Here's a brew that many of you will recognize! Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot has not only been a perennial offering, but also has excellent availability during the end of the summer months. Now, it's been a while since I purchased this, but I don't remember it costing an arm or a leg either. In fact, I bought a second six pack of it this season. That might not mean much to you, but to a guy that's trying to taste as many different beers as possible that's another 6 times that I am guaranteeing myself that I will drink this beer in addition to the 6 I already purchased. Guess I better start emptying this sixer. Let's pour!
Dry, hoppy aromas rush from the bottle as soon as the cap is lifted, however the beer as a whole is much more balanced. Rich caramel malts combine with resinous, peppery hops and a faded citrus that still contains more than a hint of grapefruit and lemon. Some raw sugar arrives late to compliment the caramel and as the beer opens in the glass a darker, bittersweet aroma, like that of molasses, steps forward as well leaving the beer with a deliciously sweet malt emphasis. There is a slight alcohol warmth that tries to remain invisible, but 9.6% ABV in a bottle can only stay hidden for so long.
This beer pours an amalgamation of dark autumnal colors. It initially appears as a shade just this side of red from the dying leaves that still crowd some branches. It even looks as opaque as some of those dead leaves, but when held to light a gorgeous sunset red fills the bottom of the glass and the remainder lightens to a handsome shade of bright sienna. The head rests gently on top of this brew and is a light beige color. Top marks for size, retention, texture, and lacing.
The first impressions from this beer are two very hearty handshakes from hoppy bitterness and that raw sugary, caramel malt. At first, you can't tell which one wants to meet you more, but eventually the bitter flavors of the hops take over and maintain the style's accuracy. The backbone involves a fading sweetness and a proportionally increasing resin. An interesting ray of sugary lemon pokes through that bitter, but its appearance is as brief as it is unmistakable. Both the sweet and bitter remain strong when holding the beer in the mouth, though a quick slurp allows the alcohol to easily shout over the top of both of them. The finish is triumphantly resinous and the warmth finally reveals itself to the drinker. The bitter quickly turns to that of something charred (and maybe a bit peppery) and lingers on the back of the tongue. It should come as no surprise that the ABV and the bitter leave the mouth quite dry.
Anything that hides alcohol this well deserves some credit. You almost won't find the warmth in this brew except in the finish and easily with a wine tasters' slurp. However, this is not the only characteristic worth mentioning. The body and carbonation go wonderfully together and are perfect for the style. All the malts used make for a silky smooth body, but not at the expense of carbonation. The carbonation is present, but diminished so as not to distract from the "big beer" body style. It also gives the lightest foaming action that adds even more to the creamy mouthfeel, while also keeping it from feeling syrupy.
Overall Impression 9/10
From my limited experience with the barleywine style, this seems to me to be an excellent example. The colors are beautiful, the aroma very nice albeit diminished by age, the flavor profile is spot on with plentiful malts and a stronger bitter, and the mouthfeel is above and beyond. Had this been fresh, I can only imagine that the hops would have presented yet another layer of complexity to this brew and possibly have added to its sweetness.
I have no idea why I don't hear more in the craft beer universe about this brew being vertically tasted. To me it seems like an excellent candidate: relatively inexpensive, high ABV, annual release, readily available, and extremely tasty! Then again, I suppose I don't hear much about vertical tastings at all let alone for this brew. This is a great beer for all the reasons that would make it a great vertical taster and because of its thick body, sweet and bitter balance, and that oh-so-delicate foaming action. There's no reason not to pick up this beer. For those not yet accustomed to bitter or hoppy beers, this may be a bit of a stretch for you as the flavors in this are big. However, I will say that it's also well balanced. So for those looking for big, tasty beers who want something more than a hop bomb, or are looking to venture into hop bombs in the near future, this is definitely a beer you'll want to check out.