Using traditional English barleywine methods, Anchor Brewing has made Old Foghorn Barleywine-Style Ale since the mid-1970s. But even though the brewery has always been a pioneer in introducing — or reintroducing — obscurities to the beer-swilling public, barleywine remains something of a niche product. (Don’t let the RenFaire-sounding name fool you. It’s a beer, all right, a strong ale whose alcohol content was implied to reach wine-like levels.)
Malty and hoppy, Anchor’s version averages around eight to 10 percent ABV. That variation, according to Kyle Simon, Anchor’s research and development manager, owes itself to local factors within each barrel, which rests for about a year per Anchor’s self-imposed mandate.
“When we put them together, you get something more than the sum of its parts,” he says. “Sometimes we get a really special barrel and we want to do a single-barrel release, but for now, the blending is the fun part.”
Fun, yes, but Anchor’s latest barrel-aged release is a wonder. By reusing 11 lightly charred barrels used in Old Potrero Rye Whiskey, another house product, Anchor turned a malt-forward beer into a velvety wonder.
Brewmaster Scott Ungermann is most proud of the whiskey finish, noting that the the 11.5 percent ABV Barrel-Aged Old Foghorn has a “residual sweetness because of the maple syrup” that’s been added.
“It’s a little tart and dry,” he adds. “Try it with vanilla ice cream.”
It’s not the only higher-than-usual beer to emerge from the Potrero Hill brewery this fall, either. Anchor’s Christmas Ale, whose formulation is secret and varies every year, is closer to 6.5 percent ABV than the standard 5.5 percent, Ungermann says.
You can get your hands on some at a public tasting event next Wednesday, Nov. 16. The $25 ticket gets you a 22-oz. bottle (with more available for purchase), tastings of the classic and barrel-aged versions so your palate can compare them, bites from Humphry Slocombe, a self-guided brewery tour, and more.
For his part, Simon says that future plans for Old Foghorn have been hammered out yet.
“As bers are made on our main system, we’ve been putting them into different barrels,” he says. “We’ve got some wine barrels, some whiskey barrels, and we’ve got a few different beers in them — about 60 on-site, with no plans on having any less.”
Because it’s not a mass-market product, the barrel-aged barleywine will almost certainly available only on rotation “a few times a year,” and a not as a constant release.
“When we make lager, it should appeal to a lot of people. That’s why it works,” Simon says, observing that this is a different beast altogether.
“It showcases the prowess of our distillery and the artistry of the brewers,” he says.
Anchor Barrel Aged Old Foghorn Barleywine is available in 22-oz. bottles, for $20.