Overview for the English Barleywine

Strong Ales have been brewed for in the British Isles for a long time but the English Barleywine originates back to 1872 when Bass No. 1 was given the name “Barleywine”. Its color ranges from golden to dark brown but should not be opaque. Its feel is full and chewy, velvety smooth with low to moderate carbonation. Its alcohol strength is high and will lend a warming sensation. The aroma is malty and can be bready or toasty. Sweet notes of toffee, dark or dried fruit, and molasses can appear. The hops can be mild to aggressive with a floral or earthy character. A strong and complex palate is malty with varying layers of bread, toast, and biscuit. Sweet notes of toffee, caramel, and molasses along with dried and dark fruits are often present. Hop bitterness and its flavor vary from low to moderately high with a floral and earthy character. The English Barleywine tends to be the strongest offered by a brewery and the style has inspired the American variation along with others around the world.

Style Expectations

A showcase of malty richness and complex, intense flavors. Chewy and rich in body, with warming alcohol and a pleasant fruity or hoppy interest. When aged, it can take on port-like flavors. A wintertime sipper.


Color may range from rich gold to very dark amber or even dark brown (often has ruby highlights, but should not be opaque). Low to moderate off-white head; may have low head retention. May be cloudy with chill haze at cooler temperatures, but generally clears to good to brilliant clarity as it warms. The color may appear to have great depth, as if viewed through a thick glass lens. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in “legs” when beer is swirled in a glass.


Very rich and strongly malty, often with a caramel-like aroma in darker versions or a light toffee character in paler versions. May have moderate to strong fruitiness, often with a dark- or dried-fruit character, particularly in dark versions. The hop aroma may range from mild to assertive, and is typically floral, earthy, or marmalade-like. Alcohol aromatics may be low to moderate, but are soft and rounded. The intensity of these aromatics often subsides with age. The aroma may have a rich character including bready, toasty, toffee, and/or molasses notes. Aged versions may have a sherry-like quality, possibly vinous or port-like aromatics, and generally more muted malt aromas.


Strong, intense, complex, multi-layered malt flavors ranging from bready, toffee, and biscuity in paler versions through nutty, deep toast, dark caramel, and/or molasses in darker versions. Moderate to high malty sweetness on the palate, although the finish may be moderately sweet to moderately dry (depending on aging). Some oxidative or vinous flavors may be present, and often complex alcohol flavors should be evident. Moderate to fairly high fruitiness, often with a dark- or dried-fruit character. Hop bitterness may range from just enough for balance to a firm presence; balance therefore ranges from malty to somewhat bitter. Pale versions are often more bitter, better attenuated, and might show more hop character than darker versions; however, all versions are malty in the balance. Low to moderately high hop flavor, often floral, earthy, or marmalade-like English varieties.


Full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). A smooth warmth from aged alcohol should be present. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.


Blithering Idiot

English Barleywine  •  Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

Blithering Idiot is an English-style Barleywine by Weyerbacher Brewing Co. that’s complex with a sugary and fruity sweetness balanced by earthy hops, pepper, and booze. Read More

Hand Of The Queen

English Barleywine  •  Brewery Ommegang

Hand Of The Queen is an English-style Barleywine by Brewery Ommegang that’s complex, decadent, and boozy with contrasting malt, fruit, and hops flavors. Read More


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