Brewer: Firestone Walker Brewing
Location: San Louis Obispo, CA
Brews: 2017 Helldorado Vintage Barrel-Aged Blonde Barleywine Ale; 2018 Sucaba Vintage Barrel-Aged Barleywine Ale.
Style: Barrel-Aged, Barleywine
ABV: Helldorado 12.8%, Sucaba 12.5%
It’s been a while since we last piped in about a beer we thought worthy of a share here on Dirt Buzz. It’s not that we’ve backed it down on the beer sampling, it’s just, we’ve been more focused on enjoying said beers instead of reviewing them. Now, when we use the word “reviewing,” we use it loosely. Meaning, as we’ve said in the past, we don’t get all hung up on describing the subtle taste elements that other beer writers do so well. We don’t have the chops and/or skills to write about beer like that. It was the same way for us back in the day when we never figured out how to setup dirt bike suspension. We had no clue how to make the suspension work better, but we knew when it worked. The same goes for beer: we’re not going to tell you about a slight anise flavor or that there’s a note of Simcoe hops—we just know when we’re in the presence of beer greatness—something we’ll never lie to you about.
So anyway, here we are, and here it is a Saturday, and an idea hit us. The other day Firestone Walker released its 2018 Vintage Series Barleywine ale, and we become immediately stoked. After all, our Favorite Beer of the Year in 2017 was Firestone Walker’s Helldorado Barrel-Aged Blonde Barleywine Ale. As luck would have it, our local craft beer purveyor stocks both barleywine ales, and we were able to purchase the 2017 and 2018 Firestone Walker Barrel-Aged Barleywine ales at the same time for a side-by-side comparison to see which beer would take the ‘W.’
In the last 6-12 months, something changed in our typical go-to beers. It used to be dark, heavy, high alcohol imperial stouts (think old motor oil). That’s changed to high alcohol, super-juicy IPAs, barrel aged, or barleywine ales. Beers that deliver quality over quantity.
Full disclaimer: both of these beers are Olympic-Gold-level beers in our opinion, and we’d let both eat crackers in our bed anytime. But we were surprised when we did the side-by-side that the 2018 Sucaba edged out the Helldorado! As much as we love Helldorado, and despite Sucaba pouring dark, we have to give it to Sucaba. This is 12.5% ABV of smooth perfection. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with either one of these barrel-aged barleywine ales. You’ll know you’re drinking high-end, craft beer that’s been meticulously created—not some mass-produced … meh. It’s the difference between factory-race-bike perfection and old-practice-bike sadness. Both allow you to ride, but one allows you to ride (drink) better and faster (more enjoyable) than the other.