Barleywine, Bitter, Beer judging

Last Friday, minutes before leaving for a beer-judging weekend trip to Oakland, CA, I kegged this year’s Gnarly Barleywine. Even though it has been four years since the first and last time I made this barleywine, I call it “this year’s” barleywine because it is a good enough recipe that I would like to make it yearly. Brewed on May 6th, this beer’s beginnings reach back another two weeks to a 10-gallon batch of Bitter I made as a yeast starter for the barleywine.

As I write this article, I sip the Starter Bitter. It’s an ordinary bitter on the very low end of the SG range and the very high end of the IBU bracket. That combination of attributes makes for a bad beer. The bitterness is sharp and harsh and the body is thin. Adding calcium sulfate to RO water is about the only way to “fix” my tap water, but I think I overdid it this time. Sulfur compounds accentuate harsh bitterness. It is carbonic and metallic and a healthy dose of malt flavor would really bring this beer from the brink of disaster. The bouquet has some malt sweetness, but lacks hop aroma. Pardon me while I take another draught. Next time, five more pounds of Maris Ottr. The recipe:

10 gallons of Ordinary Bitter

  • 12 lbs Maris Ottr Pale
  • 2 lbs Crystal 60

90 minute rest at 149° F


  • 2 oz 7.6% AA pellet Brewer’s Gold 60 minutes
  • 2 oz 5.25% AA whole EK Goldings 15 minutes

WYeast 1098 British Ale yeast. Ferment around 62° F.

A better mash program will probably help the malt profile. 149° F is at the top end of beta-amylase’s temperature range, but below alpha-amylase. Beta makes fermentable sugars and alpha makes unfermentables. As John Palmer writes: “A lower mash temperature, less than or equal to 150°F, yields a thinner bodied, drier beer.” That is exactly what I have; more malt please.

I should also note that higher fermentation temperatures will produce more of the British ester compounds that are missing from this beer.

The low starting gravity sure makes for a low-alcohol session beer. Pardon me while I pour another pint.

Moving along, the starter bitter fermented out and I transferred it to kegs. Onto the yeast cake I dumped 5 gallons of New Gnarly Barleywine:


  • 13.25 lbs Maris Ottr Pale
  • 2.25 lbs Honey Malt
  • 1.5 lbs Munich
  • 1 lbs Carapils Malt
  • 0.5 lbs Brown Malt

Mashed at 145° F for 60 minutes. Raised mash up to 160° F for another 30 minutes.

Hops (90 minute boil)

  • 1.5 oz 14.4% AA pellet Magnum first-wort
  • 1 oz 5.2% AA pellet Mt Hood 15 mins
  • 1 oz 5.2% AA pellet Mt Hood 5 mins
  • 2 oz 4.8% AA pellet EK Goldings 2 weeks dry hop

WYeast 1098 British Ale yeast. Ferment around 62° F.
OG: 1.092
FG: 1.018
IBU: 71 (est)

I was in a rush to get to the airport for this weekend’s Longshot competition, therefore I did not get a proper taste on the way to the keg, nor did I add the dry-hops. Adding them will give me an opportunity to have a proper taste test.

Longshot was great, as usual. This marks my third year judging at the competition and reinforced my appreciation for the Boston Beer Company. My report from 2007 will give you an idea of what it’s like. Incidentally, the best in show in our region went to a barleywine.

22 beers waiting to be judged best in show. The dude on the right is Pete Solsberg of Wicked Ale and gourmet chocolate fame. Real approachable guy – as are most brewers.

2 thoughts on “Barleywine, Bitter, Beer judging”

Leave a Reply