Barley Wine – a wine that’s not wine

When I was approached to try out the Barley Wine from Mill Street I was intrigued. What makes this a wine? Why is it called wine? What’s going on here? When you pick up your bottle at the LCBO it will come in a very nice box. But you will notice immediately that this is in fact not wine – it’s barrel aged beer. There’s a few things on the box that immediately let you know that this isn’t your average bottle of Mill Street Organic. First, this has a vintage on it – this has me asking questions about ageability. Second, the alcohol on this is 11% which definitely puts it into wine territory. Third, the bottle is not your typical beer bottle – it looks like it’s made of clay and sealed with red wax on the top.

What does it taste like? Well it does have a nice caramel malty note to it with the hops starting to poke through on the mid palate. The texture of this is rich and thick – definitely something that needs to be sipped and not guzzled. The last note is that this does have a bit of sweetness that opens up on the mid palate. This is balanced with bitterness and the finish is long. Definitely something unique and worth seeking out.

I still wanted some of my questions answered so I reached out to Mill Street’s Head Brewmaster Joel Manning to school me on his Barley Wine. Barley Wine has it’s origins in England and brewers there wanted to be able to market their beer to the aristocracy and calling this “Wine” made it fancy. At the time they would have been competing with imported wines from France. The noticeable sugar exists in the beer to help balance the higher alcohol.

Now the question about ageing. Joel says this bottle will evolve over ten years, but he enjoys them at the 4-7 year mark. You can expect the flavours to dry out and become more sherry-like as you hold onto your bottle. Joel says that this wine is made with the hops flavours taking a back-seat to the caramel malty notes.

If you’re looking for something unique for the beer, or wine lover in your life this is definitely something worth considering.

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