BJ’s Brewhouse Beer Club - BJ’s Barleywine Ale
- ABV: 10.5%
- Bottle Size: 750-ml
- Serving Temperature: 50–57° F
- Suggested Glassware: Snifter, Chalice, Tulip, or Teku
One of our two featured Rare Beer Club selections this month, BJ’s Barleywine is an exceptionally full-flavored and full-bodied release from the brewery, with 55 IBUs of bitterness providing a delicate balance. Citra and Ekuanot hops provide generous levels of citrusy, tropical, herbal notes throughout. This beer sees very limited distribution overall, and it will only be available through the Rare Beer Club and directly through BJ’s restaurants.
BJ’s barleywine pours a deep reddish-brown color, capped by off-white foam that’s nicely retained given the high ABV, leaving behind solid lacing around the perimeter of the glass. Overall: this is looking like deep, honeyed decadence in our glasses. Even direct from the fridge, you get really generous, chewy malt character from those initial aromatics, a hint at just how densely structured the core malt bill of this barleywine is. Aromatics lead with ripe red fruits and candied oranges, along with caramelized sugars and some herbaceous qualities from the hop additions. Touches of burnt sugars, honey, currants, and blackberries serve as periphery notes, filling out the core aromatics with lush details. Beautifully developed hoppy-barleywine flourishes throughout. Do allow this one some time to warm up in your glass.
From the initial sip, this proves to be smooth, beautifully developed barleywine packed with a generous fruitiness and assertive tropical, herbaceous notes from those Citra and Ekuanot additions. We love a good hop-forward barleywine and BJ’s version strikes a delicate balance between a rich fruit-focused maltiness and the bittering impacts of specialty malts and hops. Lots to dig into with this beer, and the subtle zing of core bitterness slowly aggregates with each sip, such that the sweetness here never manages to dominate the presentation. We got some nice touches of tropical notes like fresh tangerine and lime, subtle undercurrents to the main emphasis of herbaceously hopped, lush barleywine. So much to enjoy about this beer, not the least of which is how easy it is to get into a glass of this barleywine: aggregate fruits lead everything, with generous bitterness building and constantly evolving on the palate.
The assertive hop character of this beer has us inclined to enjoy this on the fresher side for maximum effect. That said, the caramelization isn’t a dominant note just yet, and this could age gracefully for a couple years or so, depending on how caramel levels ramp up over time. Perhaps longer, but the hops and overall vibe of this barleywine make us want to pop bottles in the soon times. For food pairings, we’re thinking of the top notes: plush red fruit, smooth caramel and malt sugars, plus that firm citrusy, herbal bitterness. Lamb kebabs? Roast pork tenderloin? Ribs? Just don’t go too sweet, as that balancing bitterness only extends so far.
Our history with brewmaster Alex Puchner goes back a long ways. Back in 1994 (eons ago), Alex was brewing for what was Laguna Beach Brewing. BJ’s wasn’t even brewing beers back in those days (it was still called “BJ’s Pizza & Grill”) and the beer world overall was a far less charted place, especially compared to today. Alex had been homebrewing for nearly a decade at that point and, along with Laguna Beach, had honed his skills at Newport Beach Brewing, Huntington Beach Brewing, and Westwood (not a Beach) Brewing. Amidst all of that, Alex served as a founding brewmaster on the club’s selection panel, working with us for our first three years and providing invaluable insight into Belgian-style brewing in our fledgling days.
Today Alex is the Sr. Vice President of Brewing Operations at BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, and we’ve been looking forward to securing another one of his beers for our members. Back in September 2011 (slightly fewer eons ago) we featured Camaraderie Ale: the collaborative beer resulting from BJ’s involvement with Belgium’s Brouwerij Bavik. That first European venture proved wildly successful, to the degree that Camaraderie became a staple offering at BJ’s locations nationwide. This time, we’ve chosen one of their epic barleywine releases.
BJ’s Barleywine is a well-hopped American barleywine that shows off Citra and Ekuanot hop additions, providing a citrusy, tropical, and herbaceous counterpoint to the beer’s full-bodied maltiness. We’ve really been enjoying the higher-ABV releases we’ve gotten to sample from BJ’s, and this barleywine release is our favorite to date. Packed with generous specialty malts and balancing bitterness, this one’s a perfect cool-weather beer to sip and savor.
It goes without saying that it’s great to have Alex involved with the club again. It’s been exciting for us to watch him even further hone his brewing techniques over the years, and this batch of BJ’s Barleywine might even be the best beer we’ve ever had from him. We hope our members sip and savor this full-bodied pick as happily as we did. This barleywine will get minimal distribution outside of the club, entirely through BJ’s restaurants.
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