“I woke up on a truckload of sod,” said Avon’s Josh Davis of a past barleywine binge in Belgium. “I woke up petting the sod.”
But to the beer connoisseurs, enthusiasts, aficionados and assorted dilettantes who gathered for a tasting at the Big Beers Belgians and Barleywines festival at Vail’s Tap Room Saturday, barleywines are more about flavor than how fast you can guzzle them.
Barleywines, which originated in Belgium, are far more elaborately brewed than your average Budweiser or Miller Light – for example, the brewer of Lunacy Pale Ale uses coriander, bitter orange peel and other herbs. Barleywines also have twice, sometimes thrice, the alcohol content of an average beer.
Barleywines, in general, have a much more substantial flavor than your mass-produced ales. They’re about as different as a box of macaroni-and-cheese and linguini with clam sauce at a five-star Italian restaurant. They’re about as different as a Slim Jim you buy at a truck stop and a $20 shred of spicy elk jerky you buy at a roadside stand on your way to Leadville.
“Some of these bottles also have champagne corks – that’s very upscale,” Davis said.
Imagine a bunch of face-painted fraternity brothers tailgating at a college football game popping the corks off of their Coors. Imagine that Coors tasting like honey or raspberries or a piece of flourless chocolate cake.
“I wouldn’t call these football beers. These are more sitting-around-the-fire beers,” said Steve Treese, who brews a dark beer called Killer Penguin. “The whole reason for these microbrews is that the big guys weren’t making anything flavorful.”
Well, penguins – the kind that aren’t homicidal – are already pretty scary birds. But God forbid you’re drinking barleywines in Antarctica and you come face to face with a killer penguin, eh Steve?
“There’s no such thing as a killer penguin.”
Rats. But judging from the slightly deranged names of some of the other barleywines, these beers aren’t for softies, lightweights, wimps or East Coast skiers. Oops, did I say that out loud?
Dale Elliot is the Colorado distributor of a pair of Belgian beers called Delirium Nocturnum, which has a pink elephant on the label, and Delirium Tremens, the mascot of which is a green alligator. Elliot claims seeing green alligators is a deeper stage of dementia than being pestered by giddy pink elephants.
So what your really saying, Dale, is that drinking a six-pack of Delirium Nocturnum will make you nuts, right?
“Anything with alcohol in it can make you nuts,” Elliott said. “But this isn’t the kind of beer you have at weddings. This isn’t the kind of beer you give to your friends – unless it’s a real close friend, unless you’re sharing it with an old college roommate or your best man.”
So, it inspires introspection and profundity instead of getting a tattoo and singing karaoke. This is the kind of beer you drink on the couch with people you trust. In other words, you don’t drink a dozen DTs at the monster truck show.
“You’re hard pressed to finish one of these beers,” Elliot says.
How about guzzling three-in-a-row?
“I don’t think you could do it,” he said. “I don’t think a tackle for the Denver Broncos could do it.”
Well, a reporter who sampled a bit of the Delirium Nocturnum found it demur as well as truculent, yet eloquently urbane. And he woke up in a truckload of sod. Not really, the reporter found it to be strong, but smooth, relaxing and non-insanity inducing – in other words, yummy!
In fact, it was more to the reporter’s Guinness Stout-leaning tastes than the 23-year-old barleywine called La Folie, a “sour” brew made by New Belgium and aged in used, oak wine barrels.
The taste was certainly unique – somewhere between expensive port wine and steak marinade. La Folie, for those of you whose palettes are titillated by port wine and steak marinade, is an after-dinner drink, not a football-and-hot-dogs beer, said Bryan Simpson, a “vibe writer” for New Belgium.
“This is not a Cheetos beer,” Simpson said.
Vibe writer is almost as cool a title as “snow ranger.”
(Note: the U.S. Forest employs snow rangers.)
Among the most popular brews at the festival were the several honey-stung flavors of mead being served by the Redstone Meadery. Yes, mead – the stuff they drank back in the middle ages.
Redstone’s tastiest was flavored with puree of boysenberry, but try serving that to a batch of tailgating frat brothers – they’d be petting the sod in no time; maybe even seeing killer penguins, if not green alligators and pink elephants.
Some, like Aspen’s Jane Atkins, said they saw the tasting as a chance to try something new, to be exposed to a whole new world of flavors – no different than a wine or chocolate tasting. And some didn’t.
“I think of myself as a Hedonist,” said an Aspen man, who gave his name as Cakey and was wearing a leopard-spotted fez.