Lakefront's Organic Barrel-aged Barley Wine is a nice beer for sipping from a brandy snifter.
In Milwaukee the once great breweries of Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz were served by a railroad spur known as the Beer Line that ran along the west bank of the Milwaukee River through the downtown. Today’s Lakefront Brewery has adopted the name Beer Line is used for its seasonal organic barley wine. For 2015, Lakefront is offering a limited-release of this brew that’s been barrel-aged.
What is it? Beer Line Organic Barrel-Aged Barley Wine from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee.
Style: Barleywines are rich, dark brown to bold bronze in color, and full-bodied. The barleywine is a showcase for complex blends of malt and hops. Some even offer a sherry-like aroma and flavor. Barleywines have wine-like strength, and can be quite high in alcohol, often exceeding 10% ABV.
Background: There are actually two versions of Beer Line. Both are organic-certified. The one I’m most excited about is the barrel-aged. (The non-barrel-aged version can also be found locally in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles.)
The barrel-aged is bigger and bolder after aging for 18 months in organic rye whiskey barrels from the Catoctin Creek Distillery of Purcellville, Virginia. Lakefront owner Russ Klisch was introduced to the folks from Catoctin Creek in 2013 when both received Good Food Awards, an annual award that pays tribute to craftsmanship and sustainability of products that enhance agriculture and strong communities. Klisch says a chance meeting at the ceremony led to an important arrangement between his brewery and the distillery. Klisch’s Beer Line is USDA organic-certified and to barrel-age it organically, he needed a whiskey or bourbon made following organic standards. After following up with the Catoctin Creek he was able to obtain once-used American oak barrels that he says lend a distinctive and strong wood flavor to his barley wine.
Beer Line is made with Munich and caramel malts, rolled oats and rolled rye, along with Cascade hops. Klisch says the barrel-aged version of Beer Line is similar to the non-barrel-aged, only it has a higher malt bill which makes it stronger in flavor and in alcohol (14% ABV compared to 12.5%).
Lakefront claims this as the first USDA-certified organic “barrel-aged” barley wine in the US. That adds to the brewery’s organic line of beers that also include Organic ESB that was first introduced in 1996 , and Klisch says holds the title as the first organic-certified beer, period. Overall, organic beer production for Lakefront accounts for about five-percent of the brewery’s annual output.
Lakefront’s organic barrel aged barley wine is sold in single 22-ounce bottles for about $18 (each). Lakefront’s non-barrel aged organic barley wine sells for around $12 (four-pack of 12-ounce bottles).
* Aroma: Oaky, whiskey and malty.
* Appearance: Deep bronze with ruby highlights. A thin, tan, bubbly head.
* Texture: Full-bodied and warm from the beginning.
* Taste: Rich boozy whisky beginning with a firm malty background composed of dark-fruits, caramel, and toffee.
* Finish/Aftertaste: The barrel qualities stick around for the big, bold and spicy finish that includes a caramel-maltiness which combines with vanilla and oakiness from the wood for spicy-warmth.
Glassware: Serve this beer in a snifter or wine chalice and allow it to warm to room temperature to bring out is malt and spirit character. This is a good beer to sip slowly and share with a friend.
Pairs well with: Barleywines can pair nicely with cheeses. Try it with a premium Parmesan or semi-hard cheese that offers a nutty and/or fruity flavor. Such a cheese with a little cracked black pepper will make an even finer match.
Rating: Four bottle openers.
The Verdict: This is among the most flavorful barleywines around right now. It stands out because of its barrel character with hints of oak, vanilla, and a complex spiciness which all blend well with the rich caramel and dark fruit flavors created by the malts and yeast. Those barrel qualities are strong, but they never overwhelm the underlying beer. For those who enjoy home-cellaring of barley wines, this is a beer that will likely mellow and improve with even more age. For those who can't wait and want to enjoy it now, share the bottle with a friend. This beer is among the most expensive Wisconsin beers on shelves right now. Is this beer worth $18? For barleywine aficionados, yes.