Last week I mentioned that barleywines are good candidates for aging. What I failed to mention is that I actually have a beer-aging operation in my basement, which currently has bottles of 2008 vintage Stone Old Guardian and Rogue Old Crustacean, plus every year since. Next New Year’s Eve, I’m going to begin cracking open some (hopefully) truly wonderful, 5-year-old barleywine. This year, though, I decided to expand this operation and begin to cellar Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot. Unlike the other two barleywines, which are American style, Blithering Idiot is an English-style barleywine, which tends to be much more malt focused with lower levels of hops than its American brethren.
Weyerbacher is a moderate-sized microbrewery located in Easton, Pa. The brewery was founded in 1995 by Dan and Sue Weirbeck and purchased Victory Brewing Co.’s 25-barrel brew system in 2005. This increased capacity was quickly outstripped, and since then the brewhouse has been upgraded again to a 40-barrel brew kettle and whirlpool. Among the upgrades is a new bottling line that increased its capacity to 250 cases per hour, which along with the new brewhouse has allowed the company to expand distribution to 18 states.
The beer poured a light brown, but when held up to the light it revealed a beautiful red-gold color. The head formed as a skim of very fine, jet-white foam that barely covered the surface. This covering dissipated very quickly, although there was actually some lacing left behind. The aroma was quite intense and very sweet. The scent that truly dominated, however, was a very big, bold cherry character, which surprised me. The catch is that it was almost medicinal in character, like a cough syrup, although there was a little bit of a plum aroma to fill out the nose. The body was quite thick, even a bit syrupy, and the very low carbonation accentuated the full mouthfeel. The flavor was definitely malt focused and quite sweet overall. The dominant flavor actually had quite a bit of cherry to it, just like the aroma, but it was not quite as overwhelming in the flavor. Overall, this beer was big, sweet and smooth; the two things that were missing were the alcohol and hop characteristics. While the drink may have been a traditional English version of the barleywine, which is much more malt focused, it seemed like an old stock ale rather than a young barleywine.
I actually paired this beer with some seasoned fries, which worked perfectly; the fat and salt was exactly what was needed to clear my palate between sips. A saltier brie would also work great, or other creamy cheeses, but fruit would likely be overwhelmed by the sweetness of this beer. Dark and barbecue meats will go well, too, as well as savory baked beans if you don’t want an animal product. This beer should be served in a snifter or an oversized wine glass, although a pint glass is also historically appropriate; the shape of the former two styles traps the aroma. Also, this beer style is a heavy hitter, so you need to be careful how quickly you drink it, thus a six-ounce snifter helps more with that than a pint glass does.
I enjoyed this beer, even with the overpowering cherry note, which I don’t recall from previous tasting sessions. The low-hop character makes this very approachable, so I recommend that you try this if you don’t like other barleywines because it’s an incredible value given its relatively low cost. I am also looking forward to tasting the results of this aging project, although I suppose I will just have to be patient.
Size: 12 ounces
ABV: 11.1 percent
Appearance: 4 /5