Back in the good old days of the ancient world, there weren’t really alcohols like there are today – especially barleywine. If we had been living in ancient Greek times, we would probably spend our time drinking something close to a mead/beer hybrid instead of barleywine. Sounds pretty gross.
The term barleywine actually comes from ancient Greek. Of course, those cups of joy you’d drink today are pretty different (largely because hops weren’t used in alcohol at the time).
In fact, beer has a beautifully complicated history which you can learn all about here.
But you get the idea…barleywine is like wine, but isn’t wine. It’s beer.
Is Barleywine A Type Of Wine?
No, barleywine is not wine. In fact, to make the distinction between beer and wine, many breweries or beer drinkers will write it as barleywine instead of the traditional “barley wine,” dropping that useless space between words. But either form of spelling is acceptable among most circles.
What makes this beer like a wine? Well, it’s pretty much the ABV. In your typical glass, you’ll get an ABV of somewhere in the 10-12% range (much like wine). Aside from that, the two basically have nothing in common.
One reason is that beer is made from grains, hops and such while wines are made from grapes. Barleywine is made with grains and yeast, and while we could easily add some fruit to it (not always recommended), the grain will make it a beer through and through.
So, the million dollar question: why isn’t it called barely beer?
I don’t know.
What Does Barleywine Taste Like?
Here comes the annoying answer: it depends on your barleywine!
No matter what, you can expect some strong malt notes, as well as some bitterness. After all, this bad boy is probably going to be in the double digits of alcohol by volume.
A lot of people find that barleywines taste like porters or stouts, even though the actual recipe is going to place it much closer to ales. This could be because of the darkness of the beer, the nose and the “sweeter” flavor you tend to find in barleywine.
On the other hand, barleywine haters will probably say it tastes like liquid garbage. Only one way to find out if you like it or not!