This year we changed the format for our Barleywine show to focus on a vertical of a classic beer. It is primarily a video edition, but we have extracted the audio for our podcast feed.
The Brit was able to source 4 variants of the classic J. W. Lee’sHarvest Ale from one of his favorite watering holes, Broken Brix Fermentation Emporium in St. Charles, IL. To share in the tasting he invited his co-hosts and some guest brewers to sample them, both at the Pub and in their breweries.
All of these beers are matured in a variety of casks – sherry, calvados, port, and Lagavulin whisky. On hand to help The Brit are co-host Ken McMullen, head brewer at Hopvine Brewing, Steve Newman and Sam Altaner from Brother Chimp Brewing, and co-host Chuck Fort, and head brewer Sean Gregor from Church Street Brewing. Oh, and a cameo from Mike Seaman of Broken Brix, and the Brother Chimp guys insisted we taste and compare their barrel-aged version of Samson barleywine, so they snuck in that ‘bonus’ beer!
What are the panel’s opinions on the brews? Do the beer they stand up to the ‘historical’ hype? Are they ‘treat’ beers that are worth seeking out? Tune in and find out!
J. W. Lees Brewers, Harvest Ale, Barleywine, 11.5% ABV
Harvest Ale – 2017 – Matured in Sherry Casks
Harvest Ale – 2017 – Matured in Calvados Casks
Harvest Ale – 2015 – Matured in Lagavulin Whisky Casks
Harvest Ale – 2017 – Matured in Port Casks
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This year, The Brit (me) had a lot of life stuff going on so was not as diligent as usual when recording a list of brews that I felt really “hit the spot”. So, instead of a list of 10, 20 or more ‘Beers of the Year’, I decided to post a list that was very self-indulgent, biased, and in most cases, produced by breweries located locally to the pub. In most cases it reflects my palate preference and leans towards classic styles (note the absence of hazy IPAs), and all of these beers would be ones that I would purchase and drink again.
People ask me many times what my favorite beer or brewery is, and I reply “that’s like picking your favorite child”, but beers are not children so I don’t have to worry about offending a kid. Now, I think I can honestly say that a) I do have a favorite beer, and b) I have a couple of favorite styles that I prefer.
The beer is Sussex Best Bitter from Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes, East Sussex nestled in the heart of England’s South Downs. Harvey’s have been around since the second half of the 18th century, so you would hope they have figured out how to produce good beer by now!
Aside from those classic British bitters and mild ales, my favorite styles are Belgium beers, rauch (smoked) beers, and German lagers, of which the more historic recipes are ones I am increasingly seeking out.
Despite the name of our podcast, I am becoming more and more dissatisfied with the term ‘craft beer’. In my opinion, it’s somewhat of a marketing term that is now used to hype up a beer, akin to using ‘fresh’ and ‘artisan’ in supermarkets. That said, the definition of ‘craft’ is “an activity involving a special skill at making things with your hands”. Beer has been made for thousands of years, and until it started to be mass-produced, each brewer did exactly that…used their skills and hands to produce their beers. Witness the way that Zoigl is still made in Germany in this video…it’s in German but don’t worry, you won’t have trouble understanding it! Next time you down one of the macro-brews, just remember that the process is now all computer controlled and the only ‘craft’ piece of producing the beer is the recipe and the quality control.
Finally, you will note that there is an absence of ‘outrageous’ adjuncts in nearly all of the list beers. Whereas I have tasted many beers that have used adjuncts well to effectively increase the flavors and produce a varietal that is highly enjoyable, but I am not going to seek them out. Once again, it is a personal palate preference – we all hate some flavors and certainly do not want to drink them in beer. For me, coconut and cinnamon are turn-offs, but of course added with skill and in the right amount, they can still be quite delightful in the right base style.
OK this is becoming a rant, so… after over 50 years of ales and lagers, here’s my list of brews that DID ‘hit my spot’ in 2022. If you have drunk these I’d love to hear about what you liked about them. I’ve added some comments on why I liked the beers, and if you notice, and with no apologies from me, there’s is a bias toward 2 breweries who consistently produce great beer!
Brewed to honor the Dampfbier (steam beer)/California Common-Style, this is a lager that has a lovely golden color, slight maltiness, and at 5% you can have a couple. That’s good because the first one goes down pretty quick, and you can then savor the second. Check out our video about this beer.
10th Anniversary Special Hell Lager – Church Street Brewing, 5% ABV.
It was made with Sugar Creek’s under-modified German Pilsner malt, so the flavor is a little more bready. 10 years of experience at Church Street show through in this one!
I first tasted this when the team went down to visit Riggs in Urbana, IL, where we recorded a podcast episode with the Riggs brothers. Unique grassy notes reflects the Illinois hops and malt they used. The barley and white corn was grown on Riggs own farm, and the Chinook and Crystal hops were from Hallowed Hops Farm in Lewistown, Illinois. Truly an all Illinois pilsner!
In June we spoke with Joseph Reeve from Odious Cellars, and it was the first time I had tasted a wet-hopped Brett IPA. All of their brews are fantastic mixed-culture fermentations, but this one was particularly original and tasty. Not only that but the can art is just out of this world. They brew down in Chicago, so seek out the beers! Here’s a link to the podcast interview.
Brewer Alex is not really know for his barrel program, but back in August he released this little winner, and to me it was a raving success reminding me of those great Flanders reds. It was very complex, and a first from a solera barrel. I hope they do more like this one, which will add a lot of depth to their already solid line of beers!
Made with cherry cider, this blended barleywine proved to be one of those gems you come across from time to time that don’t get all the kudos they deserve. Ed Seaman has once again shown that his ability to produce unusual brews – a graf is a beer cider hybrid – and you won’t find many of these around!
In September, I headed back home to the UK for a visit and while there I was able to sit down and chat with a craft brewery in Sussex…check out our podcast. Firebird, produces a great range beers but this Old Ale was the one I came back to again and again. Reminding me of a mild ale, this beer was chocolaty and malty but with a light body, and old ales is the term applied to this style in the England.
Caeles – Art History Brewing, 10% ABV
Released in December, this is a Weizendoppelbock that many may have tasted as part of the 2022 Lodi Beer Calendar. For me, if pressed, this was the beer of the year. Dark, smooth, rich, complex yet still maintaining all the characteristics of a lager. If you see this still in cans anywhere, buy it!
Rock of Ages – Church Street Brewing / Art History collaboration, 5.4% ABV
This beer attempted to recreate the old German brewing style of Steinbier, or Stone Beer. The brewers took granite rocks, heated them, then lowered them into the wort. This caramelized on the stone adding a more toasty note to the beer. Originally, Austrian gray slate was used, but this was a little tough to find in Illinois. The granite proved a worthy substitute and the resulting beer was delicious. Top marks to both breweries for attempting to recreate history!
Book of Mark – Church Street Brewing / Riverlands Brewing / Brit & Yankee collaboration, 5% ABV
Mark Naski was a brewing guru, and also a co-host of our podcast, but sadly he passed away unexpectedly in 2021. To celebrate his life we used one of his recipes to produce a Zoigl Lager using bottom fermenting yeast. It was a simple recipe that produced a great, easy drinking beer that reflected his personality and the ability for a beer to generate conversation and community. He is missed, but this beer reminds us of his contribution to the industry. Click this link to view our video where we talk about it’s making.
Exemption – Taxman Brewing, 8.5% ABV
I spent some time in Indiana this year and took the opportunity to pick up some of Taxman’s brews which I had discovered a couple of years previous. Their forte is Belgian-inspired beers and they produce many different styles, so picking one to include in this list was tough. I went with this tripel which is one of their house beers, and is a great representation of their ability to brew Belgian styles. Alas, the only way to get their beer outside of Indiana is via the Tavour app…unless you drive across the border. It’s worth the trip!
This was part of a delightful variety pack given to me as a Christmas present…just the sort of gift I really like! This beer is a Flanders Oud Bruin and is a blend of 3 year old tripel ales. It is a great example of the skilful way Belgian brewers can create a special beer at a low ABV that can be savored and sipped across an evening. It was yummy!
Samson – Brother Chimp Brewing, 10.2% ABV
Oh boy, do I like barleywines, and this example of an American barleywine hit all the notes you need. It almost should be called an English barleywine as Maris Otter malt and English hops we used to make it. It was an attractive light mahogany in color and had notes of toffee and honey, with the high ABV not being noticed until you felt the warming down your esophagus! The first one BCB brewed and they also barrel-aged some of it which I haven’t tasted yet.
Trip Sitter – Barrel of Monks, 12% ABV
Barrel of Monks hails from Boca Raton FL, and is known for Belgian-style ales. Recently however, they have branched out and created some of the more mainstream styles such as IPAs, and this English Barleywine was made to celebrate their 7th anniversary. It is as good a barleywine as you hope to find and has all the malty, caramel goodness you need to enjoy this sipper. It does not taste like 12%, with a smooth mouthfeel that says take another sip. The can art is kinda wacky, and the I can only imagine the name refers to a person who is the DD if you have a couple of these at the brewery!! We reviewed this one in our BoM sampler video.
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It’s the time of year that breweries release beers that contain cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other adjuncts. The Brit visited a local chain liquor store and randomly selected 7 beers for the panel to taste and chat about. And that panel comprised the two co-hosts of the podcast, Chuck Fort from Church Street Brewing, Ken McMullen from Hopvine Brewing, and back because he hasn’t been to the pub for a while, beer-nerd and chum, Tom Ryan.
We of course divert from chat about the beers and cover many topics including the World Cup, and the origins of demerara sugar. Which of these brews came out the favorite? Or perhaps it was more than one! Tune in and find out!
The Brit is on vacation visiting family in the UK, so what better opportunity than to visit a few pubs and a brewery! The southern county of Sussex is home to Harvey’s Brewing, originating in 1745, but it also boasts plenty of new craft breweries including the one we visited, Firebird Brewing, located in an old brickworks factory in Rudgwick, Sussex.
Co-founder / brewer Richard Peters was kind enough to allow us to sit down with him at the end of the day’s operations, in the brewery taproom. Firebird was started by Richard and his business partner, Bill King around 8 years ago. Both of them have long brewing pedigrees with Bill coming from the legendary Sussex brewery, King & Barnes, and Richard from Courage. As we chatted, there were cleaning operations going on for kegs and their bottler, so we get plenty of atmospheric banging as the bungs were hammered back in!
That said we were able to chat with Richard and find out some of the differences between the US and UK craft scene, plus sample a couple of their excellent brews. And to keep their employees happy, a perk to working at Firebird is haircuts on a Monday after work in the taproom!!
Tune in to this episode to get a great insight into modern British brewing! Cheers!
Firebird Beers Sampled:
Heritage, Sussex Best Bitter, 4.0% ABV
Work Ethic, New England IPA, 5.0% ABV
Bohemia, Unfiltered Pilsner, 4.8% ABV
Vice, Hefeweizen, 5.0% ABV
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