I'm not a stout person. I'm not a winter ale person. So, my winter months are generally filled with porters and IPAs. As a special treat I like to drink a barleywine or two. A barleywine or two for the winter, not for the evening. It's a treat. A refined style that few breweries truly do well.
And I'm in the minority. Far more people prefer the big beefiness of a stout. The big body. The aggressive hopping. The full mouthfeel. The chocolate familiarity. Cold. Warm. It rarely matters.
The barleywine can be a little harder to get your head around. High alcohol. Lots of esthers. Perhaps aggressive hopping. A thinner, more viscous body. A bigger concentration on the lighter malts - and lots of 'em. Perhaps some caramel malt thrown in. At their worst they are cloying, alcohol bombs. At their best they can be refined, and sweet easy sippers reminiscent of a fine liquor. Best served at upper cellar temperatures, almost room temperature - like a wine.
So, I stopped in at Barriques in Fitchburg to check out what they had and I saw this Nils Oscar Swedish Barleywine. What makes it a Swedish barleywine? I have no idea. Other than that it's actually from Sweden. Nyköping, Sweden, specifically. Just north of Oxelosund on Route 53 on a small bay of the Baltic Sea. Hey, everywhere's local for someone, right?
Nils Oscar Swedish Barley Wine-Style Ale
Appearance: A murky, dirty blonde - one of the lighter-colored barleywines I've seen; the head is thin and barley existent, the carbonation is quick and fizzy and settles quickly
Aroma: lots and lots of pilsner, light malt; the malt aroma is big and fresh with a pronounced caramel apple coming up behind; there is a slight ever-so-slight fresh grass hoppiness
Flavor: convoluted flavors of malt come in and out of the mouth; the surprising hoppiness and the strong malt profile somehow give it a cider-y flavor; the alcohol, all 9.5% of it, is completely hidden
Body: lighter than most barleywines, it coats and swirls in the mouth, but the finish is moderately clean
Drinkability: lighter than most barleywines, this one would work equally well in a pint glass as the goblet I poured it into; while one is certainly enough, it is not a chore to finish like many barleywines can be
Summary: Is it my favorite ever? Probably not. But it is very enjoyable and something a little different for the style. While it's a little pricey ($4.99 or so for an 11.2oz bottle), to share over chicken stroganoff with Mrs. MBR for Friday night movies is perfect.