John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale | Mad River Brewing Company

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John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
523 Ratings
John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale

Brewed by:
Mad River Brewing Company
California, United States

Style: American Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.40%

Availability: Winter

Notes / Commercial Description:
Same recipe each year. ABV varies slightly 9.5-11.0%

User Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 523 |  Reviews: 365
Reviews by travolta:
Photo of travolta
3.65/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.25

More User Reviews:
Photo of oberon
4.26/5  rDev +13.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2005 bottle,poured a deep burgundy with a fluffy,sticky off white head that sticks to the glass as it settled,big orange and caramel aromas and as it warmed a herbal hop presence really showed thru quite nice.complex and flavorful raisin and deep orange with a light spiciness almost like gingerbread finishing quite dry.Iam not sure if this years vintage is better than pasts but this beer is vastly underated,flavorful and complex a top notch American Barley Wine.

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Photo of RoyalT
3.83/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Appearance – Dark brown and cloudy with a decent head that actually left a little lacing.

Smell – The toasted malt base and sharp, offsetting hops are complimented by a strong aroma of sherry or whiskey or something like that. It may even be reminiscent of sweet vermouth.

Taste – Yes, this is a very balanced barley wine. The malt and “sweet vermouth” flavors blend well together and are offset by a sharp but unobtrusive piney hop taste. This one is also loaded with gritty sugars, predominantly white table.

Mouthfeel – The ale was balanced but could have been smoother, IMO. Otherwise, the mouthfeel was terrific. The body was on the heavier side of medium, which contradicts some of the other reviews. Did they beef things up for the ’03?

Drinkability – Very nice. This went down well for a 9.5 ABV. I will certainly buy again if given the opportunity.

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Photo of Chuggnutt
3.79/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Dark brown, murky—like dark maple syrup. Almost no head when I poured.

Smell: Sweet, alcohol, plummy fruits, fig, raisin, brown sugar.

Taste: Strong alcohol (phenols?), coffee, caramel, dark berry, brandy, hint of vanilla and molasses.

Mouthfeel: Nice and syrupy thick, alcohol numbing, pleasantly warming.

Overall: A very decent barleywine with a lot of complex character happening there.

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Photo of BeerAdvocate
3.35/5  rDev -10.4%

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.

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Photo of NWer
4.22/5  rDev +12.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage. Served cellar temperature.
Dark reddish brown effervescent appearance.
Rich flavor with strong chocolate overtones. At first, lacked that wow factor I expect from a really good barleywine but that changed as it sat. Sipping slowly over time it builds on itself in flavor - not to mention the 11% abv. Slight cloying after a while gives it a downtick. Otherwise, a very good barleywine.
Would buy again given the opportunity. Picked up a four banger on a CA roadtrip.

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Photo of sponberg
3.7/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Go ahead. Pop one of these and see if Steve Winwood's voice doesn't come out of the bottle. 2005 edition.

The head on this one lasts longer than a, umm, well, it lasts a while. Dark ruby with a light reddish tan head that'd go great with a mahogany end table. Sweet toffeeish/dark fruit malts and some spicy, faintly citrusy aromas waft up from the krug.

I'm getting fruits, nuts - almost a Marzipan-y like flavor in here. Marzipan dipped in toffee maybe. With some citrusy and spicy hops on the edges. Definitely has a malty sweetness to it. Nine and a half percent and it only just shows up in the finish, along with a flavor I like but can't quite place - not chocolatey, not toffee, not figs or dates or marzipan so much, something in that general vicinity. Sticky chewy mouthfeel - lots of residual sugars in here.

Like it, but don't know if I could have a lot of them because of the sweetness.

(looks in the bottom of the krug) John Barleycorn is dead.

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Photo of Beaver13
3/5  rDev -19.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

12 oz bottle. Pours dark murky copper red with a small off-white head that quickly goes to a thin collar.

The aroma is sweet caramel malt with some dark fruit, molasses and alcohol.

The flavor is sweet sugary caramel malts with dark fruit and a medium bitter finish with a big harsh alcohol burn. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with low but spritzy carbonation.

Overall, it's an ok barley wine but not well balanced - too sweet with lots of harsh bitter alcohol.

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Photo of Beerswag
3.89/5  rDev +4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.75

Bottle poured into st. Bernardus watou chalice
Smell is sweet not too much fragrance, fruity fig, and black cherry nose. Apprearance is dark cherry-wood, minimal head, gone in 2 seconds, even after vigrois pour, expected from a 11%abv'r. No lacing, not too resinous, drinking smooth. Taste is sweet malt, black cherry, sweet caramel, finishes with a good hop profile( possibly simcoe, cluster).mouthfeel is smooth and medium bodied with a slight crips bite on the end. Overall a decent barleywine that would even better paired with duck, pate, dry cheeses such as beemster, or an aged white or yellow chedder...

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Photo of megamass
3.5/5  rDev -6.4%

Photo of merlin48
4.2/5  rDev +12.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a clean, dark chestnut brown body with a small, but lasting, beige head. No lace.

Aroma is heavy with apples, pears, and plums, all soaked in molasses and rum.

Mouthfeel is full bodied, and awash with flavors.

Taste is nicely complex, even at this young age. Dark fruits and molasses, warming alcohol, and some rough, pine hoppiness. Nice notes of figs and caramel jump out of the snifter near the finish.

An excellent barleywine. The hops are still a bit rough around the edges at this early age, but this one should age with grace.

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Photo of Billolick
4.08/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle, 2010 edition, $2.79, purchased as a single from Cable Bev. in Bardonia, NY.

Pours arker amber, with a ruby glow, moderate tan head, fine film, thin collar and ample splatters of lacing.

Bready, sweet malty nose, with honey and vanilla flourishes

Smoth, very mellow, easy drinking and flavorful ABW, with the 10% not anywhere to be tasted. More sweet malts, honey, some ripe fruit, light smoke and drying/balancing hops in the finish.

Very nice, great to savor, wish I bought more then just the one bottle...

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Photo of MisterDeeds
3.58/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

My first jump into Barleywine, and from what I hear, the perfect choice to start.

The appearance and smell didn't impress me. Although I knew barleywine is generally much stronger, I didn't expect the odor to smell like straight up booze.

Tasting it however, I was very surprised. Quite a bit smoother than the smell suggested. Not as bitter as the "stronger" IPAs tend to be, but with a definite "warm" aftertaste.

Very drinkable, but at 10.8% that might be bad idea.

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Photo of ledouge
3.6/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Photo of 1Adam12
3.46/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2008 vintage.

Not much head on this one. Dark mahogany colored. Just looks creamy. Smell is weak. Smells of sugar, alcohol, fig, and raisin. Tastes very similar to the nose, but the alcohol isn't present. Very boring. Not bad, but just boring. There's nothing that stands out as unique or special. Mouthfeel: next to none in carbonation. Creamy. Light. Too light IMO. Overall, this should be more like 6 or 8 bucks a 6 pack rather than 11 or 12 bucks for a 4 pack. Just not worth the money.

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Photo of magictrokini
3.58/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Pours hazy copper with a short off-white head. Wood, grass, alcohol, malt, and shoe leather in the nose. Caramel and earth up front with the alcohol taste and warmth near the end. Sometimes it did taste like liquid wood it was so earthy. There is a sweet hop taste near the finish that was nice. This was very unbalanced, but still nice to drink.

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Photo of jondeelee
4.17/5  rDev +11.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I found a four-pack of the 2008 release in a local liquor store. There's no telling under what conditions it's been stored, but judging by the aroma, someone took good care of it. The aromas are fresh and ripe, a wonderfully, sugary strong melange of fig, prune, and white grape, almost ice-wine or cognac strong.

On the tongue, the brew is intensely sweet, the fruit esters from the nose translating well, but joined by banana, raisin, and lychee nut. Brown sugar and lightly toasted grains run rampant just below. There is a strong alcohol tinge, much like cognac--the beer is 9.1% ABV--but the strength of the alcohol makes it seem like more, and I have no idea whether this is due to the aging. A slight hint of chocolate malts (deeply toasted grain flavors, some ash) provides a nice respite from the sugars. The aftertaste is mainly fruit esters (including the rind), with a slight buzz from the hops. Mouthfeel is a silky medium, and carbonation is medium-light.

Overall, this is a good-quality barleywine, though perhaps slightly weighty on the sugars. A heavier grain counter would have helped balance the brew better. Still, the sugary flavors are well-crafted, and sure to please barleywine fans.

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Photo of DavidR_9
4.02/5  rDev +7.5%
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.

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Photo of pat61
4/5  rDev +7%
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.

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Photo of Beerandraiderfan
2.52/5  rDev -32.6%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

Light red and brown pour, all kinds of chunky yeast and whatnot floaties all over this, does not look attractive whatsoever, the lack of head didn't help either. Aroma, heavy on the alcohol, a little bit of bitter sugarness came in afterwards.

Taste, whoo, still very hot, yeasty grittiness on the teeth, ample sweetness and huge bitterness still on this one. Tough to pull much in the way of taste out of this, the alcohol is just omniprescient or whatever that word is. Had em fresh, had em aged, just not a fan at any stage of this, despite liking many Mad River brews. Seemed to be lacking the necessary malt additions to soak up the alcohol presence.

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Photo of ADR
4.1/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

Heavy sedimented brown appearance, dull yellow 1/4 inch head. Thick opaque ring laces. Nice aroma, plums and caramel, that sense of hop prickliness to come that mark so many American Barleywines. Starts molasses sweet, dark with raisins but the hops don't wait until the end -- they're there out of the gate. Finishes rummy with a balsamic bitter you can emphasize by licking your lips. Thick and alcoholic, compares to Old Horizontal in texture, maybe less grainy than Bigfoot. Could use some aging for me to say that there's a lot of drinkability here.

Source: Liquid Solutions

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Photo of WVbeergeek
4.03/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appears a copper orange crystal clear in the body with a large off white billowing head after a vigorous pour into my Gulden Draak chalice. Lacing is even and thick with each sip pretty impressive looking brew. Aromatics are full of caramel malty layers with over ripened fruit soaking in alcohol along with big citric and brash pine hop character. Almost a buttered rum bread smell very luscious and inviting to the senses and than you have to dive into the first sip. Of course we're expecting west coast brashness but from back around the 2007 harvest this one is just starting to mellow out a bit. Sweet candy coated hops brown sugar, caramel, and honey sensations all at once. Full bitterness follows the barrage of malt flavor with citrus, pine, and earthy qualities noted and a nice kick of alcohol making it's presences known as well. Mouthfeel is definitely on the light side of the syrupy spectrum medium to full bodied range indeed, sticky with residual sugars left over after fermentation but makes it into a true after dinner or dessert beer depending on your preference. Carbonation level is great and hop burps singe the nose hairs occasionally providing smiles for us beergeeks lucky enough to have access to this brew. Drinkability and overall is pretty killer I grabbed a sixer at 15.99 but it was worth every penny and they disappeared much faster than I had expected. Session beer hell no, perfect for enjoying a cigar and good conversation with friends, hell yes.

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Photo of FrognutUnl
3.43/5  rDev -8.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to bring for the opportunity. 2008 Vintage.

A - Lightly cola in color with reddish hues. Pours with a scant off-white ripple of fizz I suppose could be called a head. Moderate lacing left when swirling the glass.

S - Lots of sweet caramel malts, brown sugar, and hints of dried fruits.

T - About the same as the nose, but with the addition of a bit of floral hops. The alcohol is barely present.

M - Slightly syrupy, full bodied held up by near perfect levels of carbonation.

D - Not an overwhelming amount of complexity, but for sure a solid beer.

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Photo of Beer21
3.97/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Photo of acurtis
3.75/5  rDev +0.3%

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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
Beer rating: 3.74 out of 5 with 523 ratings