For the first time this season, snow has dusted the streets of Durango. It's not much, but enough to justify Carver Brewing Co.'s tapping of its Big Grizz Barleywine Ale.
Barley wine is, of course, a type of beer. (It is often called "barley wine-style ale" to avoid confusion, but I'm not sure that's any less confusing). It's a broad term for a very strong style of beer of English origin, typically at least 11 percent alcohol by volume.
Because of their strength, barley wines are usually served in goblets instead of pint glasses. Their burly malt profile typically makes them quite sweet, a tendency that must be balanced with generous hopping.
Carver's is the only one of Durango's four breweries to produce barley wine. Barley wine fits well with how Carver's presents itself: a cozy brewpub that feels a little Old World, what with the hand-pulled cask engine and the shelf of single-malt Scotches.
It's has been too long for me to render a judgment on Big Grizz (11 percent ABV), so I'll have to try it again and see if I can review it. Typically, Carver's bottles a few for customers to take home.
Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington also offers a barley wine every winter. Perhaps a side-by-side comparison is in order.
My favorite barley wine so far is Deschutes' Mirror Mirror (11 percent ABV, 30 IBUs), which can sometimes be found in our neck of the woods. It has a wonderful balance of caramel malt flavor and hops that I haven't seen equaled by others.
At the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, 57 entries competed for medals in the barley wine-style ale category. The gold medalist was from Troegs Brewery in Harrisburg, Penn. Given the miserable winters there, they can probably use all the cold-weather joy that a barley wine can impart.
Barley wines are often regarded as the pinnacle of the brewer's art (although brewing something like a lambic is more difficult). Often, I find them too sweet, but a great barley wine is indeed something to behold on a cold night when your belly wants nothing more than a warming swell.