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

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Reviews: 363 | Ratings: 515
Photo of Sammy
4.03/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1997 bottle that i was saving for a special occasion but had anyways. It had mellowed marvelously and was a magnificient aged barleywine. Reminded me of a mellow balanced cantillon open fermentation. A cloudy fruity appearance. Clearly barley and malt in taste.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.48/5  rDev -7%
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 StonedTrippin
3.83/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

sturdy barleywine from mad river. vintage 2010 listed at 10%abv. pours a slightly cloudy light molasses color with a faint orange tint. 2 inch off white head. smells of dried fruit and alcohol, sweet malts as well. flavor is huge malty base with gentle bittersweet fruits, plums maybe, and a major alcohol finish. even more pronounces as it warms, almost to the level of a sweet rubbing alcohol. a good winter sipper but a few of these might put you under. mouthfeel is full bodied with moderate carbonation and a booze burn. might age well...

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Photo of t0rin0
3.64/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

This was a 1998 bottle thats supposedly been kept in the fridge. I guess I should have tried a new one first to see what this beer started out as. The appearance was a murky brown with some red showing through. Had a nice amount of carbonation and produced a decent sized offwhite head. The murkiness is evidence of its age as it sounds like this beer started off pretty clear.

The smell was very inviting. It was very malty and a tiny bit hoppy in the nose. It smelled of a well aged barleywine. The taste was very interesting. Part of it consisted of that sweet malt/maple syrup taste that comes from age. But the other part tasted like A1 steak sauce. Now, there were 7 of us that did a barleywine tasting of about 15 different beers and everyone agreed that there was a weird steak sauce flavor in there. It actually didn't take too much away from the beer but it was very strange.

The body was relatively heavy and went down smooth. This was a drinkable beer after 10 years, so I'm guessing its drinkable when its new.

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Photo of Knapp85
3.53/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2007 bottle, drank in 2008. The beer poured out as a hazy brown color. The head was pretty nice looking and thick. The lacing was pretty good here also. The smell of the beer was pretty hoppy with some sweet barley in the mix. The taste of the beer was very hoppy all around and was sweet too. The mouthfeel was thick and syrupy, had some decent carbonation to it. Overall I found it to be a pretty good barley wine.

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Photo of metter98
3.85/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A: The beer is nearly opaque brownish amber in color. It poured with a half-finger high light beige head that died down and left wispy patterns of bubbles covering the surface and lacing running down the sides of the glass.
S: There are sweet aromas of caramel and toffee in the nose along with some notes of alcohol.
T: The taste is very similar to the smell and somewhat boozy with a moderate amount of malty sweetness. It also has notes of dark fruits in the flavors.
M: It feels relatively full-bodied on the palate with a light to moderate amount of carbonation and some hints of stickiness; the alcohol leaves warming sensations in your mouth.
O: The beer definitely tastes strong, but some of the alcohol is masked from the taste. It’s a good beer so slowly sip and savor on a cold winter night.

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Photo of brentk56
3.73/5  rDev -0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Pours a hazy copper color with a frothy head that displays good retention and a bit of splashy lacing

Smell: Toffee and leather notes; a touch of raisin

Taste: Opens with caramel and raisin flavors that are quickly subsumed by the piney hops; slightly medicinal and astringent on the finish

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and creamy with plenty of carbonation and some warmth in the gullet

Drinkability: A little too over the top on the bitterness; lacking a good malt backbone; definitely not cloying but the beer lacks the balance between the sweet and bitter flavors that define the best barleywines; aging a couple of years certainly helps this brew

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Photo of Phyl21ca
3.5/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Bottle: Poured a deep brown color ale with a nice foamy head with good retention and some lacing. Aroma of sweet malt with some dry and bitter hops also noticeable. Taste is a balance mix between some sweet malt and some bitter and citrusy hops. I personally like more malt heavy barley wine then hoppy barley wine so this was not necessarily for me. Body is about average with some good carbonation and no sign of alcohol.

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Photo of emerge077
4/5  rDev +7%
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 zeff80
3.35/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

A - Poured out a clear, orange color with reddish highlights. It had a small, off-white head that left a little soapy residue of lacing.

S - It smelled of sweet caramel and biscuity malts.

T - This really had a boozy taste. It overpowered the caramel and biscuity malt flavors. The was a strong bitter hop taste too.

M - It was crisp and sharp with a dry finish. A full-bodied barleywine.

D - This was a little hard to drink because it seemed to lack balance. It was too boozy for my tastes.

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

A - Scant half finger of off-white foam on top of an opaque, reddish brown body. The head settles quickly and leaves no lace.

S - Moderate aroma of generic pine hops backed by sugary malt notes of caramel, brown sugar, and molasses. Some slightly fruity yeast character of red apple and plum.

T - Sugary malt up front, lots of toffee and caramel, balanced by moderate hop bitterness and notes of pine. The hops become more pronounced and spicy towards the middle with notes of pepper, bitter greens, and mustard that contrast nicely with the sweet malt. Finishes with a good mix of strong malt and hop flavors that meld in the aftertaste to form an impression of lightly sweetened pipe tobacco and burned caramel.

M - Medium body, moderate carbonation, and a slightly sweet finish.

D - Once again Mad River Has done me right; I never hear anyone talking about this brewery, but they seem to make some pretty solid beers. The hops and malt are well balanced and manage to play off each other well in this beer. My only complaint is that it is perhaps a touch too sugary. I find nothing serious to complain about and the hop flavor in particular is quite complex and well done. I'd drink another one if I had one.

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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 NeroFiddled
4.03/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 2.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

When I reviewed this beer 3 years ago (the 2000 bottling) it was nice, but a bit aggressive; and I noted that I felt it would take a few years of aging. It was 2 years old then, it's 5 now, and I'm happy to say that I was correct in my analysis. It still looks like mud from all of the yeast, but it has mellowed a bit, and it still retains almost of the nice fruitiness, hops, and maltiness that it started with. Still, I'm not sure the results are worth the wait... maybe I should have given it 10 years!

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Photo of TheManiacalOne
4.15/5  rDev +11%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2007 release, acquired from mikesgroove courtesy of the I Want That IV BIF, so a big "Thank you" goes out to him. Poured from a 12oz bottle into a US tumbler pint glass.

A: The beer is a light reddish brown color, with a thin off-white head that fades quickly and leaves a thick lace on the glass.

S: The aroma is of caramelized malts, brown sugar, a good amount of hops, some citrus and a touch of alcohol.

T: The taste is very malty up front with flavors of caramel, brown sugar and citrus. A strong hops presence quickly follows along with a slight alcohol sting. Overall, it's pretty nicely balanced. The after-taste is slightly sweet.

M: Crisp and very smooth, medium body, medium carbonation, clean finish especially for a style that tends to be a little sticky.

D: Tasty, goes down very easily, not too filling, strong kick, very good representation of style, this is a nice high-gravity beer that is worth drinking for as long as you can until the ABV catches up with you.

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Photo of mactrail
3.65/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.25

Dark, dark red amber in the Crooked Line tulip. Beautiful bubblefest and a creamy off-white foam. Very swirly in the glass and spritzy in the mouth.

This has an unusual musty and woody flavor. It's big and crazy with malt and caramel. Deep, dark roasted grain with a smooth mouthfeel and a sweet taste. Tangy and hoppy after the kiss of malt. Bitterness creeps up along with the wet barrel sensation. Some brown sugar and scorched caramel, but a surprisingly more dry finish.

A wintry powerful brew that is a little off-putting at first, and a little hot at the end, but it's an interesting variation on Barleywines. Better than most of the Mad River stuff, in my opinion. From the 12 oz bottle purchased at Bottlecraft in San Diego.

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Photo of ChainGangGuy
3.54/5  rDev -5.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: Pours a clear, bright carnet body with a small, off-white head.

Smell: Whiskey-scented aroma with hints of sweet caramel, vanilla, spiced plums. Some perfumy peach notes.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy, yet also earthy and grainy, with flavors of caramel, stewed plums, and brown sugar. The sweetness is backed by plenty of hop bitterness and, again, hints of peaches which meld with the alcohol is provide a shot of peach schnapps. Ends with a dryish, woody finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Dense, sticky mouthfeel. Relatively low carbonation. Quite warming, alcoholwise.

Drinkability: Paired very well with the movie "The Lost Weekend".

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

2003 Harvest. Majestic magenta with a definite orange influence when backlit with sunshine. The pale caramel cap is on the small side, even after an aggressive pour. That isn't surprising, I suppose, in light of the ABV. A slurred collar of lace is the only glass decoration. Despite the lack of icing, this really is a good looking barleywine.

The nose is chock full of toffee and all manner of alcohol-soaked fruits. I don't mean alcohol as in raw ethanol, because that's barely evident. I mean cherries and figs soaking in tawny port and cherry brandy. One thing is certain when drinking (and smelling) a four year old barleywine, the various flavors (and aromas) will be nicely melded and will feature nothing but smooth edges.

My first sip tells me that was a good call. John Barleycorn is nothing if not well-mannered at this stage of the game. Why on earth would anyone drink a barleywine fresh when the years are so kind? Although it's hard to be sure, I think this vintage has some time on it yet.

I have no doubt that the hop attack has faded to a considerable extent, but I'd have to say English barleywine rather than American barleywine. The star of the show is a wonderfully rich maltiness that is reminiscent of brown bread slathered with thick layers of cherry and plum jam, then drizzled with melted caramel. A modest amount of black tea leaf bitterness keeps things from becoming too cloying.

The mouthfeel is light-medium for the style on first blush. However, as the beer approaches room temperature, it develops a stealth viscosity that is most enjoyable. It's slowly morphing from summer-weight silk to winter-weight. Sip or gulp... it's up to you.

John Barleycorn is a barleywine that doesn't get a whole lot of buzz. If I lived in Mad River's distribution area, I'd buy a sixer every year and would do a killer vertical tasting every now and again. This is good stuff that is disappearing remarkably quickly.

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Photo of mikesgroove
3.85/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a thick brown, though you can see some light through it, no head and a nice lace top it off. Smell is hopped for sure, but with a subtle sugary undertone, and a hint of alcohol too. Taste is not very strong at all. There is the natural piney hoppness you would expect from a barley wine, but not too strong, there is also a sugary, nuttiness about it as well. The alcohol is there, and that keeps this a sipper. It is actually nicely carbonated, and not harsh going down, has the warm feeling on the way. Overall this was a good brew, I would not mind having another and certainly kept me warm this evening.

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Photo of russpowell
4.09/5  rDev +9.4%
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 Slatetank
3.71/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

A 2011 bottle purchased from Half Time, enjoyed chilled from a snifter.

The color is like caramel with a translucent clarity and thin beige cap which rises and settles to a ring with small beading and minimal lace. The smell has a caramel and dried fruit sweetness in the aroma with light stone fruit scent from the yeast. The feel is semi-dry with light sweetness and toasted malt in the texture with moderately high alcohol influence and moderate bitterness and and drying finish.

The taste is slightly caramel up front with a toasted and woody malt flavor with some light spice and dried fruit presence in the yeast profile. The taste has a mild hop accent which contributes to the bitterness in the taste which balances the malt sweetness well, but it also propels the alcohol in the taste forward on the palate adding to the perceived spiciness and warming accent in the semi-dry finish. The overall Impression is that this is a cellar worthy barleywine. I consider it pretty drinkable for the style since it is not intensely sweet, but it does have a strong alcohol influence which detracts slighlty.

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Photo of mdfb79
3.88/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From 12/18/12 notes. Had this on tap at Beer Authority in NYC.

a - Pours a brown amber color with two inches of fluffy off white head and moderate carbonation evident.

s - Smells of chocolate, roasted malts, dark fruits, toasted malts, and some sugar. A little sweet but a ton of chocolate. Some light alcohol.

t - Tastes of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roasted malts, toasted malts, toffee, caramel malts, burnt malts, light dark fruits. Taste again has a ton of chocolate, even more than the nose. The caramel is nice too; better than the nose.

m - Medium body and low to moderate carbonation. Body is pretty smooth, with no real alcohol coming through in the taste or mouthfeel at all.

o - Overall a pretty good barleywine, though different than most because it has a ton of chocolate and roasted malts. Taste is very good with nice caramel as well, and no real alcohol heat. Would like to have it again sometime.

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Photo of Huhzubendah
4.1/5  rDev +9.6%
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.

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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 PA-Michigander
4/5  rDev +7%
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.

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Photo of tdm168
4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

A - dark amber with a thin white lacing that fades rather quickly; there are some hops floating in the rather dense liquid

S - sugary, bready, cake batter, citrusy hop aromas

T - caramel, bread, candy sugar, birthday cake, citrus, bitter finish

M - full bodied, warm, well carbonated

This is a really nice, balanced barleywine. It's incredibly malty and sweet, but the hops are also intense and balance the flavor. The ABV is well hidden adding only some warmth to the mouthfeel. For 11% this is dangerously drinkable. I really enjoyed this one. I will definitely pick it up again.

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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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