Decided to get out of the smoke for a few days this week by telling Mrs W that we were going to spend a few days in the Peak District. Little did she know that my cunning plan included spending Monday at a seminar on Barley Wine organised by the Guild of Beer Writers and hosted by Thornbridge Brewery - a match made in heaven.
My notes are copious so I must have learned something but it was followed by a long tasting of various barley wine style beers so much is now dead brain cells. I will do my best to share some highlights without getting bogged down in the detail :
Some 50 beer writers and brewers pitched up at Thornbridge Hall such was the pull of barley wine for an afternoon of speakers and tastings. First up to speak was Mark Dorber who gave a talk on the style of various strong beers; followed by John Keeling from Fullers to share the history of Golden Pride and Fullers Vintage and the merits of using a parti-gyle brewing method. Next came Steve Wellington of White Shield Brewery to give the history of barley wine from a Burton perspective and lastly an American viewpoint by Steve Grossman from Sierra Nevada Brewery.
A short break here for a cheese and beer tasting. Woodforde's Headcracker matched with a Cheddar, Fullers Golden Pride together with mature Stilton and Thornbridge Alliance with a Somerset Brie; perfectly illustrating that beer (particularly strong beer) is a far better match with cheese that the more populist "cheese and wine".
Back to the classroom and we were entertained by wise old beer sage, Barrie Pepper; the micro brewers perspective from Steve Gibbs at Durham Brewery; Jeff Rosenmeyer of Lovibonds Brewery then gave the story of his fabulous Wheat Wine, a barley wine in a wheat beer style (of which more another day), and finally Peter Brown with his views on how to sell the stuff.
This was followed by some tucker and an unrivalled selection of beers to taste including a Fullers Vintage from 1999 to show how such strong beers are able to mature once bottled, a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot that had been highly hopped (never ?) and matured in whisky cask, and the Lovibonds Gold Reserve, the Wheat Wine loaded with honey and on draught, (CAMRA activists look away now) and served chilled with a CO2 dispense.
The bus taking most of the delegates back to Sheffield station left at 7.15pm at which point I wandered off down the pitch black, tree lined lane to feel my way back to my hotel a mile or so away.
A great day ! Hopefully the legacy of the seminar will be more barley wine produced by brewers large and small. There were certainly some enthusiastic brewers there on the day and hopefully enough writers will follow it up to demonstrate that barley wine is no longer a drink for the old ladies to drink while their hubbies take a pint of mild. It is a beer style that can accommodate different drinking occasions, matches with good food and is very approachable in small volumes - a single serve nip or a 70cl bottle made for sharing - before, after or during a meal, or just a quiet contemplative warming glassful at the end of a long day.