Brace the Cold With Barleywine
Barleywines are wines in name only, though the alcohol levels approach those of fermented grapes. These brews are always bold--making them a great choice to brace against the cold, damp weather--and they can display a wide and complex range of flavors. Some lean toward sweet malt, while others amp up the hops. Most also age well, with flavors that evolve in the bottle after a few years.
2013 Alaskan Barley Wine Ale, $7.49-$9.49, 22 ounce
This brew pours a ruby-hued, bright ebony with a single finger, mocha head that shows good retention. The aromas are a complex mix of sweet cherry fruit, toffee, vanilla extract, light hops and bourbon-flavored bonbons. Where hops drive the other two beers, this is a malt-dominant style, with creamy fruit flavors, caramel and sweet citrus and a kiss of bitterness at the end.
2013 Oakshire Brewing Barleywine Style Ale, $6.49-$7.99, 22 ounce
In the glass, this beer is a muted amber with a thin tan head that fades quickly. The nose is a mix of grainy hops and soft malt, with touches of peach and citrus. This brew weighs in at 10.1 percent alcohol and you can taste the heat, especially on the finish. Lightly sweet malt and toffee flavors give way to big, bitter hops. I'll revisit this Eugene, Ore., brew a few months from now, as it really needs time to come together.
2014 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, $2.29-$2.99, 12 ounce
The aromas on this beer alternate between spruce-tinged hops and sweet malt. That combo carries through on the palate, along with fruit and subtle chocolate. One big swig will remind you that barleywines are meant to be sipped. Guzzle it and the hops turn overly aggressive; sip it and the hops meld nicely with the caramel-laced malt. This brew should age beautifully.