Ridgeway Brewing - Imperial Barley Wine Ale (2015 Vintage)
Serving Temperature:50-55° F
Suggested Glassware:Snifter or Tulip
English barleywines are pretty big, robust beers to begin with, but Ridgeway has amped it up a bit more in this "imperial" version, pumping up the ABV a bit as well as the bitterness in order to ensure plenty of life for this age-worthy beer. Already matured two years, there is no real "best before" date for something like this brew; we plan to tuck a few bottles away and try them out every year or so to see how they develop.
Pouring a bright copper-amber color with great clarity, this brew is quite aromatic. (And please do use a glass with this one for the best experience.) At 10% ABV, it's not a surprise to catch a whiff of alcohol, but underpinning that is a nice mix of caramelized malts and various fruity notes. Look for stone fruits akin to apricot and plum, along with light tones of dried fig and raisin, joined by some honey and just a wisp of citrus. On the palate, the beer is both smooth & round, and not overly heavy, the alcohol (which is thinner than water) no doubt helping here. There's a richly malty core boasting caramel and mild toffee notes, which is sturdy enough to support those big fruity notes which are shot all through this big barleywine. Dry-hopped with all-English hops, there's a distinctly English floral and woody character which works well with a certain sherry-like quality and the overall vinous vibe. Hop bitterness joins with spicy alcohol to provide plenty of balance to the rich malt. This brew is excellent on its own as a nightcap on a cold evening, but food pairings are possible. Robustly flavored dishes like roasted beef, lamb, or venison are a good bet, along with strong, aged cheeses. For dessert, creamy cheesecakes or crème brûlée would be our choice. Cheers!
When the iconic Brakspear Brewery was shuttered and sold off to create room for a new luxury hotel in 2002, both British citizens and connoisseurs of British beer were shocked. In business since 1779, the brewery was well-known as the home of one of the most renowned Bitters in England, and its closing appeared to be a sign of the times – another in a long string of traditional British brewers to close down as the beer landscape shifted further in favor of huge conglomerate beer companies.
Fortunately this is not the end of our story, but rather the beginning. After the brewery closed, Brakspear’s brewmaster, Peter Scholey, set out on his own in order to keep his craft alive. Ridgeway Brewing rose like a phoenix from Brakspear’s ashes in a new location not far from Scholey’s old brewery, about 30 miles west of London. Ridgeway Brewing was named after a very, very old road that traverses England’s southwest region. Currently passable only on foot or by horse, the Ridgeway was built by Britain’s oldest inhabitants, the Druids, thousands of years before Roman invaders arrived and put down their own roads on the island. In fact, the road is the oldest in the British Isles and is almost 100 miles in length, passing near both Stonehenge and Peter Scholey’s home. Naming the brewery after the road was a symbol of Scholey’s determination to keep Britain’s very rich tradition of brewing alive despite the passage of time and ever-expanding development.
With Ridgeway Brewing, Scholey manages to successfully join innovative modern brewing techniques with the old-world brewing traditions that find themselves increasingly under attack. We congratulate him for working hard against modern pressures to keep the craft of traditional British beer alive and well in the 21st century. Peter Scholey has quite the sense of humor, and many of his beers bear tongue-in-cheek Christmas-themed names like this month’s Pickled Santa, as well as Lump of Coal, and a slew of elven names: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, and Insanely Bad Elf. We’re waiting to see what he comes up with for further installments—we could dream up a few even wilder names, but they’re not exactly Christmas-like, so instead of pushing the envelope here we’ll just wait and see what new brews come along in the future.
In addition to their Christmas seasonal beers, Ridgeway produces a core lineup including traditional English IPA; Bitter; ESB; Golden Ale; Stout; and Red, Black, and Brown Ales. On top of those, Ridgeway brews a trio of vintage "imperial" beers which all tap into the theme of a Russian Imperial Stout (which is actually an English style that was famously imbibed in large quantities by the Imperial Russian court of Catherine the Great). Not surprisingly, one of the trio is Ridgeway's Imperial Russian Stout, which is joined by this month's feature, Imperial Barley Wine, as well as Imperial Red Ale – all of which are capable of extended aging. Each vintage is a limited run, so we're very excited to have the opportunity to share the exceptional 2015 vintage of the Imperial Barley Wine with you this month.
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