Friday, February 1, 2008

The Session: Head to Head

The Session this month is barleywine. My, um, beer influences were formed at a time when what you did -- to be hip, you understand -- was age your barleywine. Um, I also aged the beer because I bought more than I could drink. I still do, kind of.

Regardless, that's the kind of thinking that brought me to this evening: a 1999 Full Sail Old Boardhead on my left, and a 2003 BridgePort Old Knucklehead on my right. There's also a nice gooey puck of La Tur in the middle, an Italian mixed-milk cheese -- cow, sheep, and goat, Cathy called it "the turducken of cheese." You need some serious beer to take on a cheese like this: it's rich and creamy, it's also kinda stanky, thoroughly my kind of cheese. But me and the Heads, we're up to it.

The Boardhead shows its age in oxidation -- sherry, old paper, and a stickiness around the edges that ain't all malt. But you know, one of the things I learned back when I was being influenced was that I likethat oxidation effect in a big malty alefruited beer. What the hell, I like a little diacetyl in my English ales, too. Never said I was like everyone else. The cheese pulls some nuttiness out of it, and heightens the sherry notes, brings it to life somewhat.

The Knucklehead is notably younger, or fresher, or lighter to begin with -- probably the latter as I recall from drinking both these beers fresh, years ago. There's fruit, and a dry note of anise, some berries, and a touch of that sherry. It's lighter, but it's still barleywine for sure. The cheese lights it up like a damned carnival ride, too, blowing the fruit right up my stack. It's just amazing to me how that happens. Because when I take a good pull on the beer, and clear the cheese...it backs down to normal, the previous baseline.

What's interesting with both of these beers is that sweet, and old, and oxidized as they are, and with no up-front hop character to speak of, they both eventually leave a bitter finish. Ah, the power of hops.

This is a bit premature for me. My big barleywine day is always the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. I blame Jim Anderson because Split Thy Skull, the annual barleywine event that Jim instituted, always fell on Easter Saturday. And I'd go drink barleywine, and then have to sing at Easter Vigil services that night. I sang well, too. Barleywine has always been a big part of Easter for me.

But hell. I'll drink it now, and love it.

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