John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale | Mad River Brewing Company

363 Reviews
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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%

Added by DOCALYN on 09-23-2001

For Trade:
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Reviews: 363 | Ratings: 515
Photo of meathookjones
1.73/5  rDev -53.7%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

This was a 1997 harvest bottle tasted 10/7/04. This poured a murky brown with no head and no lace. Smell is sweet with a strong alcohol and vinegar scent coming from it. At this point I was pretty sure this would taste like crap. Sour, strong alcohol and vinous is about all I can say to describe the taste. A bit of sweetness some where but not enough to keep this one from puckering me up with every sip. Mouthfeel was okay and drinkability was non-existent. Maybe the years didn’t take kindly to this one, but this is the first beer that made me involuntarily twitch with almost every sip. Hopefully I can come across a much younger bottle next time.

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Photo of Blitzstyle
1.86/5  rDev -50.3%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 1

Bought this at World of Beer off Gulf to Bay in Clearwater Fl, last week didn't really look at the bottle till I got home. Come to find out it is harvest 2007 10.8 Abv. Some age to it but its a barleywine it should age well for a few years right? Not in this case.

Poured into a pint glass, some small amounts of head. Deep amber color hazy, pours like it is really thick.

Wow that is awful smell... Smells like liquor almost like a weird variety of sweet Jack Daniles. Overly sweet smell!

Even taste's like JD!! sweet as hell ugh got a sour whisky like after taste to it. Drain pour!!!

The few sips I took left me feeling like I had takein JD shot all night. Not a good beer!

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Photo of RenoZymurgist
1.91/5  rDev -48.9%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1.5

Poured a dark red with a small white head that subsided quickly. The aromewas of fruity esters and s touch of alcohol. The taste was not very good at all. It was sweet but in the finish there was a strange lingering bitterness that was unpleasent. The body was light for an ale of this gravity. This barleywine needs to be aged at least two more years.

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Photo of DOCALYN
2.16/5  rDev -42.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 1 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Weirdest beer I ever had. the herb used is rosemary and I can't imagine why one would spoil an othrwise good beer with this herb. I dumped my beer down the drain as the taste was too funky for my tastebuds.

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Photo of rodbeermunch
2.28/5  rDev -39%
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.

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Photo of kimcgolf
2.29/5  rDev -38.8%
look: 2 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 2.5

This actually started out okay, with a dark brown color with a hint of ruby, and a thin tan head that dissipated quickly. Initial aroma was malty sweet dark fruit, as was the first couple sips. THEN THE ALCOHOL GRABBED HOLD!! From about the fourth sip on, all I could taste and smell was alcohol, blended with a thick sweet body. Try as I could, I just could not find any other taste or nose, and ended up pouring this one out.

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Photo of akorsak
2.42/5  rDev -35.3%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

A 12 oz bottle from a trade with Boolshot.

A: The barleywine is a deep copper red, very hazy, with a small white head and no lace.

S: The aroma is almost nonexistent, regardless of temperature of the beer. A very grainy, unsweet malt scent manages to waft up but it is weak.

T: The flavor is grainy malts. The body is very light, lacking the intense complexity and malty overload of a good barleywine. On top of that, there are no hops to be found. As the ale warms, it takes on a slightly medicinal malt flavor with some residual sweetness, but it is still lacking for hops.

M: The mouthfeel is bland, lacking a memorable hop or malt body.

D: I would not grab this one again, it seems to come up short in every category.

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Photo of PDXHops
2.48/5  rDev -33.7%
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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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 emmasdad
2.58/5  rDev -31%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Received this one as an extra in a recent trade. Having lived in Northern California for a while, I have had this one a few times in the past, and have never cared for it. This bottle brought back memories of those long gone memories.

Poured a hazy dark brown color with a light brown head. Big aromas of spices and booze. On the palate, full bodied, with way too much spice and a hot finish. Way too spicy for me.

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Photo of aaronh
2.67/5  rDev -28.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

Pours a cloudy orange amber with minimal head and a fairly good amount of floaties. The aroma is very strong and sweet from a distance, but there's a definite malt smell. Up close, the smell becomes more fruity, having a definite apricot note atop the malty sweetness. The taste is like moldy,wet straw that has been sugar coated and doused with rubbing alcohol. High amounts of fusel type alcohols in this one, even after 4 years. A strong bitterness emerges on the finish. Mouthfeel is average for a barleywine. Drinkability is not good. Drinking this brings to mind cokes' review of Doggie Claws, with his apocolypse now theme and hints of napalm. The strong alcohol in this baby makes it a killer. I may try to light it and use it as a torch. Hoping for a rare gem on this purchase and I got burned.

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Photo of suspect
2.68/5  rDev -28.3%
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 KAP1356
2.72/5  rDev -27.3%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

12 oz. bottle I received as an extra sometime back. 2008 vintage poured into a Weyerbacher tulip...

A - Pours a pretty cloudy and murky brownish color - kind of mud like. A half finger of tan head forms and quickly recedes to a collar. Not the most inviting looking beer.

S - Brown sugar, caramal, and, surprisingly, a good bit of alcohol comes right through. Malts, and some wheat like aromas come out too. The alcohol aroma really detracts from this so far.

T - Really sweet malts, and quite bitter out front along with a lot of alcohol, which is really not hidden well at all. Really quite one note for me.

M - Not much carbonation and quite thin body. Not anything to write home about.

O - Eh. Nothing special. It's not the worst beer I've ever had, but it is quite far from good in my opinion.

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Photo of Arbitrator
2.81/5  rDev -24.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

I'm on a mission to stop trading (stop laughing) and to appreciate my local selection, so I grabbed a 4-pack of this at my local store. I enjoyed the bourbon-barrel aged version I tried at Beer Revolution recently, so I thought the time was ripe to give the base beer a shot.

Review of the 2010 vintage, according to the label (?). When I picked this up in 2012, I was told it was the latest batch. Odd.

A: Pours a ruby-amber body that glows more on the reddish spectrum when held against the light. It pours with a generous beige head that retains fairly well for a beer of its gravity, eventually collapsing into a thin collar.

S: The aroma isn't particularly strong, but it hits the barleywine notes I'd expect: slight notes of grape, caramel, toffee. There isn't much depth to the aroma.

T: Slight roast and earth. I pick up grape (oxidation?) as well as caramel and toffee. Moderate bitterness that balances the sweeter flavors. The finish is dry, which is interesting, but it accentuates how thin the beer feels (see below).

M: This is light for the style; it leaves me wanting a bit more heft. No alcohol, which is a plus, but the thin-ness is a detriment to the beer.

O: This is surprisingly mediocre. I say surprisingly because the barrel-aged version was truly outstanding (I even made a second trip out to Beer Revolution to grab another glass). It was worth trying, but I don't think I'll pick it up again.

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Photo of Gueuzedude
2.88/5  rDev -23%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

2007 Bottle; Sampled October 2008
A vigorous pour into my 25cl tulip glass produces a tightly beaded, initially three-finger thick, light tan colored head. The beer is a clear amber color that shows a brilliantly clear, fully red tinged, copper color when held up to the light. The aroma is a heady mix of caramelized malt and sticky hop notes. At first notes of toffee, sticky crystal malts, brown sugar glazed grapefruit zest and tangerine are most noticeable, but soon an herbal hop notes starts to play a much more prominent role. Aromas of pine needles and a grassy herbal note become more noticeable as the beer warms. There is lots of biscuit like malt notes towards the end as well as the warm, slightly spicy alcohol character one would expect to find in a beer of this strength.

Thick and viscous feeling up front, this is balanced somewhat by a biting, herbal, green bitterness and hop astringency in the finish that really lingers on the tongue for quite some time. While there is a huge amount of malt here, the hop character is definitely the more dominant note right now. Hot alcohol flavors towards the finish seem to exacerbate the harsh hop notes. Lots of caramelized grain notes seem to mostly get drown out by the herbal hop notes and the vodka like alcohol character in the finish; at times some notes of toffee sneaks through as does some light berry notes and a touch of citrus.

This beer will definitely still age for quite some time. The hop character is still a bit rough right now and the hot alcohol notes could definitely use some mellowing out. I expected this to get better as it warmed up, but it actually got worse, more hot and more harshly hoppy. This really ended up being quite a big disappointment; it really needs at least another two years, if not five, before it might start to get drinkable.

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Photo of Floydster
2.88/5  rDev -23%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Two 5 ounce samples at Naja's Place 1st Barleywine Festival in Redondo Beach both yesterday and the day before, another one of the brews from option three, 2008 vintage

A-Color is medium brown with some red highlights, 1/4 inch creamy beige head that stays around for a minute or so, weak retention, minimal lacing
S-Pine makes up the hoppiness, burned accents, roasted scents, bready malt, charred toffee, booze, caramel, and lots of weird smelling fruits
T-The hop character is dominating and needs age to cool that down, there is also way too much booze in here while it is fresh, starts off with grains, fades into caramel, then booze and hoppy flavors, toffee and citrus come the surface later on but barely, it seems like the tastes come and go and never really work together, brew was all over the place and was in need of some balance somewhere
M-Moderate level of carbonation, thin to medium body, sweet, roasty, and dry mouthfeel, taste lingers a little while
D-Heavy on the stomach, alcohol is not hidden, taste gets old after a few sips, gets overly sweet pretty quickly, not excatly inviting

I did not expect much out of this beer, therefore I was less disappointed, weakest barleywine I tried at Naja's during the festival and yes I had them all, it is cool that you can buy six packs of this stuff when it is released but I do not think I would, might be worth trying

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Photo of Higravity
2.89/5  rDev -22.7%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Nice garnet color with a slight head the quickly goes. A 2005 bottle conditioned properly. The smell is sweet malt with caramel tones but is backed up by large piney and spicy citrus hops and a bit of sulfur giving a medicine like quality to it. The flavor continues with a large chunk of bitterness but there is this tanic medicine flavor that digs at the tonuge almost numbing it to the flavors of the malt and blooming hops. This might straighten out in a year or two. The alcohol is well hidden and it has a good mouthfeel but it isn't too drinkable at this point.

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Photo of zakyj
2.9/5  rDev -22.5%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

12 ounce bottle poured into pint glass.

A - Little head, clear copper color, with minimal lacing.

S - Malty, very sweet and caramel. little fruity hint as well but no much as to note.

T - Very sweet almost to sweet for my taste. Very little going on though, not bad, but not great. High alcohol taste as well.

M - Thick syrup like feel. covers the palate nicely with a slightly above average finish.

O - I am glad I picked it up but wont be going back to get it again. Nothing at all really stands out. Bottom line; a very typical barleywine, if you see it, try it, but no need to go look for it.

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Photo of cjgator3
2.93/5  rDev -21.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

2007 edition. 12oz bottle poured into a pint glass. Pours an orangish-amber color with a creamy off-white head. The aroma is sweet and fruity with malt and toffee and a pretty strong amount of alcohol. The taste is pretty sweet and malty up front giving way to the hops and a warming effect from the alcohol in the finish. Overall, this is a decent barleywine that definitely needs a few years to mellow out as it is a little rough around the edges fresh. I will stash a couple of these away and re-visit after it has had a couple years to mellow.

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Photo of chugalug06
2.95/5  rDev -21.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A - Very deep purple in color. Head slowly rises a creamy cream color. Decent lacing too. Good clarity.

S - Lots of raisin/grapes. Smells a little bit sugary and cotton-candy esque. A little flat on the nose.

T - Missing some serious complexity. Very bland, not what I was expecting from MRBC. Lots of strange bitterness with heavy heat notes.

M - Great carbonation, weird suagry-ness.

O - This brew did not measure up to MRBC's stigma... Very disappointing. Recommended, but not worth a hunt. Very average.

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Photo of brdc
2.97/5  rDev -20.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

Small capped bottle, poured into a snifter.

Brown with orange highlights, not much of a dark tan head.
Aroma is fruity and boozy, with some malty sweetness coming through.
Way too hot despite the fact it sat nearly one year in my cellar. Full bodied but not chewy, fruity and hoppy, bitter at times, with too much booze and not enough malt coming through.
On a comparison with 3 guys off the scale, this one loses by a mile, and despite being 50% less alcoholic, it felt like double.
I could not finish this one.

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Photo of Offa
2.98/5  rDev -20.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

This is a decent barleywine, but rather one-dimensional, bland and uninteresting, especially for the strength. I had the Harvest 08, 9.1%ABV, in Sept.09.

Deep red, it has a very big tan head with orange hint, shrinking very slowly to a foamy ring and wisps, leaving fleeting bits of weak lace.

The aroma is rich whole wheat bread and brown bread, brown sugar, toasted bread crust, along with hints of browned prune, rum, orange, grapefruit, and mineral.

The taste is not as good and soon settles into forgettable, one-dimensional blandness with alcohol. Caramelly stewed fruit, especially prunes, start things off up front with some candied orange and spicey, warm raisiny rum. It has a light but firm sweetness with light, bitterness and a fair amount of spiciness, a bit harsh, plus hints of burnt bread. This soon settles into a vague, ill-defined mix of overly hot, spicey alcohol, vague hint of prune, and hint of burnt orange peel, all subdued and nondescript. A faint hint of meaty steak sauce mixed with rough alcohol lingers after the finish. The feel is fairly thick and oily. It's boring, too strong for what you get, and quite tiresome. Perhaps I should have let it sit longer but I don't think that should have been necessary.

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Photo of righthereisay
2.99/5  rDev -20.1%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Just wasn't impressed at all with one. Got a bottle in Swansboro, NC.

Color...not impressed. There was a little to nice head..The Smell was pretty good, I was hoping for the best.

I thought there was a bit too much carbonation for my liking. The flavor, just not impressed on this one. It really didn't remind me of anything in particular.

It had an average body. It was a little bitter at the end, but not too bad. The bits and pieces inside left me not wanting another. With that said, I gave the drinkability a better rating because (due to its alcohol content) it went down rather smoothly. I really didn't taste or smell any alcohol.

I will never buy this again.

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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 Fatehunter
3/5  rDev -19.8%

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.

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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
3.74 out of 5 based on 515 ratings.
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