Barleywine, Made for Memorable Meals
It’s 75 degrees and feels warmer than that in full sun on November the 15th in Tulsa, OK. I settled into to my favorite chair to write about what I think might be the quintessential beverage for the Thanksgiving table. Got my coffee, iced, and the air-conditioning set to a negotiated 72 degrees.
You may recall that last week we released the newest beer in our barrel-aged series, Barleywine Ale. (Eric finally let me name a beer!) The backstory for Barleywine Ale is that we had been discussing styles of beer to age in our bourbon casks directly after aging Black Dolphin Stout. Typically, a cask gives up the most robust flavor and strong oak tannin with its first use. The second use yields mellow, soft, sweet oak tannin and the lighter side of the original spirit. We discussed our desire to offer the casks a malt forward style that would develop depth and nuance with the second use cask. After debating between Scottish styles and Barleywines, we arrived at the idea that excited everyone collectively, an American Barleywine.
Barleywines hail from England, and though stories vary, the concept is that brewers of yore used a technique known as Parti-gyle, whereby a single mash was used to produce several beer styles. The earliest runnings would produce the most robust and alcoholic beers while subsequent runnings produced increasing less intensity. The first running was often aged by brewers and released during winter months and associated with holidays. Other stories detail English brewers desire to attract drinkers from the nationally beloved French Claret. Could this be the reason brewers declare the first runnings a Barleywine?
To be clear, Barleywines are beer. They do offer complexity, vinous character, and age well in a similar fashion to their grape fermented cousins. In modern times, the Parti-gyle system is used less, and especially in American craft beer, complex recipes are concocted to produce the brewers interpretation of a single style. American Barleywines reflect the American respect for traditional styles while pushing the boundaries of that style while using American ingredients, particularly hops and yeast.
Our Barleywine Ale, is a blend of rich malts and the well-known American Centennial and Chinook hops. Back in February, Barleywine Ale moved from fermentation to bourbon casks that had previously held Black Dolphin Stout. Nine months later, our cellar tasting panel approved the move from cask to bottle and keg. The result is perhaps the most complex beer we have released to date.
Beer for Thanksgiving?
Did you know that the Pilgrims were forced to stop at Plymouth Rock because they had run out of beer? Beer was a main form of sustenance on the open sea in the days of Columbus. It was caloric and kept the crew hydrated as sea water could not be consumed. Read more HERE. Those early settlers would have no doubt sought to brew beer once landed, making it plausible that beer was part of the first Thanksgiving. But beer, and in particular the beers of fall and winter, have much more reason to be at the table than purely historic connection.
Without boring you with the details of malting and brewing, beers that are copper to dark in color obtain their color from the roasting/kilning of malted barley. That process, similar to roasting coffee beans, caramelizes the natural plant sugars on the exterior of the barley creating color, but more importantly flavor. Barleywine Ale gets its rich malt flavor from the use of Maris Otter and other specialty malts. These malts are lightly roasted creating honey, toffee, and other lightly toasted flavors. Similarly, when meats, for instance the Thanksgiving Turkey, are roasted, the resulting Mailliard reaction or browning of the meat caramelizes the sugars in the protein creating desirable flavor. Roasted meats are a natural pair with beers that have a roasted malt flavor profile.
However, the pairing doesn’t end with the turkey. Most of the common American side dishes at Thanksgiving deal in both richness and sweetness. Candied yams, stuffing, sweet potato pie – each of these dishes have strong profiles based on caramelization making them an excellent pair with Barleywine Ale and other similar malt-forward beers.
Theory of Pairing
Let’s take a more in-depth look at flavor profiles for pairing food and beer to include ingredients and technique.
Sautéed Onion: While cooking the onions, water is evaporated concentrating flavor while browning caramelizes natural plant sugars.
Bread: Bread is dried then toasted concentrating flavor and developing richness and malty flavor. Note – Beer and bread essentially have the same ingredients, just different portions.
Sage: Sage provides the distinctive aroma and balance to the bread and sweetness of other ingredients. Similarly, hops play the same role in beer developing aroma and balancing sweetness.
Giblets/Sausage: Meat is browned to add more rich flavor to intensify and add body to the stuffing.
Combining the above ingredients results in a stuffing that is a balance of sweet and savory, rich and filling.
Barleywine: Rich malts are combined with American hops for balance. The result is a full bodied and complex ale with sweetness, the nuance of light oak tannin, and a kiss of the sweeter side of bourbon such as brown sugar and vanilla. Centennial and Chinook hops balance the sweetness to create an almost dry finish.
As you can see, not only are some of the ingredients treated similarly in the malting/cooking process, some of the ideology behind combining ingredients is the same. Heck, in this bloggers opinion, you could probably substitute some of the liquid in the stuffing with Barleywine Ale to further intensify flavors and fortify the pairing.
So long before I sat down with a laptop and an iced coffee, the idea of Barleywine at the holidays was well in place. Whether the historical notion of beer being served at the first Thanksgiving, the idea of Barleywines being available at the holidays, or the similarities of cooking and brewing inspire you, we hope that you will include beer in your holiday feast.
One final thought, the thriving craft beer industry is proof that the American dream is alive. As you celebrate, give thanks that small, local businesses offer opportunity, selection, and hope for a bright future for this great country.
Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Marshall Brewing!
About the Blogger: Wes Alexander is the self proclaimed resident food expert at Marshall Brewing. By day, Wes is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Marshall, but in his spare time his passion is preparing food for family and friends. Having attended well over 100 beer dinners, Wes proudly brags, “Can you believe this is my job?”