Nothing takes the chill off a cold winter (or a cool spring) evening like a glass of barleywine. At least, I don’t think so. I am quite fond of sipping one of these malty warming treats in the early months of the year. That’s the time that Sierra Nevada’s legendary Bigfoot hits store shelves, though I may be just as apt to be sipping a Rogue Old Crustacean, an Anchor Old Foghorn, or a Duck Rabbit Barleywine.
Tonight, though, I’m enjoying a new barleywine (at least for me, the beer has been brewed each year since 2007): Southern Tier Back Burner Barley Wine Style Ale. Southern Tier calls this an “imperial” barleywine, though that’s not true at all and I don't think there is such an animal. It’s really a west coast IPA after the fashion of Bigfoot, though it seems to lean in the malt direction over the hops. That said, there are hops galore here all the same. Curiously, too, both Bigfoot and Back burner have the same alcohol content at 9.6% by volume.
According to the label, Back Burner is brewed with “2-row pale malt, light and dark caramel malt”, “kettle hops: Chinook, aroma hops: Willamette, dry hops: Amarillo, Centennial”. The beer is aged with oak according to the Southern Tier website although I did not get a lot of oak character.
Southern Tier Back Burner Barleywine pours to a muddy brown color with an almost nonexistent head formation and a chewy, bready caramel malt nose. The first sip hammers the palate with a big chewy caramel malt presence; it’s bready and doughy, yeasty and reminiscent of Rogue’s Old Crustacean. Dark fruity notes of raisin, fig and spice cake emerge, along with toasted nuts. Into the finish, a punctuating hop presence emerges, herbal and minty, green and ever so slightly piney. I do get more hop bitterness than aroma here, though there is a touch of the latter.
All in all, this is a nice little complex barleywine, west coast style but leaning towards the malt rather than hop. I like that actually, though I think it’s a little rough around the edges in the finish. The alcohol definitely warms in a high octane sort of way, but the hop bitterness seems to be out of balance. I’d certainly buy this one again, though as a staple barleywine I’ll stick with Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, which is not only a better beer all around to my taste but a much better bargain, too ($9.99 for 72 ounces versus $8.99 for 22 ounces of Back Burner). Back Burner has appeared on draft at my local Taco mac on several occasions, though at a whopping $9.00 for an 11 ounce sample I have passed on it.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.