Beer Style: Barley Wine


Barley wine is one of the strongest craft beers on the market, but don’t confuse it with wine…the only thing they share is the name, and the high alcohol content. Barley wine is made from grain, not fruit, thus it is considered a beer.

This big bold brew usually contains more than 6% alcohol by volume, and can go as high as 11% ABV. Barley wines are such a popular craft beer, that many festivals across the country are held in their honor. The Cambridge Brewing Company in Massachusetts, holds an annual barley wine event. Last year they featured 14 different barley wine vintages, including a 10 year old version of Blunderbuss.


This craft beer actually dates as far back as ancient Greece, with a fermented grain beverage referred to as “krithinos oinos,” a.k.a. Barley wine. These types of beers would be dissimilar to today’s version, as they predate the use of hops (a key component in modern day barley wine).

Barley wine is the product of a traditional English brewing method known as the “parti-gyle” process, in which a single mash or wort is used for all the different beers in the brewery.

The Anchor Brewing Company introduced barley wines to the United States in 1976 with it’s Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale. The brewery intentionally combined the two words “barley” and “wine,” because they wanted to distance themselves from the misconception that the beer was actually a wine. They also felt the presence of the word “wine” on a beer label, would displease regulators.


Barley wines range in color from a rich amber to a deep red/copper. After agitation, the craft beer gives off a caramel and/or toffee aroma that is often part of the malt character.  Low levels of age induced oxidation enhance the flavors of the beer, which contains residual malty sweetness. There are two main style of barley wine:

  • American Barley Wine: This version is more hop forward and bitter. The colors range form an amber to a light brown. ABV varies from 8-12%
  • English Barley Wine: The English version tends to be more balanced between malt and hops. Less bitter, these barley wines range in color form red-gold to opaque-black. They are typically lower in alcohol content than the American version, with 7-11% ABV.

The high alcohol content in barley wines mean they preserve well over time. The hops tend to fade, and the beefy malt transforms into a variety of flavors. When aged appropriately, barley wine can almost taste like sherry.


Barley wine should always be served in a snifter at 50-55 °F. Some people prefer to chill it to 40°F, and let it warm in the glass as it breathes. The ale should be clear to brilliant in clarity, with slow to medium rising bubbles. Barely wines pair best with strong dishes, like beef cheeks, blue cheese, and rich desserts.

Popular Choices

  • Bigfoot – Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: The most iconic and best American barley wine, it contains over 2 pounds of hops per barrel.
  • Old Foghorn – Anchor Brewing Co.: The oldest in town, Anchor Brewing introduced barley wine to America. It is brewed based on historic English methods.
  • Old Crustacean Rogue Ales: This Newport, OR brewery has created a popular barley wine that is unfiltered and unrefined. The colors are dark, and the flavor is robust and intense.

Market Your Barley Wine

If you choose to start stocking your bar with this punch of a craft beer, make sure you let people know! TapHunter is a program that can instantly inform all of your patrons the second you tap that barley wine keg. When customers have the simple app installed, they receive a push notification telling them you’re stocked and ready to go. It’s as simple as that.

If you find you are starting to experiment with a lot of different styles of craft beer, TapHunter can also set you up with some clear, colorful, and informative digital drink boards. Your patrons will always know what barley wine is on tap, while you continue to experiment with your craft beer business!

Bars and Restaurants – Want to save hours daily, drive thirsty patrons through your door and create an engaging experience for your customers? Learn more about how TapHunter can help your business today!