John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale | Mad River Brewing Company

364 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: 364 | Ratings: 517
Photo of BarryMFBurton
3.81/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

I’ve been told that Mad River Brewing is the California beer scene’s best kept secret – with a moniker like that, deciding whether to buy a bottle of their barleywine wasn’t much of a thought. So here’s to hidden gems (hopefully)!

Brewed about two years before the date of this tasting (it is labeled as “John Barleycorn 2010 Barleywine” on the label).

A: This barleywine pours a bit brown, but with an overall burnt orange color. There isn’t a lot of head here, showing just a tiny hint of tan oiliness suspended over the body for just a second. Retention is nothing, lacing is dark and micro-bubbled; an odd-looking brew, with quite a greasy profile.

S: Impressively aromatic: robust caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate, and Scotch scents. It’s boozy, rich, and unabashedly bold. Malt is thick with cherry, toffee, maple syrup, oak, and mocha; an excellent presentation for the style. I love the richness of this beer, especially as it’s mixed with a nice dark bitterness – roasts, pine, and an earthy astringency. It’s old ale mixed spicy alcohol, a combination I adore.

T: This palate is all about power: roasted barley, toasted chocolate malt, salted caramel, bourbon, cherry cordial, and crusty bread. It comes forward with a dry, darkly acidic flavor, remaining salty on the tongue with an overarching lemon, piney, chocolate-covered strawberry tartness. Earthy tastes of wood, mild coffee, leather, and molasses; it’s an enjoyable mix of musky, dark complexity. The aftertaste is bitter syrup, mouthcoating in its sugariness, but with enough astringent capability to call this finish resiny.

M: As carbonated as the head suggested, just a hint of bubble peeking out from beneath the oily body. Mouthcoating in its palate, though it still has a buoyant dryness to it.

O: This beer is much more than admirable – it’s fantastic. What a great introduction to Mad River. Glad to have multiple different bottles in the fridge!

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Photo of Greywulfken
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Just a quick heads-up: the beer I drank has the label shown on this website for the "bourbon-barrel aged" barley wine, but nothing on the label indicates this is the case - but my bottle's abv is 10.0, which matches neither the bourbon barrel aged barleywine nor the "standard" barleywine brewed by Mad River Brewing. My belief is that I had their main barleywine style beer, and since it had no notes of bourbon in smell or taste, I'll have to assume that they changed the label from the one currently shown, and that the abv has changed as well. My bottle is a 2010 bottling date.

A: super dark - looks black, but held up to the light is a deep brown, head is lost to lace

S: sweet malts, some coffee/toffee w/ caramel

T: must confess, this is my 3rd barleywine in a row, and the only one that fully warmed to room temp before drinking - very delicious: notes of malt, toffee, caramel, and some distant hops

M: soft, slightly syrupy, slightly sticky, but (beware) infinitely drinkable

O: maybe I'm a barleywine guy - third tonight - started with the Uinta Anniversary Barleywine, then tried a Harpoon Leviathan Barleywine, and now this. There is no standout in this trio - they are all excellent and I would drink them all again and again - but noticed that the John Barleycorn was the sweetest of the 3, but unfortunately, as stated, it was also allowed to warm to room temp before beginning to drink, so this may have had an impact on sweetness and taste. My "3-strong-beers-in" perspective: if you like or are curious about this style of beer, you have nothing to lose by trying any or all of these beers. Clearly, Mad River has made an excellent beer, and I can easily recommend it.

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

Poured into a Gulden Draak tulip. Pours a dark red red amber with ruby undertones. Thin layer of foam, but what is there is persistent. Muted aroma of grassy and slight caramel malt. Dry and caramel malt, molasses with some nut elements. Medium, creamy bodied. This is still a quite unique flavored barleywine. This "2009 cellar reserve" bottle is not as dominated by the dry grass malty flavor of the last bottle I tried, but that element is still present. The flavor is somewhat one dimensional, but still intriguing. A somewhat eccentric take on a barleywine and worth sampling every year or so.

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

John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Mad River Brewing Company

2009 Vintage Bottle

Pours a caramel color with little head, slightly hazy, sticky looking liquid. Aroma of vanilla, caramel, sugar, and alcohol. Smells like a barleywine of moderate intensity. In the taste, sweet toffee, caramel, maple syrup, dates, brown sugar and vanilla. Some wood flavor, possibly from the hops, and lots of sweetness and fruityness. Alcohol is present but has mellowed over time. Mouthfeel is that of a thick medium bodied, syrupy, decently carbonated brew. Overall, a nice sipper that really has gotten better with age.

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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 barczar
3.92/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2010 vintage.

Pours a hazy amber color with a dense half inch tan head that dissipates slowly, leaving little lace.

Caramel malt and pine resiny hops lead the aroma, with a decidedly herbal hop presence. Dark fruits, plums, figs, and alcohol join the party, accompanied by light booze and toasty malt.

Toasted bready malt, caramel, brown sugar open the flavor profile, with dark cherries, raisin, and a fairly strong alcohol taste hitting mid palate. The finish is nicely bitter. Grapefruit and a bit of resin surface as it warms, and the hop character becomes more pronounced.

Body is moderately heavy with medium low carbonation. An alcoholic warmth finishes the mouthfeel.

I expected a touch more hop character in the aroma, but a pretty good beer overall. It's a bit hot, but wouldn't age it too long or the hop flavor could be lost, resulting in an overly sweet brew.

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Photo of Ungertaker
3.05/5  rDev -18.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

12oz bottle, vintage 2010, poured into a Deschutes snifter.

A- Acorn brown with little light penetration and a thin, off-white head that leaves a fast-receding lacing.

S- caramel, raisins, alcohol, bread

T- strikingly similar to the aroma. Although, the alcohol comes through with an astringency that comes close to complete dominance.

M- a great balance between medium to thick consistency and medium carbonation.

O- aside from the astringency, this was a decent beer. Take that away, and this would be a good beer. I received this in a trade. I can't say that I would ever buy it because there are just too many better barleywines out there.

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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 thagr81us
3.5/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Served from tap into a sampler tumbler. Poured a brownish orange with a half finger off-white head that subsided to a minimal amount slowly. Maintained phenomenal lacing throughout the glass. The aroma was comprised of sweet malt, caramel, spices, earth, and subtle alcohol. The flavor was of sweet malt, earth, subtle alcohol, and caramel. It had a medium feel on the palate with mild carbonation. Overall this was a decent brew. There was nothing on this one that really made it stand out from other Barleywines I have tasted in the past. All of the usual Barleywine flavors were present, but it just wasn’t complex enough to put this one into another league for me. Worth trying if you get the chance or are a big fan of Barleywines.

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Photo of RexF
4.72/5  rDev +26.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Barleywine is normally not my thing, but I found myself drinking a Barleycorn and I have to say it was totally delightful.

A friend ordered two after dinner and it was a perfect end to a big meal of steak and grease.

I've never ordered after dinner beers for the purpose of being a stomach settler, but John Barleycorn was exactly that and now I want to have one again.

Are all barley wines this good? I don't think so,

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Photo of kbutler1
3.18/5  rDev -15%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Bottle. 2010 vintage. Pours a dark copper color with a light tan head that collars around the glass. Sweet aroma of caramel, slight toffee, vanilla, and some citrus notes. The aroma is nice. Medium mouthfeel but bordering on a little light. Slight roast, caramel, some booze, and a lingering bitterness. Leaves a little orange like sweetness on the lips. As it warms it has a slight soapy note to it.

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Photo of hdelavega
3.62/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Marked harvest 2007
Poured to my Kuhnhenn snifter.
Pours a murky opaque brown that yielded about a quarter inch of off-white head.
The nose is of rasion, a bit of plum, minimal booze, burnt candy sugar, and some caramel malt.
Fairly sweet flavors, I get more rasion, some light spiced rum flavors, some fleshy fruit, vanilla.
Very light body, very low carbonation, leaves a powdery like coating, very interesting.
Overall, I feel this barleywine may be one that is best enjoyed fresh, it does have some very nice characteristics but the flavors seemed a bit muted and the mouthfeel was not what I suspected.

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Photo of Beerdregs
3.77/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Somewhat cloudy dark brown color with minimal head that did not stay around very long.

S: Raisins, plums and dark malts in the nose. Can perceive a slight alc. aroma.

T: Taste is much like the aroma. Dark, overripe dried fruit taste with heavy sweetness which is cut by the alc. bite.

M: Sticky/sweet mouthfeel with ample carbonation which is suprising since there is so little head.

O: Not very high on my list for barleywines. Just too little going here compared to other brewers out there. Interestingly the aroma is better than the taste of this beer.

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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 ChadQuest
3.92/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2010 vintage
Pour is a dark amber, like the color of the resin that mosquito is trapped in for jurassic park, but with a generous head at the top. creamy and tan.
The aroma is one that draws me in, a very nice balance of sweet caramel and some alcohol heat which is a positive for my palate.
This is the type of American Barleywine i enjoy, hops that are faded but show lightly, a lot of caramel, and a generous helping of alcohol warmth. I know most people would want to tame it, but this is what i relish.

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

2007 Vintage poured into a Duvel tulip.

A: 1 finger lace, dissipates to outer ring, nice clusters on the swirl.

S: big malts, sweet, mild hops

T: caramel/toffee roasted malt

M: Solid carbonation, perfect in a lot of ways in regards to mouthfeel for a BW.

O: Maybe it's just me, but the vintages of this BW are solid...never had it fresh but had several '07 & '08 and at the price point this is a good BW for not being barrel aged...solid clean BW.

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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 beerandcycling88
3.47/5  rDev -7.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a snifter. 2009 vintage.

A Pours a copper color with little head.

S Very sweet and fruity with a lot of raisin and some sherry like notes.

T Like the nose, very fruity with raisins and sherry. Also a bit of caramel and a lot of alcohol.

M Thick and syrupy with a warming finish from the alcohol.

Overall this is a pretty good barleywine but nothing special. Worth drinking if you see it, but you don't need to go out of your way to find it.

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Photo of Gobzilla
3.75/5  rDev +0.3%
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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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 colforbin73
3.42/5  rDev -8.6%
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 bamadog
3.58/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Review is from notes taken on 12/9/2011 and poured from the bottle to a pint glass.

Appearance: pour comes looking a little chewy, so that's promising; color is a dark coppery color with a deep mahogany core -- looks like a dark iced tea; starts with a one finger tan head with decent retention and that fades to a thin and uneven cap; body is murky/cloudy; a few spots and strands of lacing are left behind, but not really a lot.

Smell: Not as strong as I thought it would be, but it smells alright -- a fair amount of piney/citric bitter hops blend with a super sweet caramel maltiness with just a touch of spiciness; I actually think it smells a bit more like an Old Ale or more of a British style Barleywine.

Taste: Not too bad, and if I had to guess, I feel that the average of B at this time is pretty much spot on for this beer. A little more hoppy in the mouth than the nose (but just a bit) and the hops are bitter and have a touch of citrus to them (I'm reminded of orange peel); maltiness is big and offers a nice balancing aspect, and I feel it comes through as the dominant flavor in the end; touch of alcohol, but coming in a 11%, I actually thought it would be a little boozier.

Mouthfeel: Body is medium weight, and the body is creamy with soft carbonation that brings a little bit of life -- quite fitting of the style; a moist stickiness is left all over the roof of the mouth and that holds on to the bitterness and allows it to linger into the aftertaste; belly is left a little warm from the ABV.

Overall: Not bad, and it's around all the time, so I think if I were in the mood and didn't want to pop for a more expensive version, I could go back to it.

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