Old Backus Barleywine
Free State Brewing Co.

Old Backus BarleywineOld Backus Barleywine
Write a Review
Beer Geek Stats: | Print Shelf Talker
Barleywine - American
Ranked #18
Ranked #1,748
4.24 | pDev: 10.61%
Free State Brewing Co.
Kansas, United States
Old Backus BarleywineOld Backus Barleywine
Notes: Bronze Medal Winner, 1997 World Beer Championships - Barleywines.

Old Backus contains just over 2,000 pounds of malt and 55 pounds of hops. The original gravity is 25.6 P/1092 which contributes to an alcohol content of 10.5% by volume. This is a tremendously complex beer that should be savoured slowly and in moderation. It will continue to change with age as it is served unfiltered.

This barleywine is named after Richard Backus, an old friend to the Brewery.
Reviews: 97 | Ratings: 259 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of bret27
bret27 from California

4.59/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

2016 bottle courtesy of JohnnyHops.
~4 yrs old at this point.
L: mahogany brown. Min/mod light tan head.
S: raisins/dates, earthy, fruity, vanilla.
T: dates, caramel, vanilla, multiple fruits, maybe some citrus flavor.
F: medium, slick, low carbonation.
Overall: Great example of the style.

Sep 30, 2020
Photo of MissouriMule
MissouriMule from Missouri

4.73/5  rDev +11.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

Plum and raisin sweetness are balanced nicely by spice and bitterness from the hops. Carbonation is perfect for the genre. The fuller body and higher alcohol content distinguish it from its West Coast cousin, Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn. That said, given the more pronounced bitterness of Old Foghorn (at least in the 8.2% ABV version to which comparison is made), I think both qualify as British Barleywines.

Drink this if you want more body and less bitterness. For more nuance and bitterness, Old Foghorn’s lower ABV iterations May be a better bet.

Jan 16, 2020
Photo of Jugs_McGhee
Jugs_McGhee from Louisiana

2.85/5  rDev -32.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

Bottle as part of a 4 pack. Currently the #1 beer in Kansas:

Syrupy amber malts dominate. Hints of caramel. Ample malty sweetness...it's a bit too sweet for my tastes.

No overt hop notes or off-notes. Not quite dialed-in balance-wise.

Mouthfeel is a bit gooey, certainly thick & full-bodied, and a biteen chewy. Smooth and wet otherwise. Unrefreshing but not boozy.

I don't find it to be a very great barleywine even compared to your typical always-on-the-shelf barleywines from other states. Best beer in Kansas? Not in my book...but even if it were, respectfully - we're still talking about Kansas.


Nov 14, 2018
Photo of StonedTrippin
StonedTrippin from Colorado

3.93/5  rDev -7.3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2015 bottle has held up really well. this is a nice barleywine, not overly complex, not barrel aged, not trying to do too much, just a good old fashioned strong ale that is perfect for the late fall and early winter stages of the year that we are in now. deep reddish amber color, frothy tan headed, bubbly for the style and its age. the aroma has a little wet cardboard oxidation, but i always think that flatters a barleywine. the hops have held up, or else this was insanely hoppy when it was fresh, it still has a nice piney and orange peel character to the aroma, and plenty of bitterness as well. caramelized and long boiled grain sugars, a light maple or brown sugar note, and a warming booze nose. the flavor is the same, but its just so well integrated all of it, the hops are not just in the finish but all the way through, and the malts are rich without ever being sugary to me. the age has helped this mellow i would think. its warming but not hot on the alcohol and has a long bready finish, very much a barleywine of the old school, but but a beer i really enjoyed in this seasonal context. i hope to be able to try it fresh sometime...

Dec 05, 2017
Photo of HopsAreDaMan
HopsAreDaMan from Missouri

4.1/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

(Written Aug 4th, 2015) 12OZ bottle, 2014. Not much carbonation when opened; poured with a very light head, but I really like the color of the head: light caramel; beer somewhat cloudy at first, then cleared out to a very nice caramel color; strong aroma of bread; taste is heavy sweetness (But not cloying), medium bitterness, and some sourness; soft carbonation, sticky, medium body. Overall, I like it, but perhaps not as good as some other barley wines I have had? I look forward to seeing how this will age.

Jun 13, 2017
Photo of JohnnyHopps
JohnnyHopps from Indiana

4.52/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance - The beer poured a deep copper color with a bright white head.

Smell - The nose radiated sweet breads and malts.

Taste - At the front, I detect sweet caramel, bread, amaretto, fruit leather, and ginger The overall profile is well-balanced as it not overly sweet and no taste profile dominates. The experience is completed with a pleasant warming sensation

Mouthfeel - Low carbonation and a syrupy texture let this linger.

Overall - For the style, this is near perfect.

May 30, 2017
Photo of stephens101
stephens101 from Oklahoma

3.7/5  rDev -12.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

Reddish-brown with a bubbly tan froth. Smells of gum and cherry syrup. Tastes of plum, black grape, burnt sugar and pine. Has a sickly sweet aftertaste. Syrupy and even medicinal in spots. Medium in body with a touch of alcohol warmth.

I get the history of this one, and have nothing but respect, but it's really not working on any level for me, and ain't nobody got time for that these days.

Sep 21, 2016
Photo of hoptheology
hoptheology from South Dakota

3.86/5  rDev -9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Old Backus pours a copper-orange mixture with a smallish 2 finger head. Opacity is about 70%.

Aromas start to lift as the glass is agitated, I'm getting a lot of grape skins both black and globe. Resinous and viney qualities are very present, as is a large body of toffee and caramel malts. Some fresher aromas are released as the snifter is agitated further bringing forth snap pea and dry grass.

Barleywines are no joke and this is no exception. Flavor impacts like a fiery comet into the core of your palate. Some aged and spoiled alcohol are first sampled, followed by tons of grape skins soaked in the stuff, tasting like someone popped the lid on a forgotten barrel of whiskey at the bottom brink of a pirate ship. It pretty much stays there except for a thick slop of toffee malt backing. A sharp note of hop finishes the profile with a stinging character.

Feel is thick and destructive, but doesn't completely devistate, more like bends your tongue a little bit much like a tree in an F1 tornado, then passes by and leaves a trail of dust and dryness in the air. More "sessionable" (excuse me, if you will) than other BW's.

Overall, Freestate's offering isn't bad, but it's not among the best I feel. It could have more variety in the flavor, and a little more synchronity with what's there, but it's still an enjoyable brew nevertheless. Probably won't return soon, but it's worth a try if you haven't had it.

Jul 10, 2016
Photo of teromous
teromous from Virginia

3.43/5  rDev -19.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

There ticks on the side of the label to mark a date code but none of them are punched on this beer. I purchased it in Dec 2015.

Appearance: The body is a tawny brown color and murky. The head is a short off-white cap that fades out to a ring that leaves spotty lacing on the glass. Not bad for a high ABV beer.

Aroma: The aroma is recessed to the point of being nearly hidden. It pokes out of the darkness with a bit of caramel and just a touch of alcohol.

Taste: It has a very sweet caramel flavor that roams the palate unchecked. It's the kind of beer that you need to eat something salty or bitter to counteract the sweetness that is not accounted for in the beer itself. It works very well as an English Barleywine but nothing about this beer says American Barleywine.

Mouthfeel: The beer is nice and smooth as if it was already well aged. It is very easy drinking.

Overall: I would recommend the beer to those who enjoy a good English Barleywine but this is not something I'd recommend to those who are looking for an American Barleywine. It's a good sweet beer but it lacks complexity, depth, or any unique character. While it would be a nice sweet treat for a barleywine lover, it unfortunately doesn't offer anything beyond sweet caramel and a high ABV content.

Jan 09, 2016
Photo of Harrison8
Harrison8 from Missouri

4.56/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Look: Gorgeous burgundy, unfiltered shade, topped with a light, fairly thin head which leaves behind plenty of lace.

Smell: A bit of toffee here, a bit of caramel there. Delicious. It invites you to take a sip...

Taste: Upon taking a sip, toffee and caramel flavors hit, before giving way to a hoppy finish. Great ebb and flow of flavors.

Feel: It feels really good. It's smooth and robust. Such a pleasure to drink.

Overall: This is an outstanding beer. Certainly pick up a glass if the opportunity arises. Watch out, it's smooth and fairly hard hitting in ABV. Great overall!

Served in a 12oz snifter. First barleywine. I need more.

Dec 30, 2015
Photo of drpimento
drpimento from Wisconsin

4.33/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Very good. When opened, I got a whiff of caramel and toffee right away, then with my schnoz in the glass I got raisins, apricots, yeast, hops, rye. Flavor has lots going on too - most pleasing to me was a note of roast which perfectly contrasts in a matching way the sweeter qualities. There is plenty of bitter in a balanced measure. Body however was odd in that it was good then it was a bit thin - kind of oscillated between the two states. Very drinkable for a strong brew.

Oct 30, 2015
Photo of sweemzander
sweemzander from Illinois

4.36/5  rDev +2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

12oz bottle poured into a snifter
(A)- Toasted caramel colored amber with some decent white froth
(S)- Some nice leathery sherry-like caramel and toffee
(T)- Nice toffee and caramel meets some sherry-like fruits and leather
(M)- Nice balance without being overly hoppy
(O)- Refreshing to see a great american style barleywine that isnt completely hopped to the gills. A really nice showcase of sweet malts and a smooth finish

Sep 07, 2015
Photo of kbwalters
kbwalters from Wisconsin

4.17/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Poured cold into a tulip glass; been in the fridge since January.
Look = 4.5 Pours a mahogany with red highlights and 2.5 fingers of off white head; head is thick with great retention and lacing.
Aroma = 4.25 Very sweet aroma; candied sugar, fruity (dark and pitted fruits), strong caramel and toffee notes; overall an intense aroma, smells good
Taste = 4.0 Follows the nose for the most part; sweet, candy sugar, toffee, caramel. Mild bitterness on the finish and a decent alcohol presence
Feel = 4.25 Thick and full bodied, syrupy and smooth. Low to medium carbonation.
Drinkability = 4.0 Not bad for a big barleywine
Overall = 4.175 A solid brew all around, very sweet aroma and taste, hops were muted but the brew is at least 7 months old.

Aug 25, 2015
Photo of IMFletcher
IMFletcher from Kentucky

4.1/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from 2014 bottle; this is, for me, a refreshingly unhoppy American barleywine. Not too sweet, but not bitter. Would love to see this get some barrel treatment.

Jun 17, 2015
Photo of Beaver13
Beaver13 from Colorado

3.8/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle, dated 2014. Pours hazy reddish amber with a medium creamy off white head that retains well and leaves some lacing.

The aroma is sweet caramel and toffee malt with lots of figgy fruit and some cardboard notes.

The flavor is sweet caramel and toffee malts with lots of dark fruit and a little roast and a bit of sherry like alcohol and some harsh bitter alcohol. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with smooth carbonation.

Overall, there's a lot going on, a bit too much. I bet this would improve with a bit of age to blend it all out better.

Jun 10, 2015
Photo of tempest
tempest from New York

4.2/5  rDev -0.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

It's a big malty barleywine with a peppery citrus edge to balance out the finish. As it warms I'm getting more vanilla and candied fruit with caramel. It's all very smooth and one flavor slides into the next. Great beer, I'm socking away a second bottle for a year or two.

Mar 25, 2015
Photo of Tone
Tone from Missouri

3.99/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Pours a cloudy, brown color. 1/2 inch head of an off-white color. Great retention and good lacing. Smells of alcohol, sweet malt, slight caramel malt, hint of sugar, slight biscuit, and slight yeast. Fits the style of an American Barleywine. Mouth feel is sharp and clean, with an average carbonation level. Tastes of alcohol, sweet malt, slight caramel malt, slight biscuit, yeast, and a hint of hop. Overall, good body an appearance, decent aroma, but only average complexity.

Mar 21, 2015
Photo of ThickNStout
ThickNStout from Georgia

4.04/5  rDev -4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle from LambicPentameter (thanks man). 2014 vintage. If I'm deciphering the notch correctly this was bottled in November. Served in a Sweetwater snifter.

Pours a dull, almost fully opaque, orange hued brown with a quarter finger ecrue head. Dissipates quickly to a modest collar and some surface haze. Very little lacing.

Malty aromas of caramel, must, cereal grains, cake and vague fruit. It gets a touch sweeter as it warms.

Tastes grainy and malty. Cereal, orange and caramel notes up front. As it warms a bit the flavors open up with some cake, apple, plum and toffee. The alcohol is subdued for its 10% abv. There is a modest hop bitterness of the herbal/ woodsy variety and it is pretty subtle for an American barleywine.

Medium full, semi oily feel with rather mild carbonation. Toffee, mild fruit and some earthy bitterness linger in the finish.

As it reaches room temperature Old Backus becomes an excellent example of the style. Smooth, sweet and malty with a moderate bitterness. Certainly worth a try if you enjoy American barleywines.

Mar 05, 2015
Photo of Alieniloquium
Alieniloquium from Florida

3.09/5  rDev -27.1%
look: 3 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3

12 oz. bottle poured into a snifter.

Appearance - Clear amber body. Almost no head. Very thin collar.

Smell - Grapefruit hops. Fruity caramel malts. A little bit of apple.

Taste - Even hoppier here. Grapefruit. Sweet caramel. Fruity and apple-y again.

Mouthfeel - Medium low carbonation. Medium heavy.

Overall - Meh. It's decent. Very fruity, but not a very interesting barleywine.

Mar 03, 2015
Photo of 10Crumra
10Crumra from Texas

4.29/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a snifter glass.

Poured a nice reddish brown with a thin white head. A nice amount of lacing.

Strong plum and cherry smells with a pleasant malty undertone.

Nice dark fruit taste with plenty of maltiness. Not very bitter. Definitely tastes boozy, it shows its 10% alcohol.

Fairly weak on the carbonation but medium to full bodied mouth feel. Slightly sticky at the end.

Overall a very complex layered beer that is definitely strong on the alcohol. A nice winter sipping beer.

Feb 07, 2015
Photo of CowsandBeer
CowsandBeer from Nebraska

4.25/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

12 ounce bottle poured into a Surly Darkness tulip slightly chilled. 2014 label.

Ap: Pours about a finger of sand colored head which quickly fizzes away to a ring. Body is a clear mahogany and leaves nice oily legs down the side of the glass.

Ar: Toffee, woody bitter hops, fruity alcohol and a candi sugar like sweetness.

T: Sweet, fruity and bitter. Starts with some toffee and maple syrup then leads into a sweet candi sugar note that is some kind of combination of booze and American hops. Finishes with a bitter hop bite. The malts have a very nice toasted grain toffee like character to them that almost resembles whiskey as it warms up.

Mf: Oily texture with a full body and low carbonation. Very warming and almost syrupy.

Overall: Kinda hits the nail on the head for what it is, a local barleywine. A warming beer for a Midwest winter; the hop bite exists only to balance the hefty malt profile. Really nice malt build as well making me curious as to what a bit of oxidation would do but I also would hate to see the hops go. Would pair great with a wedge of cheese and kill out of a Templeton Rye barrel.

Feb 05, 2015
Photo of BrownAleBollocks
BrownAleBollocks from Kansas

3.44/5  rDev -18.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Pours a deep copper with red and brown. Head is off white and fairly small. Aroma is mostly malts with caramel, toffee, and some dark fruit. Taste follows the nose with only light hopping. Mouthfeel is medium and a bit more oily than I expected. Overall a fairly good barelywine that hides it's alcohol well.

Jan 20, 2015
Photo of kevanb
kevanb from Illinois

4.23/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

12oz bottle, 2014 on the neck, poured into a Brooklyn Brewery snifter.

The beer pours a medium amber color, hues of burgundy and caramel brown, light opacity though fairly clear with a solid finger of off white head, thick and foamy that has very nice retention, settling into a thick ring of film around the circumference of the glass while yielding nice swatches of soapy lace. The aroma is very heavy on the malted barley, caramel and amber malts, with brown sugar, toffee and a bit of dark pitted stone fruits but some definite piney and grapefruit forward hops help to balance this out. The flavors mirror the nose very well, lightly piney and bitter hops initiate the senses, while some grapefruit citrus plays well with the sweeter malts and brings out the richer more chewy flavors of toffee, molasses, raisin and fig though the bitterness from the hops and a bit of the fruitiness linger nicely. The mouthfeel is very nice, quite smooth and almost creamy with very low discernible carbonation, though just enough to prop the beer up, and a velvety finish.

Verdict: An excellent take on the American style barleywine. Definite hop presence that integrates very well with the malt profile and general sweetness of the beer. Complex, but not overly complicated and a very nice sipper that has great nuance as it warms, definitely a very under the radar beer.

Jan 07, 2015
Photo of orcrist_cleaver
orcrist_cleaver from New York

4.02/5  rDev -5.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

A: Dark brown bordering black with some red highlights. A lush finger's worth of mocha head with excellent retention.

S: Rising alcohol aromatics follow brown malt, treacle, shaved dark chocolate. Light citrus. Caramelized peaches.

M: Leathery and full bodied. High carb.

T: Bitterness and malt battle it out in this border state brew. Caramel malt body collides worth some tangy apple florals. Cherry and other stone fruits contribute nicely. Having been aged for 9 mos I feel like some of the flavors have mellowed and merged. Seems unauthoratative for a bw. I tend to like more assertive bws with pronounced flavors.

Dec 29, 2014
Photo of zac16125
zac16125 from South Carolina

4/5  rDev -5.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

12oz bottle into a snifter
no bottling dates

Thanks to mikeincharleston for hooking me up with this one!

A: Pours a dark copper with ruby hues when held to light, good clarity. Just over 1 fingers width of light tan head builds and then dissipates away fairly quickly. Leaves a few small patches of lacing. 4.25

S: Very nice aroma of sweetness, hops, and booze. Candied sugar, toffee. Lots of hoppy characters, with citrus and piney notes. 4.25

T: Nice combo of malts and hops. Citrus, some fruity characters, pine, booze. Good, but flavors aren’t as intense as many in the style, nor is it as complex as I look for in the style. 3.75

M/D: Medium body, appropriate carbonation, fairly smooth, ABV is noticeable but its not hot, drinkability is very good. 4.25

O: Good beer, but I was disappointed. I had very high expectations for this one, considering it was a top 5 barleywine on BA for years. It certainly didn’t live up to that, but tasty nonetheless. Glad I got to finally try it. Thanks Mike! 4

Dec 23, 2014
Old Backus Barleywine from Free State Brewing Co.
Beer rating: 93 out of 100 with 259 ratings