I’m always up for trying something new in craft beers, so this review of the Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale is a first on two fronts!
So, what’s a barley wine style ale anyway? Well, so far as I can tell, (with 2 minutes of research on Wikipedia) a barley wine style ale “…typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit it is in fact a beer.”
So there we go. Right off the bat, Hog Heaven Barley Wine is 9.2% ABV, but I have a feeling there is more to the style than being at ‘wine strength’. Heck, most beers I try now are in this neighborhood and they aren’t considered barley wines. Anybody want to fill us in with barley wine 101?
On to the beer then!
Avery Hog Heaven, as I mentioned is a respectable 9.2% ABV beer that pours a cloudy dark amber color into my standard pint glass. The Avery website says the beer is garnet colored, but I’m sticking with dark amber because that’s the kind of mood I’m in!
There’s a decent frothy off-white head that is created that has excellent retention – and there’s really good lacing on the glass to boot throughout. The aroma is mostly hops – if I were a beer dummy (don’t say anything) I might guess that this were a strong American Pale Ale or maybe an IPA. It’s got that kind of aroma to it. Hops,are big here, but if you wait a bit there’s also a good deal of sweetness that comes through – a malty sweetness that makes it a little different than what is customary in these parts!
Referring back to the Avery website, it turns out that the hops are of the ‘Colombus’ variety, and the malts are ‘two-row barley’ and then there’s mention of ‘caramel 75L’. Not sure exactly if that means there is a caramel malt or the 75L is a measurement of caramel, but sure enough that sweetness does remind me of it!
Well, here goes! Tasting my first barley wine ale was a treat. I’ll admit that I had shied away from hoppy beers in the past and I probably would have never bought a beer like this a few months ago. But while the Avery website proclaims that this beer is a ‘hop lover’s delight’ I found that the hop taste was well balanced with that nice malt flavor and a nice sweetness.
I also appreciated that even at 9.2% ABV, the alcohol flavors in this beer were not over-the-top. That’s one of the things I dislike about some of the Southern Tier Imperial beers. The alcohol is well up-front which I don’t really like. Its not the same type of beer obviously, but in contrast, at 9.2%, the alcohol flavors are not the focus in this Avery brew.
The sweetness is also not overdone, but you can really pick up on the fact that this 22 oz bomber is (I’m sure) loaded with calories!
Mouthfeel is nice – its a beer with some body and its kind of slick but it doesn’t leave a sticky feeling in the mouth like some of the sweeter Belgian-style ales which may or may not use this caramel stuff. There is a nice aftertaste, and the beer really hides the high ABV very well. No warming really, so be careful here!
Overall, I’d say that my first Avery beer, and my first barley-wine style ale were very enjoyable. If I had to describe it in super-layman terms (what other way can I???) I’d say this particular beer is a cross between an IPA and a strong, not dark Belgian (like Van Damme?). Its not overly hoppy, nor is it overly sweet or boozy either. I’m impressed, and having consumed 22oz of this stuff, I’m ready for a nap as well!
Its hard to rate this beer because I don’t have anything to compare it to. I like it, and I would get it again – but I can’t really say its great because I need a benchmark. For now, Hog Heaven is my barley-wine benchmark and I’m going to give it 3.5 stars. Not bad at all. I’d also say that this would be a great beer for the warmer Summer months! While a bit on the sweet side, its not heavy and its quite refreshing.
What’s your take on Hog Heaven or barley wines in general? What makes them so special and what do you recommend that I try to broaden my exposure to this interesting beer style?