Old No. 23
Bristol Brewing Company

Old No. 23Old No. 23
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American Barleywine
Ranked #212
Ranked #15,449
3.92 | pDev: 11.48%
Bristol Brewing Company
Colorado, United States
Very Good
Old No. 23Old No. 23
Notes: An annual Bristol tradition, Old No. 23 revives an English farmhouse brewery practice of making a complex ale to set aside for special occasions. Our version, while painstaking and time-consuming to brew, rewards the connoisseur with an ale that has the depth and complexity of a good brandy or single malt scotch. Massive quantities of malt and hops, a long aging time and limited availability make this a special ale worthy of its reputation.
Reviews: 56 | Ratings: 77 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of kojevergas
2.43/5  rDev -38%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.25 | overall: 2.5

12.6.14: First impressions below. Full review to follow.

2014 vintage 12 fl oz brown glass bottle with a branded pry-off pressure cap served into an Odell tulip. Expectations are average given the brewery.

Served cold and allowed to warm over the course of consumption.

No bubble show forms as it's poured.

A: 1 finger wide. Off white colour. Pretty average for a barleywine across the board.

Body colour is a depleted pale red. Not a solid or strong colour. Translucent and transparent, but not vibrant.

Appears well-carbonated. It's not a great looking barleywine, but there are no egregious issues.

Sm: Heavy on the fruity esters. Cherry dominates. Biscuit malt. Caramalt. Supple fruit. Fruitskin. Red apple skin. Syrupy and sweet - perhaps evoking malt extract. Red malts. Amber malts.

No yeast character, overt alcohol, or off-notes are detectable.

T: Fruitskin/apple skin, fruity ale esters, fruity hops, amber malts, red malts, malt extract, and dominant cherry. Candied sugar. Okay balance. Sweet - perhaps overly so. It's surprisingly fruit-forward for a barleywine, with virtually none of the notes I'd look for in paragon of the style: no vanilla, caramel, toffee, brown malts, dark malts, marshmallow, traces of oxidation, etc. I can't say I like it much, but it's not a poor beer. Largely uninspired. Shallow, to boot.

Mf: Smooth, wet, crisp, clean, full-bodied, lightly syrupy, thick, and sticky. Has a boozy warmth.

Dr: It's downable but forgettable. A pedestrian and shallow attempt at the style which lacks inspiration. In line with my memories of the other offerings I've had from Bristol - definitely below average. Aside from drinking the remainder of the four-pack, I wouldn't want to try this again.


Age likely won't help it much.

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Photo of BradC
4/5  rDev +2%

Pours a thick dark reddish brown. Bottle from 2009, about 5 years old. Not much aroma, maybe a sweet smell. Tastes sweet, a burnt raisin, toffee flavor, tobacco notes, just enough bitterness to balance it out. Very light carbonation and pretty easy drinking. All in all, held up well for bing 5 years old.

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Photo of minterro
3.87/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.75

Bought at Little's Wine and Liquor store. Vintage 2012 store cellared (about a year and 3 months in the bottle). Poured into a snifter, paired with honey roasted peanuts.

A&S: Dark burgundy colored beer, almost opaque, no presence of carbonation or unfiltered elements. Off-white head appears in a thin layer when vigorously poured, dies very quickly. Spectacular aroma initially consisting of: tons of candy sugars, dried apricots, . No real sense of alcohol.

T&M: Upfront very sweet. Midway through I'm getting pipe tobacco and the sweet become a bit more bitter. From the aroma and initial taste I figured the finish to be sweet, however surprising, there is a mild bitter/earthy hop tone to the finish. Ridiculously undrinkability even without considering it's > 11% ABV. On the flat side in carbonation. Heavy body but not chewy.

Overall: Good beer for the price, sitting at sub 4 bucks a bottle it is a pretty good barleywine for it's price. This one sitting at plus 1 year was surprisingly a bit too mellow, would like to see what it is like at 6 months.

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Photo of cpetrone84
3.3/5  rDev -15.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pour is a dark hazed copper with red edges and tan thin head. Nose is fairy sweet with heavy malt component. A hint dusty and a faint green/herbal hop. Taste is strong berry, candied sugar, brown sugar, faint chocolate malt and a touch of toasted nut. Full bodied and solid carbonation, a bit chalky in the finish. Green hops and a light hop bitterness linger through the back end.

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Photo of macktbone
4.08/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A- looks thin and comes across as brown and murky with very little head and minimal lacing.

S- I want to wear a super hero costume with a big M on it. Super Malt. Whoppers anyone?

T- Wow! This is by far Bristol's best in my opinion. I like the body of malts on this beer. Tons of stuff going on. Ever have that urge to get another sit....try this and you will. A little metallic on the end but nothing that another swig wont fix. Very well masked ABV %.

M- Good for the style. Not too syrupy.

D- Great drinkability for such a high ABV. No worries about finishing this one.

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Photo of beergoot
4.22/5  rDev +7.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A somewhat cloudy, mahogany-colored body. Head comes across thin, weak, and bone-colored.

Dates, prunes, and currants along with rich, roasted grains dominate the smell. Rich and enticing.

Dark bread and black licorice hit you right off with hints of chocolate and cocoa following with regards to the taste. The alcohol is hinted at, but remains well-subdued behind the malt flavors. A little spicy.

Medium-heavy mouthfeel. Sweet and smooth on the tongue.

A really nice barleywine, complex, smooth, and relatively easy drinking. A well-made big beer...

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Photo of potbeercollege
4.5/5  rDev +14.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Bottled. Amber and headless. Aroma is sweet caramel and sticky hop sweetness. Flavor is similar with richer malt presence and booze awesome and everywhere with also great sticky bitter hop presence. Lay this down for a year and you'd be a fool to tell me it isn't awesome

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Photo of StonedTrippin
3.97/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

a monster barleywine, actually pouring lighter jack daniels color in the glass, with almost no head, just a dab of white foamies. smells like charcoaled whiskey, vanilla, and grapenut cereal. alcohol nose too. taste matches, very potent but mellow, like an old ass glass of scotch. this has all the same vibes. mouthfeel is nice and smooth, but only a tiny bit of carbonated spunk. overall is nice barleywine, and it wouldnt take many to be wallaby ted's brother either. not bristol's best, but this would be outstanding in any other state

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Photo of RuckusDu
2.96/5  rDev -24.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

A - Poured a solid 1.5 finger head. More off-white in color than tan. Some very nice lacing

S - Not a big fan of this. Sweet hops, but the sweet dominates and I almost didn't recognize the hops. It is medicinal scented.

T - Yes, the flavor matches the scent for the most part. Ends with an interesting pez flavor that takes a second or two to come around. Nice hop flavors but still tastes artificial or medicinal as I said before.

M - Well done as it is highly carbonated even though 11% and a BW. Body is solid all around.

O - The flavors match the aroma which is bad in this case. A little disappointed but will still age the other 3 in the 4-pack. No sense in drinking them now.

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Photo of mactrail
3.32/5  rDev -15.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Sharp, grainy, alcohol bomb. Murky is the word. Sweetness touches the lips but departs with a raspy edge. Best feature is the aroma of hot roasted malt, like barley popcorn. Thin and sharp with a harsh alcoholic flavor. Rather bitter, accentuated by the dry mouthfeel, like the malt evaporated.

Bristol is my one of my least favorite Colorado breweries and this doesn't do much to improve my opinion. Still it has some interest and

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Photo of rawfish
3.97/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2009 vintage, aggressive pour nets a thin finger high head of khaki coloration over a nearly opaque dark brown body with slightly reddish highlights. Head was gone within the minute with slight lacing.

Toffee, caramel and honey grain on the nose, very sweet and rich with slight amounts of dark fruit. Very little hop character, balanced with some vanilla and leafy herbal notes.

Drinks fairly big with a huge focus on toffee malts, deep and roasted with a good amount of sweetness. Awfully straight forward with some honey and vanilla, herbal hops have been covered up some but noticeable with some tobacco flavor in the aftertaste. Sticky sweet on the finish.

Heavy to medium bodied with low carbonation. Alcohol has mellowed out well, sticky aftertaste, a slow sipper for sure.

Heavy and syrupy with a one dimensional malt quality that is like toffee and hard candy. Sweet and enjoyable with just enough pine and herbal hops to bring it back into balance when strayed too far.

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Photo of woodychandler
4/5  rDev +2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I have no idea how I acquired this bottle, but I know that it has been hanging around for a while and even made the move to my new digs a couple of years ago. The notch on the label indicates a 2006 vintage! Holy Old, Batman.

From the bottle: "Hearty, warming, slightly eccentric. Enjoy!"

I went with a nice, gentle pour so as not to disturb the mound of lees at the bottom of the bottle. This resulted in mere wisps as far as head was concerned. Color was a deep ruby/garnet red with NE-quality clarity, reinforcing the importance of leaving the lees for the end. Nose was extremely malty sweet, like caramel. It is quite warm in the mouth, although not outright hot as it may have been in its youth. It starts out with a caramel sweetness, but gives 'way to a dark fruitiness, like black cherries and plums. Wow! Say, it seems to have some sort of hypnotic effect also as I am getting sleepy, very sleepy. Finish was warm, sweet, narcotizing. Man, I don't know that I was ready for this. It was very pleasant with the age on it, but I wonder what it would be like young. I may not want to find out.

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Photo of claytong
4.05/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

oak, malt beings and alcohol finishes it off though not offensively. opaque dark amber, not much carbonation.

this beer is a classic example of what has great potential to age well. im throwing the other 3 of this 4 pack in the cellar. its very complex right now, but nothing really comes through strongly. I think with some aging the complexity will mature and become bolder. its pretty tasty as is though, but just a bit light overall, would make an interesting beer to pair.

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Photo of htomsirveaux
3.92/5  rDev 0%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

12 oz. bottle tried 7 Sep 2010. Served in the 0.3 L Unibroue snifter. 2009 vintage.

Small brown head, medium carbonation. CLoudy reddish brown with a lot of floaties. Boozy, sugary, rum and caramel aroma. Fairly sweet. Lots of dark fruit, brown sugar, molasses and ethanol. Silky mouthfeel. Medium to heavy body. Lots of legs. Nutty and toasty. Aftertaste is a lingering sweetness, vanilla and warm rum, light bitterness and a touch of candied orange peel.

Seems to lean a little more towards a British barelywine.

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Photo of artcurtis
4.1/5  rDev +4.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Had in a Great Divide snifter
Pours an odd, murky deep brown color, with a head to match. The head disappears almost instantly. There is already lacing.
The nose is nice. Very malty, very boozy. Not very complex, but smells good.
Taste, unfortunately, is very like the nose. Good, but not very complex. But, that's not really a bad thing. Very malty, followed very quickly by a nice booze punch, with a nice smattering of hop bitterness at the end. Basic, but good.
The mouthfeel is wonderful. The best part of this beer. it is so thick and heavy, yet smooth and easy. Just coats your mouth.
Overall, this is a good beer. I'm not a huge fan of super hoppy barley wines, so it's nice to find a malty one for a change. Not the most complex beer in the world, but very easy drinking for a barley wine.

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Photo of SkeeterHawk
4.32/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I have had this beer for about a year now, so it seems like a good time to try it. It has been in the fridge for the last month or so, so it should be good and ready. Let's give it a go:

Appearance: Pours a pretty cloudy dark caramel brown color with a very small head of small tan bubbles after a pretty aggressive pour. The head was gone within about 20 seconds to leave a pretty still looking liquid.

Aroma: The beer is pretty cold for the style right now, so all I am getting is a bit of dry chalkines from the hops along with a decent contribution from the alcohol adding peppery spice and some pricking on the nose. As you get deeper into the aroma there is some dark caramel in there with a bit of toffee. There is even an evident Chocolate making an appearance as more of a bitter-sweet chocolate than cocoa or anything.

Taste: The flavor is actually much more balanced than I thought it was going to be from the aroma. There is a substantial malty backbone to this beer to accentuate the hops, but it doesn't let the hops just run all over your palate. There is no carbonation noticeable, but the beer is pretty well attenuated and the alcohol is high, so all of this gives the impression of a lighter beer...somewhat dangerous with a beer this big. The hops are a big player in the beginning of the flavor profile adding a pretty significant grassy note that is slightly accentuated by some floral. There is a pretty healthy amount of hops in the bittering, but dare I say?...it finishes just slightly toward the malt! This is a good thing for me, but a bit unusual for the style.

Opinion: Well, I am really enjoying drinking this beer and wish that I had it available to me more as it is probably one of my more favorite American Barley Wines now...but that is due to the fact that it strays from the pack with the finish. This is good for me as I am a Malt-Head anyway, but is unusual for the style, so this may turn a lot of you off. I personally respect the craftsmanship that went into this beer. Though this beer has some age on it, the hops are still fresh in the flavor and yet the bittering hops aren't overpowering...which wouldn't change with age. This tells me that the beer was stupid hoppy when it was made, which would be nice to get a Barley Wine with accentuation in the later additions of hops for a change. This is a good beer with no flaws at all. The balance is a bit non-traditional, but I would recommend it nonetheless.

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Photo of 7ways
4.05/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage thanks to codewarrior.

A - Very dark, like the color black ate red and brown. Thin lace and almost no head.

S - Honey, grain, fruit, and very fresh bread. It smells like it's still being brewed.

T - Sweet, rich, elaborate malt. Juicy, with fruit flavored tobacco on the finish. About as hoppy as 2 year old Hop Slam. I can taste the afterthought of hops, though I think it may have still leaned toward an English style even when young.

M - Thick and rich, but enough CO2 and acidity to bring it all together.

What's most striking is that I can barely smell or taste alcohol. Not as complex as a JW Lees, but on the right track.

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Photo of codewarrior
4.27/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12oz from a 4-pack (2009) poured into a snifter

Was unable to find this bad-boy at Bristol itself, apparently after it medalled at GABF, they sold out pretty quickly. A regular there was kind enough to point me to the one liquor store in town with a few 4-packs lingering on the shelves, and boy am I ever glad he did.

L: Deep-deep reddish brown, creamy, bubbly head, 1 finger.

S: Caramel and hops competing for attention in the frontal-nose-assault. Relaxes into boozy sweetness in the back.

T: Rich, deep, deep mahogany sweetness, like great caramel. For as diverse as the nose is, there are relatively few hops in the mouth. Lingering sweet caramely-ness in the finish.

F: Thick and syrupy. Wonderful.

D: Supremely drinkable barley wine.

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Photo of allforbetterbeer
4.3/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2009 vintage poured into a stange glass.

Pours with two fingers of creamy tan head which slowly recedes down to a very thin layer of the course of five minutes. This process leaves a wonderful crust of lace on the glass. Body is clear and dark crimson.

The nose is formed primarily of faded hops and strong sweet malts. Subtle yet vibrant. Vanilla (smells oak aged) and wood are present on the side. A touch of leafy hops and some caramel show up with some swirling.

A wonderful melding of roasted malts and sweet caramel blend to make the bulk of this flavor interesting and complex. The flavor is well rounded and formed, presenting in more of a singular fashion than in a way that takes the palate through twists and turns. The beginning of the flavor is similar to the middle and end, and it is all good. Whatever hops there were have faded some and yielded the typical juicy sweetness, wich pairs alongside the roasted malts in a pleasing way. Caramel and a little vanilla is present as well. The aftertaste is a little lacking, and amounts to a slightly bitter malty feel.

Full bodied and carbonated to smoothness, the mouthfeel of this beer is very close to spot on. Drinkability is excellent considering the high ABV. Very well hidden alcohol, I am truly impressed. I have had beers with almost half this ABV that tasted and felt more alcoholic.

Conclusion: My favorite beer from Bristol, and I like some of their beers quite a bit. I was really hoping this would be good and it is better than I expected. I can see many people on this site not being impressed because it doesn't smack you in the face the way so many American beer drinkers desire. This beer takes slightly more appreciation to enjoy than that...

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Photo of alcstradamus
3.7/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Reviewed from notes

Dark copper/amber pour with a finger of bubbly head. The aroma is biscuity malts with some caramel sweetness and a huge dose of floral hops. There is some waxiness present. The flavor is surprisingly low on the sweetness, and turns into more of an earthy hop and biscuit mix. The wax is still present. The mouthfeel is on the full side of medium and carbonation is normal for the style. This one was decent, probably not a standout but I would drink it again if offered.

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Photo of mothman
4/5  rDev +2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2009 Vintage

Poured this one into my Old Guardian glass.

As I pour it, it seems as if it is flat, but after a few seconds the carbonation kicks in and a half finger of head of khaki head forms. It then settles pretty fast. Not a lot of lace left. Color is a dark copper brown with a slight ruby hue to it.

Aroma: Big and malty with a nice layer of hops as well. Lots of caramel and toffee flavors mixed with some pine hops. It also has some dark dried fruits in the background. Maybe some raisins and dried cherries. The aroma is very good, but not that big.

Taste: Again, big malt flavor. This is a pretty big beer. The toffee sticks out a lot more than the caramel here. Also the malt seems to have covered up more of the pine hops, but they are there to balance it out a bit. This beer packs a little heat to it. It is sweet with the cherries a little more present here. Also has some molasses and raisin flavors.

Mouthfeel: Sweet, creamy, and a little hot. Full bodied with a lower amount of carbonation. Ends a little dry and very sweet.

Overall, not a bad barleywine at all. I think this is a local and a solid local at that. I am very glad I got to try this one. I hadn't had a barleywine in awhile and Bigfoot hasn't shown up yet, so this will hold me over. It did remind me of Bigfoot with a year or two on it. Not as many hops as bigfoot fresh, but once the hops fade a bit, then these two are comparable. Fairly drinkable as well.

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Photo of Oxymoron
3.63/5  rDev -7.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

I always thought 23 was pretty young. Pours a darker chestnut brown color with more of a chocolate brown hue through out. A bit darker for an American Barleywine. A fizzy white head that later settled and left good retention and lacing through the tasting.

The nose has a stronger alcohol heat presence. Some fusels but after some time, you can pick out the complex malt and limited hop aroma. Some oxidation almost cardboard, but I could see this change in time. A good plum ester note that is a bit much but some minor fig and candy aromas as well. There is a slight chlorine almost plastic in a sense that is boarder line phenol that is off setting.

The taste is similar. A strong alcohol note but not as bad as the nose. The malt come out more with a mostly caramel and bready flavor. Some nice complexity out of the malt. The esters are more noticeable as is the phenolic plastic note. Really a deterrent overall. The hops are balance towards the finish. Some bitterness but a light citrus and earthy finish.

The body is full with a slightly sweet finish. The carbonation is light and could use a bit more to balance the sweetness. Overall a beer that could age well. But currently the heat and the slight plastic thing is a bit off setting.

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Photo of barleywinefiend
3.79/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured a hazy deep red-orangey color like with a small dirty white head. Nose is very sweet with a little honey, toffee, very sugary. Taste was a little bit skunky to me. It smells better than it taste. Very syrupy mouthfeel with a slight hop bitterness in the aftertaste. Not exactly one of the best barleywines I've had but pretty good nevertheless///

Noticed a unique cherry flavor, caramel and sweetness. Poured thin but tasted better w/ 2 years on it.

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Photo of Traquairlover
3.41/5  rDev -13%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to Bitterbill for this brew.

12-oz bottle poured into a tulip.

A = Deep red brown with pretty good clarity, forms a firm creamy-buttermilk yellow head with decent retention, light lacing as it recedes to a thin layer of foam over entire surface.

S = Not as much to this as what I would like. Some underlying pine and earthy hops notes, up front smells of biscuits and sugar cookie dough, a slight herbal, vegetal smell that is not quite to my tastes.

T = Tastes make up for the smells somewhat. This is a pretty simple example of the style. Fair balance slightly peppery, spicy hops mixed with syrup flavors. Decent balance for the style.

M = Medium to medium-heavy body, good mouthcoating, not overly carbonated though the alcohol is noticeable on the tongue.

D = Decent, I really do not want more than one, but I can finish it easily enough and would certainly happily have one on another ocasion.

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Photo of BigMcLargeHuge
3.82/5  rDev -2.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2005 vintage. Pours a slightly hazy dull copper, brown orange with thin white head. The aroma is full with a load up front of citrus hop flavor such as over ripe orange wedges and cantaloupe mixed with an alcohol note. There is also a more classic barleywine nose of dark fruit hidden behind the ripe citrus and melon along with a faint undertone of caramel. I'm drinking this in the 60F range. The flavors start off smooth and seemingly neutral. Then some mild sweet caramel malt notes start things going along with blunted citrus hop flavor and glimpses of hop bitterness. As the taste progresses the hop component becomes both hard orange candy like as well as over ripe oranges. Toward the finish the malts creep up and add some balanced to the citrus with caramel, toffee and a hint of bread. The alcohol flavor becomes noticeable as the taste ends. I get grapefruit hop bitterness, sweet orange hard candy and mild malt sweetness into the after taste.

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Old No. 23 from Bristol Brewing Company
Beer rating: 88 out of 100 with 77 ratings