John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale | Mad River Brewing Company

517 Ratings
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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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Ratings: 517 |  Reviews: 364
Photo of mjl21
3.85/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle poured into a snifter. Comes in at 9.1%. 2008 harvest version.

A-Pours a hazy brown with red highlights when placed in front of a light. Has a one finger tan head that goes to a decent ring surrounding some film. Lots of yeast sediment is visible.

S-Smells a lot like a WC DIPA that has been aged. There are faded citrus hops and lots of malt that is both biscuity and sweet. As it warms the citrus hops definitely fade.

T-A lot like it smells. Sweet caramael, brown sugar, and toffee notes are combined with some citrus flavor. The sweet malt notes eventually dominate the flavor. Not a lot of bitterness from the hops.

M-Not super thick. Has nice carbonation and it is not overly sticky.

D-The abv is very well hidden. One bottle in a session is enough.

An interesting take on a barleywine. More citrusy than I am used to having. Would like to try one with some age.

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Photo of charlesw
3.54/5  rDev -5.3%
look: 2 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Light amber with low head. Come on - give us a little more color and a bit more head. Smells like a decent I2PA - northwest hops and a touch of caramel. Oh my. That is absolutely crazy in the mouth. Not a barleywine, no. Crazy. Good. Really good. Close. But no. Not barleywine. Alas - the problem of having strict rating systems! And, hey, organic? Man, these guys rock! It's interesting and crazy and crazy... Like an I2PA, really, only with a little more body and a little more b'wine sweetness - some oxidized extract beer, some bubblegum (t-58 - bleh!), a hint of orange and bitter (this is a 2007 consumed in 2009 - note: do not age john barleycorn!). Crazy. I wonder... You know... This must be radically different, radically fruity, when fresh. All the more like an I2PA (and not like a barleywine) but much better to drink...

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Photo of clayrock81
3.58/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Bought a bottle to go at a bar and received the 2007 edition - how is that still lying around?
Poured into a snifter for a dark, murky ruby tinted brown with a minimal tan head. Had a strong, alkie smell with some notes of yeast, barley, syrupy malts - smell is a little runny and overpowering. Dry, hot taste upfront due to large ABV poking through but after initial taste there is a semi-sweetness to this beer that lets it go down smooth. Caramel, dark chocolate, coffee and roasted malts all seem to be tucked in there and the beer is slightly sticky. Finishes dry, like smokey or bourbonesque dry, but that is more to the alcohol leaking through than hop bitterness or dry malts. Not a bad beer to sip on at all but not the most polished barleywine out there.

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Photo of benmiliron
3.82/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

Paid $4 for a 12 oz bottle in Cincy. Pours a pretty brick red, no head to speak of. Brilliantly clear. Smells strongly of sugary malt, alcohol, hops are present but not overly floral, just there. Taste is strong, classic barleywine. Alcohol, mild carbonation, raisins, maybe a touch of kerosene or something similar. Alcohol is HOT at the end.

Not something I'd rush out and try again, but a pretty good barleywine. This would be great on a cold winter night.

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Photo of UA8
4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A- Pours a ruby/copper with a one finger off white head which fades somewhat quickly.

S- I'm not sure if it was meant to be this way but the nose echoes the name It smells of a grain mill filled with drying barley and corn. herbal hops running into high alcohol on the backdrop. Extra points for the unique scent.

T- Leads with grain notes which actually work very well, midpalate expands the grain notes with a move towards some malt sweetness, finishes bitter sweet with the sweetness mingling with a herbal/ floral hop note.

M- Medium high viscosity and low carbonation.

D- I have to say this barleywine is a refreshingly different take on the style. The flavors feel very rural and country (redundant I know). Once again not sure if this was intended based on the name but if it was it was executed masterfully.

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Photo of kaseydad
4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Poured a 2008 bottle into a snifter and was met with a small head (as a BW should) and nice retention on the head.

Sticky sweet aroma with a hoppiness present and brown sugar in the mix. Good stuff.

Excellent taste. Hoppy and woody with thoughts of brown sugar and bubble gum.

A very smooth BW with a velvet texture and a somewhat good drinkability for being a 9.1% beer.

I highly recommend this Barley Wine though it is crucial to let it warm to get all that's going for this awesome beer.

Definitely my favorite from Mad River.

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Photo of Tone
4.12/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a cloudy brown/amber color with lighter orange color along the bottom of the glass. One inch head of a pale tan color. Great retention and great lacing. Smells of alcohol, strong hops, some sweet malt, and some fruit (raisin or plum). Fits the style of an American Barleywine. Mouth feel is smooth and thick with an average carbonation level. Also, there is a bitterness associated with this brew from the combination of high alcohol and hops. Tastes of hops up front, then alcohol, some sweet malt in the background, a hint of roasted malt, the alcohol reappears in the finish.

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Photo of therivler1
3.63/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours a hazy dark amber with a modest head that stuck around for a little while. The smell of malts is prevalent.

First sip did not give a warming feeling like other barleywines. However, it tastes very good, and I immediately go back for another. Nice balance.

One of these goes back easy. Multiple might be an issue.

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

Appearance- Hazy copper with light cream head. Head recedes rather quickly, but lacing sticks in tasty-looking sheets.

Smell- Fragrant, floral hops hit first, followed shortly by a sweet maltiness. Sweet bread and light fruits.

Taste- Excellent balance of sweet, bready malt and strong, fruity hops. Clean finish.

Mouthfeel- Sticky texture. medium-full body.

Drinkability- If not for the ABV, the balance this beer presents would make it a decent session beer.

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Photo of moosington
3.38/5  rDev -9.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2008 edition into a Duvel tulip.

Pours a rich dark reddish amber with a cream colored one finger head that fades to a barely there ring.

Smell of sweet caramel and toffee, maybe just a whiff of hops. Alcohol is definitely present in the nose. Aroma wasn't aggressive enough for me.

Taste of malty toffee and caramel that is quickly followed by a pretty nice even hop bitterness. Even though I smelled the alcohol, it was actually pretty well hidden. Flavor better than aroma let on, but still not great.

I let this one warm a bit, and I think that helped the mouthfeel. Pretty robust, nice amount of effervescent carbonation and a lingering bitterness.

Drinkability is pretty good for the style, a tad more bitter than I'm used to for a barley wine, but still good.

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Photo of Rippeddisc
3.25/5  rDev -13.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Puhi Cigar Store has a few surprising brews. Picked this up a couple of weeks ago.

A - dark burgundy, finger's head that dissapates, no linger

s - biscuity, sweet with apricot a bit on the nose? can get a hint of the alcohol

t - malts with the sweet hop finish. bit of tang from the alc. nothing too special w/ mouthfeel.

d - middle of the road. w/ 9.6% it's a good deal for a buzz.

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Photo of rasta16ry
3.83/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured this 2007 12 ounce into a chalice on a nice Sunday night. The smell is nothing to really rave about, but I like to dark look and the pretty nice head that the beer had on it. In my dim house light it looks almost amber, and very potent.

Upon first sip it was not really as good as I hoped it would be, but the more I drink it the more I get out of it. There is some earthy bitterness to it, but I also get a lot of caramel and other types of sweetness. This beer definitely hides the alcohol level well. I get some yeast-type taste out of this beer too, and it really doesn't taste all that much like a barleywine to me until it finishes with that sort of twangy bitterness.

Despite what others have said I think this is a good beer, and I'd like to try a vintage on tap, a nice warm cask maybe. I would have it if I saw it at a bar I usually go to, one that didn't have much that I haven't tried. That was overly complicated, but is really for my own benefit for when I go back and read this next year when I try my other John Barleycorn from this batch. In the words of Adrian Belew - "I LIKE IT".

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Photo of Raymond69
3.88/5  rDev +3.7%
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 flexabull
3.74/5  rDev 0%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1998 vintage courtesy of warriorsoul, thanks again!

Pour a dark muddy color with a faint head. Doesn't look like there is much carbonation left in this one.

Aromas are nice, really oaky, dates, anise, candies, and light spices.

Taste is light, this beer is faded quite a bit, but still not bad at all. Light stewed fruits and light booze. Some biscuits, caramel, and oak. Finish is bright, with soft carbonation and easy alcohol.

Mouthfeel is good. Soft with low carbonation.

This beer is past it's prime, but definitely not bad. It's thin, and light on the flavors, but it still has some redeeming qualities. Definitely the oldest beer I have ever tasted, and I am glad I got to try it.

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Photo of bbothen
3.37/5  rDev -9.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2008 vintage. 12oz bottle into a snifter.

Pours out a deep ruby red/copper color with big, thick, & frothy 2 + finger deep tan colored head. Looks great.

Sweet caramelized malts, some fruitiness, some otehr faint aromas of hops, wood. All subdued. Gotta look for em.

What the aroma lacked, the taste doesn't. Big caramel sweetness, nice piney bitterness, fruitness, raisin, fig, nutty, slight booziness. Tasty barleywine here.

Thick, slick, medium, nicely carbonated, well balanced.

The ABV is well hidded, and this is a highly drinkable barleywine IMO. Could do a few easily.

Peaks & valleys here. The look was great, the aroma not so great, and from there all was good. Will gladly have again, but won't seek it out.

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Photo of PatrickJR
3.11/5  rDev -16.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into oversized snifter.

A - Ruby-brown with some light coming through on the edges. Great looking 3 fingered tan head rises and holds up fairly well. Some lacing also.

S - Expected sweet aromas. Subdued but full range of caramel, toffee, brown sugar, and molasses. Nothing remarkable, but pleasant.

T - Wow; I've been steadily taking sips as this brew has warmed from refrigerator temperature to near room temperature and it still remains almost tasteless. Extremely mild brown sugar taste pulls through with a moderate sweetness. Try as I might, I can't really pull anything else out of John Barleycorn. An earthy, slightly leafy hop character pulls through late palate followed by a gentle nudge of alcohol leaving a warming, bittersweet flavor in the aftertaste. It's not bad, but for the style there should be A LOT going on here and there just isn't.

M - Mouthfeel is as good as any barleywine I've had. Nice thick body with a certain creaminess and low carbonation. Smooth and on point.

D - John Barleycorn is certainly easy to drink because despite the flaws the alcohol is well hidden and the strong flavors aren't present. However when I think of a barleywine I think of a long slow drink to sip and savor and I find myself gulping this stuff down to try and find what I'm missing. How Mad River managed to brew a barleywine that has almost zero taste is beyond me.

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Photo of JohnGalt1
3.57/5  rDev -4.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Been screwing around with Brenda all night tonight.. she's gone to bed.. and I picked this one out as a nightcap.. 2008 12 oz that I picked up at Belmont Station back in November.. enjoyed tonight out of my Chimay goblet... the cellar clearing project continues!

1/4" head was a little disappointing... descent lace atop a slightly hazy deep amber brew....

Nose is more sweet than malty.. alcohol is fairly present with not alot of hoppiness... the hops are there but are restrained and mildly citric... honestly reminds me a bunch of fresh Old Stock.. caramel and sweet yet toasty malts.

Wow! I would have never guessed this as an American BW... it seriously needs to be put in a different category.. a ton of caramel and barely enough bitterness (where are the hops midpalate??) combines with a ton of yeasty esters.. American hops are present but seem alot like an afterthought.. thick and long finish shows toasted malts... a ton of munich would be my guess.. raisin and more caramel show as it warms.. really this is a huge mashup of English BW and Old Ale flavors that never even remotely finds a direction.. the malts almost verge on chocolate territory.. the body is waaay too thick for this ABV.. carbonation is low... as it warms.. the hoppiness becomes more of a grassy element that takes even more away from the overall brew...

Despite my above negatives... I would buy at least a few of these every year... but I would never touch them without at least a couple of years in the cellar.. it shows a ton of promise, but "fresh", not really inviting or special.

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Photo of htomsirveaux
3.82/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

12 oz. bottle tried 6 Jan 2009.

This was the 2007 edition, had been in the DBF for about 10 months (purchased at Ledgers).

Poured in a 0.3 L Alstead Alt becker. Foamy tight large head. Medium carbonation. Clear bright copper color. Smells of ethanol, soap, sweet caramel, resin, some butterscotch and bourbon. Starts with lots of resin, oakiness, bourbon and rum. Bittersweet, resiny and ethanol throughout, warming. Some quinine noticeable towards finish. Raisins and dates in the finish and aftertaste. Medium sticky body.

Not sure how this was fresh but with some age it is quite tasty.

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Photo of mynie
3.32/5  rDev -11.2%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4

Served like all other good barleywines: piss warm, out of a chalice.

Very little head. No head, actually. I don't expect all that much out of a 9.5% ABV, but come on a little bit would be nice. This looks flat and lifeless, like iced tea.

Smells harshly alcoholic, syrupy, with a disappointing lack of hoppy hops. I mean, there's hops, but they're not really that interesting, so far as hops are concerned.

Tastes as bland as it smells, and that's really remarkable considering the massive amount of malt and alcohol in this thing. Very syrupy, lightly woody, moving into a more traditional barley wineish malty middle, ending on smooth alcohol and light hops.

Talk about a let down. Who ever heard of a bland barley wine?

EDIT, 10 minutes later:

I resisted pouring this down the drain and I have started to like it. I think I approached it with a very strong picture of what a barley wine should be, and when it didn't meet my narrow expectations I got angry and stomped around like a child. This more resembles an old ale than what I'm used to in a B.W. Its smoothness and drinkability are quite remarkable, considering its high ABV. It's body is a bit thin, though, and it's still not really adventurous enough for my liking.

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Photo of maximum12
3/5  rDev -19.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Hmmm. I'm a sucker for barleywines, so seeing this, with the 2007 label on it, made me an easy mark. Into the mixed sixer it goes.

Based on the other reviews, the 2007 appears to have undergone some changes. This isn't see-through in any sense of the world, but a dirty, opaque reddish-orange. Nose is still moderately warm even after sitting, lots of alcohol (10.8% on the pleasantly minimalist label).

Taste is dominated by a sweetness that is just starting to turn. Being a twist top, & resting for a year-plus in a store stacked high with brew, who knows the troubles it's seen. It's still drinkable, but there's a mustiness underlying the sweet alcohol that's not appealing at all.

I've had this happen on a few beers in the past few weeks, the taste of malt aging past its shelf life.

Drinkability, even dismissing the must, isn't high. This is one-and-out for me. I'd like to see what one of these is like fresh, but after one year, it's already showing its age, not a good sign for a high ABV barleywine.

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Photo of coldmeat23
4.54/5  rDev +21.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

GLASS: Snifter
TEMP: Cellared @ approx 50 degrees
Celebrating the Harvest 2007 (It says on label)

Pours a deep copper color with a beautiful, deep ruby tint. Looks very nice, when held in front of a light source. About one-finger of loose foam forms on top, then leaves, just almost as quickly. Lacing is thin and light, but still present.

This smells like a glass of delicious malty goodness, with a touch of a boozy hint. The maltiness smells like a brewery. You know, when you're on a tour, and you come to the room where they add the malted grains, and they just added them an hour to two ago. You know that huge, powerful, delicious smell? This beer smells like that.
There is also some layers of caramel and toffee, in there. Nice hints of dark fruits.
This could be my favorite smelling barleywine, ever.

Oh, god, that's pretty damn tasty stuff. Such a plain looking bottle, hiding something this wonderful inside. Yumm!
Just a nice, big-sized, malt-bomb. Not over-the-top, either. Thoroughly smooth.
Light notes of dark fruits mingle with notes of caramel and toffee. Slight hints of vanilla. Very mild kiss of hops, right at the end. You almost miss it. All over it, lies a nice, smooth, butterey sweetness, with a hint of spice.

Solid medium body. I wish it was a tad bit more full, and this one would be damn near perfect, for me. Nice, smooth and creamy.

This is so highly drinkable, to me. I could drink this in place of water, for an extended time, I think. Granted, I might not get much done in that time period, but I'd be happy. And I'd enjoy every drop of it.

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

12oz bottle into 8oz snifter. 2008.

The appearance of this beer after the head settles is almost like a dark red wine - violet with ruby highlights, probably slightly darker than your average red wine. The head was tan and slightly fizzy. It didn't start out with much and eventually turned into a thin rim.

Some sweet sugary fruit aromas are upfront, setting in front of some sharp and spicy hops.

The hops start off with a twangy grapefruit flavor, along with a little bit of a toasty grain. Another flavor, almost like raisin, is in the middle. Full bodied.

A decent enough Barleywine, though not my favorite. Just something about it that didn't suit me. Sort of a plastic-like taste. Worth a try.

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Photo of Monkeyknife
3.65/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from the bottle a dark red caramel color with a thin wispy beige head.

Bright aroma of dark ripe fruit, sweet caramel malts, vanilla, and booze.

The taste totally matches the aroma. Big and boozy with a dark fruity, caramel malt thing going on. Finishes with a light taste of vanilla.

Medium bodied with a moderate carbonation.

A decent drinking barleywine but it seemed a bit hot. Some aging would probably serve well with this one.

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Photo of Traquairlover
4.07/5  rDev +8.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2008 Harvest, 12 oz bottle poured into a tulip.

A = Clear red oak with one inch orange tan head that resolves into thin consistent layer of foam on surface.

S = Quite a bit of floral, citrus hops, but still has a good clean malt profile of syrup and fresh baked whole wheat bread. Lacks the almost plastic smell that many American barleywines seem to have.

T = Good strong flavors of chocolate malt balls, light oak, baked whole wheat muffins, but all balanced by a good strong bitterness that really comes alive mid-palate and lingers in a long bittersweet finish.

M = Medium-heavy body with good mouthcoating and great foam carbonation. The alcohol is still a little too prevalent, but that probably diminishes over time.

D = A nice drinking American barleywine, but at the same time quite apparently strong in the mouthfeel and alcohol.

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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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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
3.74 out of 5 based on 517 ratings.
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