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Hop-heads unite

Parkway Tavern’s Barley Wine Festival is back for more

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Barley wine is not for  newbies to the beer world. Drinking the brew with a punch will knock out the beer novices before they can finish their first pints if all they are conditioned to drink is the mass-produced brews found in cans at convenience stores.

“Barley Wine is not a beginner’s beer. Even most beer geeks draw the line at barley wine,” says Parkway Tavern manager John O’Gara. “You don’t sit down and enjoy a pint of barley wine the way you would an IPA. It’s a sipping beer.”

Maybe its the fact that it has about double the alcohol as many beers and more than double the punch found in most barrels, but barley wine has been largely relegated to niche events in the beer world.

Such is the case with the Parkway Tavern’s second-annual barley wine festival, from noon until closing time April 21. The event will offer four-ounce samplers of 26 aged and newly released barley wines from around the Northwest that O’Gara has up on tap this year, up from 18 found at last year’s event. Samples run $2, and be selective since trying to sample all 24 brands will likely land even the most tried and true liver in the hospital. Barley wine is that potent.

“I think with 26 samples, it would be almost impossible,” O’Gara says. “I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. That is an awful lot of very strong beer.”

The Barley Wine Festival at the Parkway will include samples and informational sheets as well as raffles and prizes throughout the day. The details are still being worked out.

“It’s the Parkway,” O’Gara explains. “We tend to be casual. We wing it a lot. We aren’t going to have speeches or pontifications or anything like that.”

One thing festival goers should expect is a crowd. Last year’s event was standing room only and broke the single-day record ever at the Parkway. It was a record that had not been broken in years and was only recently broken by the tavern’s IPA festival in August. This year’s Barley Wine Festival will likely regain its title.

“We are going to be packed the whole day,” O’Gara says.

In case you need a beer primer, barley wine is a top-fermented beer of unusually high, wine-like, alcohol content. It runs from copper-colored to dark brown and is noted for its strongly fruity flavor that is sometimes fermented with wine or champagne yeast.

Barley wine is a style of strong ale originating in England in the 19th century. The term was originally coined around 1900 by Bass Brewing to refer to the brewmaster’s No. 1 Ale. It is the strongest member of the bitter family of styles. It typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12 percent by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is in fact a beer. In the United States barley wines are required for this reason to be called “barley wine-style ales.” This is taken by some to imply that they are not truly barley wines; in fact it only means that they, like any barley wines, are not truly wines.

Their natural sweetness is usually balanced with a degree of hoppy bitterness. This beer is meant for slow sipping and savoring of its fruity, high-alcohol and well-aged character. It is brewed most often to celebrate events. Because it contain a lot of hops and has a high alcohol content, some barley wines are aged for years, much like wines.

Here’s a sample of the barley wine list for, er, sampling at the Parkway event:

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws ’05

North Coast Old Stock ’05

Boundary Bay Old Bounder ’03

Rogue Old Crustacean ’05

Hale\'s Rudyard\'s Rare ’05

Stone Old Guardian ’06

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot ’06

Lagunitas Gnarlywine ’04

Avery Hog Heaven ’06

Anchor Old Foghorn ’06

Deschutes\' Mirror Mirror ’06

Dick\'s Barley Wine ’06 Cask

Port Townsend Barley Wine ’06

Skagit Two-penny ’06

Scuttlebutt Old No.1 ’06

Bridgeport Old Knucklehead ’06

Pike Old Bawdy ’06

Full Sail Old Boardhead ’06

Diamond Knot Icebreaker ’06

Fish Leviathan ’06

Alaskan Big Nugget ’06

[Parkway Tavern, Saturday, April 21, noon, 313 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.383.8748]

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