I’ve reviewed many different styles of beer here at The Brewclub, but to date I’ve not reviewed many Barley Wines.
It was Aristotle (384-322 BC) who first described Ales as ‘barley wine’, and while that’s a poetic description, the history is perhaps even more interesting. Barley wines are said to stem from the ongoing hostilities between Britain and France (the old enemy) in the late 18th Century – Napoleon Bonaparte and all that. During such times of warfare it was virtually impossible to import wine from France into Britain and the British aristocracy sought alternatives. Barley Wine was brewed, often towards a reddish colour, and up to wine like strengths, around the 10%-12% range.
Bass No.1 Ale is acknowledged to be the first ale to be marketed as Barley Wine, while Gold Label remains the best selling Barley Wine in the UK, originally brewed by Whitbread from the 1950’s, now brewed in Luton by InBev.
Of course Brewdog, with their propensity for brewing strong (sometimes excessively strong) ales couldn’t resist the style, and brewed Shipwrecker Circus in collaboration with Colorado’s Oskar Blues brewery, so I’m expecting this to be a paler style of Barley Wine, perhaps in the style of an Imperial Pale Ale.
It’s based on an interesting blend of malts – Chocolate, Crystal, Extra Pale and Munich, with the three C’s hop-wise Cascade, Chinook and Citra. I confess that I wouldn’t have expected those hops in such a potent brew, but hey, I’m not a brewer.
Cover me, guys… I’m going in.
It pours a rich, dark garnet colour (I was wrong expecting an Imperial IPA); maybe a little dark for a red wine, a ruby port maybe, but that tends not to be accompanied by a rich latte coloured head.
The nose is rich and vinous, there are late summer plums, and liquorice in there, but overall the nose is reminiscent of Rodenbach Grand Cru, but without the sourness.
The mouthfeel is rich, viscous, and almost sticky, it coats your mouth and gums with rich, alcoholic warmth.
The citrus notes from those exotic hops have been scared off , there’s little trace of them in the nose or taste, but their bitterness remains, catching at the back of your throat as the brew goes down, and what remains on the palate is rich and warming.
It’s a fine brew, well balanced and rewarding. While I’m known as a Brewdog ‘fanboy’, I’ve not stumbled across Oskar Blues before – although Brewclub contributor Lee Salawitch liked their “Ten FIDY Imperial Stout” . I’ll look out for their brews when I next visit a beer-monger.
It’s very much a guilty pleasure; I’m happy to give this four Brewclub stars.
As for the beer’s name ‘Shipwrecker Circus’ I confess I’m, as so often with Brewdog’s beer names, at a loss. The closest reference I could find was a story about a ‘Shipwrecked Circus” that ran in a British comic ‘The Beano’ – I remember reading it when I was a kid in the sixties. Each member of the circus in question was able to use their talents to benefit the whole group – it’s the sort of inspirational message that stuck in the mind of this six year old.
Given that the Brewdog founders are both decades younger than me, I couldn’t believe that that was the reference, so I thought I’d ask, and the response from the brewery was that it was “just the result of a mind meld between James and the guys from Oscar Blues, throwing around idea names over a schooner or two when they were here to brew the collaboration beer.“