Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale 2000 review

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot BarleywineI've had cellared beers before but none as old as the one here. A good friend and brewer, Jeff Crabtree, offered me a bottle of a year 2000 edition of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale. He asked that I try it and let him know what I thought of it. Seeing how this was a big beer and had aged for 12 years, I was extremely curious on how this beer would taste.

I must say up front that I'm NOT a fan of barleywines, at least the ones I've tried so far were either too young or needed more time to mellow out. Barleywines tend to be a bit over the top on strength and bitterness to my palate and I've been repeated told that you need to age them for a year or two before they really start developing into a much smoother drink. Well, you think 12 years is long enough?

This brew weighs in at 9.6% ABV and is rated at 90 IBUs. Sierra Nevada has been making this beer for 29 years and has won several gold medals for this beer during that time. In 2000, same year as this bottle, it won a Gold medal at the California State Fair and last won a gold medal back in 2005 at the GABF. Would all that big amount of Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops be even noticeable after a dozen years? Would it be mostly a sweet malty brew by now? I wanted to find out.

Granted, I didn't have a recent bottle to compare this to, unfortunately, so I was going in blind as to what to expect. Judging from other reviews I've read, there may be little to no head retention left and a bottle this old should be a bit sweet and have some brown sugar notes. Let's see...

Appearance: After a tough time getting the twist cap off, Bigfoot poured a dark brownish-red color that I could see part way through along the edges of the chalice glass. There was a very slight light tan head that sounded fizzy but very quickly dissolved away. The part of the beer I could see through was a bit cloudy although I didn't see any sediment in the glass. Swirling the brew didn't do much for raising any additional head and there was virtually no lacing on the glass.

Aroma: There was a big malty nose to this beer. Bigfoot still had some slight hoppy aroma to it, but I mostly got some molasses or yes, some brown sugar in the air. The brew also had a bit of alcohol and dark fruit in the nose as well that let me know there was still plenty to kick to this brew. From the aroma, I got the impression that this beer was big and had a ton of malts in it. The malts overpower any hints of citrus from the Cascade hops. If I used my imagination, I thought I could smell some vanilla and caramel.

Taste: The first taste was powerful. There was a lot of alcohol in the brew, almost enough to make it somewhat medicinal in taste, like a cough syrup, only without the annoying fruit flavor that goes with it. The flavor still had a lot of bitterness to it along with a mouthful of maltiness. The brew seemed to coat just about every part of my mouth that it touched. There was some dark roasted malt tones in with this beer that surprised me. The English Caramel malts tasted a bit toastier than I expected.

Granted, I don't know how this beer was stored over the last 12 years, some of this review may have been affected by the conditions. The bottle has apparently been kept in Colorado for most of that time. Jeff had been keeping this bottle in a cooler as did I for a few days before opening. The taste of the beer stuck around for a few minutes after each sip.

The brew reminded me of other barleywines I've had, only the big hoppy taste had evolved into something less earthy or citrus into a more malt/hop blended taste. It was a chewy kind of beer. Thick and loaded with a lot of different malt flavors. I was under the impression that this beer was most likely better a few years back than today in 2012.

Overall: I'm not yet experienced enough with Barleywines to know what to expect of them. Most of the ones I've had were either way over the top hoppy, or a bit too malty. Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot had a lot of flavor, both malt and hop bitterness, even after 12 years, but for my taste, it reminded me too much like a night-time cough syrup than a really enjoyable beer. It's definitely a slow sipping kind of beer and one 12oz bottle may be enough to satisfy two or three people.

I really wanted to like this beer more than I did. Granted, by the time I had written this review, I had only sampled the first half of the bottle. For me, I think it will take me a while longer to get a better appreciation for this style. It may not be for everyone. Save a taste of this for your last of the evening as the big flavor of this beer may defeat your ability to taste much else the rest of the evening. Lovers of big malty beers may love this brew. I think I may want to try a 2010 version of this beer to get a better idea of how this should taste.

I ended up finishing the entire beer and at least got a better impression of it by the end. It was very warming, had a ton of malt taste, but the hop bitterness had changed into something less hop aromatic and more malt.

Disclosure: I was given this beer by a friend who was a brewer, but not the brewer of this beer. He wanted to know my impression of it.

Video showing the pour of the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2000):

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Related articles:
- North Coast Old Stock Ale review.
- Avery Hog Heaven review.
- Sierra Nevada / Dogfish Head Life and Limb review.

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