I documented how much alcohol is contained in these beers. With this mind, my strategy was to taste very slowly and spread my limited samples throughout the afternoon.
I arrived as the festival opened and started by having lunch. Lucky Lab offers a huge selection of sandwiches (most under $7) and pizza. I had the club sandwich—which was excellent. Then I got to work. Although roughly 55 beers were on the tasting list, only half were served while I was there. Here's what I sampled, in the order I tasted them.
- '08 Bbl Aged Imperial Stout, Rock Bottom, 9.4% ABV. Pitch black with a strong coffee aroma. Alcohol not as strong as you'd expect—very drinkable.
- '07 Old Yeller (Barleywine), Lucky Lab, 11.4% ABV. This got rave reviews from all who tried it, so I gave it a shot (well, a slow drink actually). Reddish orange with a tan head, it had a nice brown sugar sweetness, which wasn't overbearing. One of my two favorites!
- '09 Dogfather (Imperial Stout), Laughing Dog, 11.0% ABV. Not good! It had a bad taste that several people (independently and at different times) described as medicinal. I agreed—and dumped it.
- '09 Old Foghorn (Barleywine), Anchor, 8.8% ABV. Flavor of caramel, toffee and citrus hops. Very nice!
- '10 Critical Hit (Barleywine), Ninkasi, 10.0% ABV, Just what you'd expect from Ninkasi—a hoppy barleywine. Big aroma and flavor of citrus and pine hops.
- '07 Train Wreck, (Barleywine), Butte Creek, 10.6% ABV, Beautiful reddish caramel color. Nicely balanced, but leaning towards the bitter side. This was also one of my favorites.
- ?? Mystery Beer (Dark Something), Unknown, ?? ABV, When Roots Brewing went out of business, Lucky Lab bought their inventory. Along the way, they lost track of this keg's contents. It tastes like an Imperial Stout with lots of roasted malt and coffee. It also had a slight touch of sour, which was different. This was my favorite of the three Imperial Stouts I tasted.
The Barleywine and Big Beer Festival was really the "un-festival" in many of ways. No big crowds (I was there from 12:30 - 5:30), the lines were short, and the beer was very unique. You will be unlikely to find most of these again. This was my first broad exposure to Barleywines, and I was thrilled to discover a new style that I enjoy! I plan to continue my exploration of this style and will be starting a new Barleywine review series in a few weeks.
If you're interested in big beers, this is THE event. Although it's over for 2011, you can always start planning early for next year... Did you attend the festival? What were your favorites?