Over the next few days I’ll be catching up on re-posting the First Draught columns from January and February that I haven’t gotten to yet. Looking at all three, a common thread that stands out is how much variety there is between various winter beers. I think there is an impression that stouts and porters with their black colour and heavily roasted malts are the most appropriate choices for cold weather. The contrary idea that has been confirmed in my mind as I’ve gone through my choices is that the more accurate thing to say is that winter beers are about warmth.
Alcohol gives a perceived sense of warmth and actually stouts (except the imperial versions) tend to be weaker and weigh in below the somewhat standard 5% abv. It’s more of a stretch, I guess, but it’s also fair to say that winter beers tend to come in bigger bottles—this one, Shipyard’s barley wine, is packaged in a 625 ml bottle. I imagine there are solid production-side considerations here like cost, marketing, and ageability, but from the consumer perspective a bomber calls out to be shared. Shared beers for when we’re inside with friends and family; smaller individual bottles for the outside months on the dock or patio.
By featuring Shipyard Brewing in the fall of 2012, the LCBO gave customers another snapshot view into how advanced the craft beer scene is south of the border. The Pugsley’s Signature Series Barley Wine stands out as one of the more memorable beers from the lineup.
The line between beer and wine can blur at some points, but the easy way to define the difference is to say that any non-distilled alcoholic beverage that is fermented from grains soaked in water is beer, while an alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice is wine.
In short, barley wine is beer that is as strong as wine. Some other examples in the category top 14 per cent, and combine that with the larger size (barley wines often come in 750 mL, wine-style bottles) and you have a beer that can pack a heavier punch than a six-pack of Coors Light.
Even though this beer is from Maine, the indicators that it’s made in the English style start with the very dark brown colour and the slightly sweet aromas of dark caramel, molasses and a touch of raisins. The taste is nicely balanced between a figs-and-plums sweetness and a roasted, dark chocolate bitterness. Warming alcohol heat lingers on the finish.
The LCBO’s website lists the Shipyard’s barley wine as discontinued, but there are still many Toronto locations with bottles in stock. As I’ve discussed with some of my other selections this winter, the high alcohol content in barley wine gives it the potential to age well, so it shouldn’t be too much of a concern that these bottles have been on store shelves for a couple months.
Shipyard’s Pugsley’s Signature Series Barley Wine, $7.95 for a 625 mL bottle, LCBO #288969