The Brouwers Hard Liver Barley Wine Festival is without doubt one of the hardest festivals for selection and choice on a 1 day visit to a Seattle event with 60 high alcohol beers. The festival is one of the key ‘Barley Wine Festivals’ in the country and by all accounts compares with the Toronado festival held in San Francisco as part of the SF Beer Week Celebrations.
The festival opened at 11am to the public with the judging of the barley wines that began at 9am, so by the time the doors opened the winners were announced.
1. Glacier Brewhouse Old Woody ’09
2. Big Sky Brewing Old Blue Hair ’09
3. Anacortes Brewery Old Sebastes ’09
So what is a Barley Wine? Firstly its NOT WINE, but its beer that is made with extra malt and hops that ranges in the 8-12% range. What first started in England is now a huge phenomena across the US and Canada, with many breweries making their own versions if it. One of the great parts of this beer is that the older it gets, the more rich it becomes.
It took a Swans Legacy Barley Wine for me to understand the nuances of it while it was on tap at Alibi Room in Vancouver, after that it was trips to Boundary Bay when they had theirs on tap.
Back to the Festival at hand, arriving at 1pm there was about a 20 person line up, and all the seats were taken inside and out, but knowing people would have been drinking strong wine for the last 2 hours I had assumed it was only a matter of time before some people stumbled out of the bar. Then it happened, there was seg-way, people left and I got to enter the cauldron of 60 Barley Wines on tap. Then it took another hour to find a spot upstairs and then get served.
Due to having 60 taps Brouwers had decided it was easier for the bar staff and servers to use a system of number from 1-60 that represented the beers, and then size of pour 3,6, or 12 ounce pours. SO when ordering you would state #3, 3oz,#10, 3oz etc.. it worked well, but it still took some time to get used, as even later that night i was still calling the names, not numbers.
In my 1st session I stayed for about 2 hours and sampled about 8-10 different beers, then i went to check into my local dodgy hotel before coming back for more at around 7pm.. that’s when i noticed the easily updated sign of blown taps (see below).
Without giving written descriptions of the all the barley wines I sampled, the easiest way is to give the names of some of the top beers that I wished I could drink more regularly. Yes I was lucky enough to sample the Winners, and the Sierra Nevada 96 Bigfoot which had intrigued me but didn’t blow me away. I would agree with the winning selection from the judges as Glacier Old Woody was an exceptional beer, that was actually my 1st beer I tasted on the day. The other high mention was to Lost Abbey Angels Share Bourbon and their Brandy version, but not sure if that’s just because I crave those styles of beer or not.
The Deschutes Mirror, Big Sky Old Blue, Dogfish Olde School, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Speakeasy Old Godfather were all other favorites of the day for me. There were some misses on the day, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Moylans Blarney, or Lost Coast Fogcutter but sometimes these are not bad beers, but on this day they weren’t to my taste. This festival was great for those beers with which you didn’t enjoy, you only spent $2 on them and thus you can sip and throw away.
The funniest part was later in the night when regulars came in looking for normal beers on tap, but they had walked into one of the best Barley Wine festivals on the West Coast. It is almost comical as most nights Brouwers has 60 taps of other beer, but for this one day it was Barley Wines, which was great for the legion of Barley Wine fans, but not for locals that wanted lagers, pilsners or even some IPA’s.
There is always something enjoyable about brouwers that brings me back each trip to Seattle, as its one of the West Coast’s premier beer bars, and locations for some of the best festivals. It was a tip from a local at the bar that helped me go home via the Bottle Works store and brought home some bottles of Pliny, not the Younger but Pliny the Original. Though its always the drive home from these festivals the following day that hurts, but I already can’t wait until next years event. But luckily next week is the Seattle Cask Festival at Seattle Center.