Sambrook’s released their No. 5 Barley Wine at last year’s excellent (if slightly damp) Beer By The River and I loved it. It had that rich, sticky sweetness and warming alcohol of a good barley wine and yet managed to remain light and drinkable enough for me to declare it “the perfect session barley wine“.
I promptly drank more of it than I perhaps should have done, and bought as many bottles to bring home as I could.
Thanks to some remarkable self control (and the ability to lose bottles at the back of my beer cupboard) I managed to squirrel away a couple of bottles, to see how it would mature. So, nearly a year old, how has it aged?
It’s a glorious ruby coloured ale that still has some good condition, pouring with a fine textured and lingering pale tan head sitting on top.
The nose is soft; initially slightly earthy, with some subtle black toffee notes that only come through as it warms, along with some unripe blackberries. The generous 8.2% ABV alcohol only really comes through if you inhale very deeply, and even then is very subtle.
In the mouth, however, this beer is considerably less subtle. It starts sugar sweet, but the longer is sits on the tongue, the heavier the alcohol comes through – washing away the sticky sweetness, warming the throat and almost numbing the lips. There’s more dark fruits, and the sharpness of sugar that’s just on the edge of being burnt and just in the finish there’s a slightly resinous, almost leafy hop flavour peeking out from under it all.
A year in the bottle has definitely allowed this beer to grow up; far from a session beer, it could now sit proudly next to a fine Belgian Tripel. 4 stars, and now I’m off to see if I have any more bottles ageing!