certain Chicago institution of douchenozzlery, this was a good barleywine!

2007 bottle, black ink label with a seal depicting crossed scythes in front of a sprig of barley i'm guessing. 10.8% abv.

Deep fossilized amber tone, with creamy tan foam that sticks around. A healthy skim maintains itself for the duration of the glass. Aromas of brown sugar, spice cookies, overripe or stewed fruit, and some mild fusels on the tail end.

Brown sugar, caramel toffee and spicy hops. Residual dry bitterness lingers for awhile in the finish. Herbal essence also stays after the malt and sugars have subsided. Some alcohol notes, but not too distracting. Slightly syrupy with low carbonation. This works well as an intended nightcap...

$4 single at Sahara Mart in Bloomington, IN.

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Photo of mobyviacheslov
4.52/5  rDev +19.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

07 Vintage, drank at cellar temp.

A - Thick, dark caramel color, but not opaque. Lots of visible yeast and bits floating around. Creamy head.
S - Aromas of salty caramel, candy sugars, Belgian ale yeast, vanilla, and orange. Quite a myriad of aromas with something new on each smell.
T - Creamsicle and chocolate icecream strike first, but are immediately challenged by a strong bitterness and an earthy, vegetable presence. Every sip yields new "oooh, I think I taste....", but overall, it is a fight between candy and earthiness, and it works incredibly well. Very complex, and expertly balanced.
M - Velvety, and creamy, much more so than it looked like it would be. Just enough of a bubbly aspect to lighten the beer and accentuate flavors.
D - 1 or 2 will do it on these. While there are no strong alcohol flavors, this beer is 10.8% and should be respected. At the end of the day, I could probably put down 4 or 5 of these, but the fun of this beer lies in identifying all the new aromas and flavors each time you bring it up to your mouth...after 2 of these, I think you would lose that ability...time to switch to a macro and keep that party going.

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Photo of NoLiberty
3.73/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Nice full caramely head that retains some surrounding lacing. Pours a clody rich amber.
Aroma: Strong malty sweetness with hints of raisin. Almost Belgian?
Taste: Also full malty front with initial sweet fruit. A clean low-alcohol middle with hints of nuts. Mild finish with lingering wild , sour afterntaste.
Mouth: Not completely full but very smooth.

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Photo of Briken
3.03/5  rDev -19.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

On the bottle it says celebrating the harvest of '08?

Dark brown with red highlights with a big tan frothy head. Molasses and floral aromas. Big molasses up front mellows to a very sweet although a light barley taste and an alcohol warming with a fairly bitter finish. Mouthfeel is a balanced fuzzy an syrupy feel with a light tongue coating.

This is a pretty mild barleywine. not a whole lot of complexity, just a high ABV. It easy drinking for sure and I liked the mouthfeel but otherwise would be looking somewhere else for a barleywine.

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Photo of dirtylou
3.62/5  rDev -4.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

12oz single split with blackie, from the these go to eleven bif, 2004 bottle

appearance: poured into snifter...murky/muddy mahogany-amber. foamy beige head with light retention

smell: bitter hops dominate the aroma, heavy pine, strong citrus, boozy plum, light brown sugar, boozy malt

taste: boozy at 9%, bitter pine cones, fig, dark fruit, brown sugar...not terribly complex, but a nice bitter barleywine

mouthfeel: boozy, hop kick is heavy

drinkability: alright

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Photo of doucmehu
2.5/5  rDev -33.9%

Photo of 1whiskey
3.43/5  rDev -9.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

2007 vintage. 12 oz bottle poured into a goblet. Pretty reddish-bronze color with a very light tan head that quickly dissipates

The smell is very pleasant, sweet and rich. Perhaps not overly complex, but very appealing.

A burst or resiny hops...pine and apricot at first, then more musty/earthy notes, are what meets the palate on first sip. Woody tannins, bourbon, alcohol, and general sweetness round out the profile. A bit of tea-like bitterness lingers on the tongue when you're done.

The body is surprisingly light, and there is abundant carbonation. The alcohol is not very well hidden in this thin barleywine, limiting it's drinkability.

To be fair, I've had this beer each of the last few years and it was considerably better than this year's version. If you find a previous year's vintage, go for it. Otherwise look for it next winter.

One more note...I think this may be miscategorized as an "American Barleywine". Mad River is indeed an American brewer, but this is much more of an English style barleywine. Comparing it to Old Ruffian or Bigfoot is simply apples and oranges. Think Old Nick if you want a better comparison.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.48/5  rDev -7.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

2010 vintage.

10% ABV per label.

Pours a murky super dark brown with a 2 inch puffy light khaki head that settles to a thin cap. A nice latticework of lace forms on the glass on the drink down. Smell is of toasted malt, brown sugar, toffee, and lots of citrus zest hops. Taste is of malt, brown sugar, and some citrus zest flavors. Pretty straightforward progression from the nose. There is a very mild bitterness that quickly fades from the palate. This beer has a lower level of carbonation with a slightly flat mouthfeel. Overall, this is a pretty good barleywine but nothing too special. I didn't find this one to be as bad as others seem to think in the reviews.

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Photo of russpowell
4.09/5  rDev +8.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2006 Pours chestnutwith 1 finger+ of sand colored head. Average lacing & above average head retention

S: Bready, doughy with chocolate & brown sugar

T: Bready & boozey warmth up front. Earthy hops & a little roasted grain. Brown sugar, itense dryness & pecans as this warms. Finishes dry with bakers chocolate, sometimes harsh boozeyness( mellows as it warms ) & piney bitterness at the back of the throat

MF: Medium bodied, slight oilyness & low carbonation

The 9.0 abv is evident here, not a bad one to sip a bottle or 2, but after that, move on! A bit pricey at $12 a sixer (my biggest bitch about this beer)

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Photo of colforbin73
3.42/5  rDev -9.5%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

2011 vintage poured into a large tulip.

pours a murky brown without too much of a head. it has a nice burnt amber color when lighted from below and looks fairly clear -- but as it sits in the glass, it's flat a brown murk.

there are some good roasty mats in the aroma -- but it is not a very strong or floral nose. the first sip is not bad, it hits like a barley wine, but only slightly sweet, somehwat saccharin tasting. the very aggressive hopping is ok at the front of the drink -- evoking fall harvest flavors, apples, maple syrup. but ultimately it is a little rough, not a full enough malt flavor and too bitter.

i don't find the beer overly boozy in flavor as others have noted. of course at 10% it does pack a wallop. glad i got to try this, and it wasn't bad, but it is not a great example of the style. maybe in a year or two this will mellow out a bit -- but for now, i find this to be too harsh.

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Photo of hayesjw
4.25/5  rDev +12.4%

Photo of sendbeer
3.25/5  rDev -14%

Photo of Raymond69
3.88/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a hazy brown. Small head , some lacing.

Slight citrus hoppy aroma.

Tons of hop character with very little malt behind it. ABV is well hidden.

Mouthfeel is medium , a little to thin, Good carbonation.

Overall a pretty solid high ABV barleywine.

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Photo of suspect
2.68/5  rDev -29.1%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a Dogfish Head Signature glass. From a "Celebrating 2008 Harvest" bottle.

A: Cloudy medium brown color. Aggressive pour leads to a thin ring of head that disappears to a cloudy smattering of foam on the top of the beer. Lacing is thick and consistent.

S: Booze, sugar, caramel, sugar and booze. This one is hot and you can smell it. Not much hop presence.

T: The taste has backed down some (not a lot) from the nose but the sugar certainly did not. It's sweet and relatively unbalanced. End of the taste is boozy.

M: Little carbonation, pretty thin body but man the abv (which is listed as 9.1% on my bottle) leaves a hot aftertaste that's hard to shake.

O: Not a really terrible brew, but not really great either. Probably not a brew that I'll seek out again.

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Photo of mithrascruor
4.62/5  rDev +22.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz. bottle poured into a drinking horn (after a bit in a glass to check the color).

Appearance: Pours a clear reddish-copper color with a minimal off-white head.

Smell: Has a spicy caramel aroma, slightly salty. Some grainy malt aroma is there too. Nice, and not as intimidating as some barleywines.

Taste: Great spicy malt grain flavor. A bit of salt, some spicy hops, and some other spices as well. Very little alcohol in the taste, just a bit of warmness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with some light, soft carbonation. Mostly smooth, but with a slight bit of grainyness.

Drinkability: Strong in the alcohol department, but quite drinkable - the flavor isn't over the top and works well.

Pretty sure this is the best barleywine that I've had. There's something rustic to it, and it doesn't try to be too extreme. I think it is really tasty, and definitely would like to get it again.

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Photo of redleg411
3.25/5  rDev -14%

Photo of Metalmonk
3.01/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

2007 harvest. This label (different than the one pictured) shows a higher ABV of 10.8%. A new barleywine to me, always exciting.

Very little head, which isn't surprising considering the style. Color exhibits the glowing rust/copper typical of your average barleywine.

Incredibly mild aroma, as if it's holding back. Very tame malt, very little hops, and weak alcohol that's more like aftershave. Wouldn't have guessed this was a barleywine if blindfolded. Barleywine Kool-Aid?

Flavor is a little off, favoring the bitter and alcoholic elements, with the malt having very little character. A bit of waffle-with-maple syrup comes through, as does a "green" flavor of unripe fruit, with a medicinal/cough-syrup nastiness from the alcohol. Peculiar (for the style) roasted flavor sets in near the finish. After getting used to this one, for a flash each sip finds the malt mingling well with the hops/alcohol, but it's fleeting. Or maybe it's wishful thinking. All in all, this tastes more like a poorly home-brewed double IPA than a craft brewer's barleywine.

Slick, juicy and buttery enough to carry some of the more desirable flavors through. Definitely not over-carbonated, the texture fits the style. Actually the best element of this beer.

Raw and off-balance, though not putrid. Has its moments. I gleaned something enjoyable from this bottle, but wasn't transported either. Haven't had luck with new barleywines lately, having also had a weak Sisyphus recently. Probably not buying this one again.

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Photo of JosiahS
3.71/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

glass: snifter

This beer has pretty red-orange color with a thin off-white ring atop. There's a surprising amount of carbonation resting aside the glass as well as escaping to the top.

An overwhelming sweet, pungent, malt aroma comes forth upon first smell. Then the alcohol backs that up rather quickly. All the while a nice burned wood overtone is present.

It has a sticky, slightly oily mouthfeel. The carbonation is low, despite the bubbles shown when first pored. Somewhat dry on the finish with decent heat left in the throat.

The flavor hits first with a powerhouse of molasses, sugar and leather. Mid-pallete lacks a bit but the finish comes full force with rich roasted nuts, alcohol sweetness and a cloying dry bitterness.

At 11%, this is a beer i would have one over the period of 45 minutes to an hour. The flavors are consistent and the body is nice. This particular brew doesn't offer anything new though but it still makes for an excellent night cap.

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Photo of Wasatch
3.83/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours a nice golden reddish/amber color, nice carbonation, tiny fizzy creamy off-white head, with minimal sticky lacing. The nose is malty, slightly spice, some hops, with some caramel. The taste is slightly sweet, malty, with some hoppiness, spiced up a bit, and caramel tones. Medium body. Drinkable, a tasty BW.

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Photo of Gobzilla
3.75/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

A: poured a light brown in color with brown highlights and a little head with very little lacing sticking to the glass.

S: lots of caramel upfront on the nose with brown sugar notes, hints of hops, and a little booze as well.

T: the caramel sweet alongside the malts were more apparent on the palate, with brown sugar accents and hints of booze.

M: the brew was medium in body with a moderate amount of carbonation which had a sweet, boozy, and smooth silky finish.

O: it was drinking better than I thought and was even more tasty than I thought it would be.

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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
Beer rating: 85 out of 100 with 524 ratings