Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Old Embalmer '12

Ambiguity defines the history of the barleywine style.  I have been trying to learn where this style first emerged, but I have been unable to pinpoint when brewers started producing a "barley wine."  According to Bryce Eddings at, the term "barleywine" was first used to describe Bass No. 1 in 1903, a high powered beer produced in Burton-on-Trent, England by White Shield.  Eddings concedes, however, that the barleywine style predated the early twentieth century. 

While I cannot pinpoint when the style first emerged, it seems clear that barleywines were first produced in England. It is possible that barleywines emerged out of the English Old Ale style. According to the Beer Certification Judge Program, old ales are mashed at higher temperatures than other styles (like strong ales), and then aged at the brewery after the primary fermentation.  This process produced a beer that has an alcohol content ranging between 6% and 9%. The barleywine style shares a similar production method and aging process.  The only significant difference between old ales and barleywines is that a barleywine usually has an alcohol content that starts at 8% and can go as high as 12%, if not higher.  In addition, a more recent phenomenon is to provide barleywines with their own vintages, just like the vintages of wines. 

I bought a bottle of the Widmer Brothers Old Embalmer '12.  The 2012 vintage of this beer features the use of Bravo Hops.  The bravo is a second generation, high alpha variety hop that was developed by the Hopsteiner breeding program in 2006. This hop is primarily used in as a bittering hop, which is added to provide the citrus or fruit flavors to the beer.

The brewers at Widmer did not use the Bravo hops for bittering; instead, they chose to use Alchemy hops as the bittering hops.  The Bravo hops were used as aroma hops, with the intent of highlighting those citrus flavors in the aroma of the beer.  

The Old Embalmer pours a bronze to brown in color, with amber hues.  As the beer was poured, a consistent, even foam developed over the beer.  The aromas of the Bravo hops penetrated that cloud-layer of foam, greeting the nose with a balance of citrus flavors, as well as caramel and malt aromas (from the use of the 2-Row Pale and Caramel malts used in the brewing process).  The flavors of the Old Embalmer seem more malt-driven, with hints of vanilla, caramel, and toffee being the principal flavor elements.  
With an ABV of over 10%, this beer is probably best enjoyed by itself as a digestif.  If you are looking for something to pair with this beer, then the dessert course is probably where you start.  Any dessert with caramel would make a good pairing with this beer.  You could also simply serve a cheese platter, with cheddar cheeses or goat cheeses, all of which should pair well with this beer.

I found this beer at a local grocery store.  It sold for about $14.99 a bottle.


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