Barley wine or Barleywine is a beer style of strong ale originating in England. The first beer to be marketed as Barley Wine was Bass No. 1 Ale, around 1870.1 In ancient Greece it was known as "κρίθινος οἶνος" (krithinos oinos), "barley wine"2 and it is mentioned amongst others by Greek historians Xenophon in his work Anabasis3 and Polybius in his work The Histories, where he mentions that Phaeacians kept barleywine in silver and golden kraters.4
A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is, in fact, a beer.
There are two primary styles of barley wine, the American which tends to be more hoppy and thus more bitter with colors ranging from amber to light brown5 and the English style which tends to be less hoppy and thus less bitter with more variety in color ranging from red-gold to opaque black.6
Until the introduction of amber coloured Whitbread Gold Label in the 1950s, British barley wines were always dark in colour.
Writer Michael Jackson referred to a barley wine by Smithwick's thus: "This is very distinctive, with an earthy hoppiness, a wineyness, lots of fruit and toffee flavours." He also noted that its original gravity is 1.062.8
Martyn Cornell has been quoted as saying "no historically meaningful difference exists between barley wines and old ales". He later clarified, "I don’t believe there is actually any such meaningful style as 'barley wine'".9
Many jurisdictions have different taxing schemes for potables based upon alcohol content. Since barley wine has a high alcohol content it gets taxed at a higher rate than other beers, making barley wines suffer a price premium compared to other beers.
Similarly, many jurisdictions have different regulations regarding where beers and wines can be sold, leading to confusion regarding which category barley wines fall in and limiting access.
A number of bars and brew pubs limit the number of glasses of barley wines they will sell to patrons to prevent them from becoming inebriated on barley wines (though not other beers or fruit wines).
- Original gravities: 1.080-1.120 (English & American Style)
- Alcohol: 8.0-12.0 percent
- Bitterness: 35-70 (English Style) & 50-120 (American Style) IBU (International Bitterness Units)
- Colour: 8-22 (English Style) & 10-19 (American Style) SRM (Standard Reference Measure); 24-48 EBC (European Brewery Convention)
- Watts, Henry. A dictionary of chemistry and the allied branches of other sciences, Volume (1872).
- κρίθινος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Xenophon, Anabasis, 4.5.26, on Perseus
- Polybius, The Histories, 34.9.15, on Perseus
- "Yeast Style Guide: American Barleywine". Wyeast Laboratories.
- "Yeast Style Guide: English Barleywine". Wyeast Laboratories.
- Holbrook, Stett (December 25, 2003). "Rich, chewy barley wine takes time". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Jackson, Michael (February 01, 1993). "Brewery with its own abbey - it must be Ireland". What's Brewing.
- Cornell, Martyn (September 24, 2010). "So what IS the difference between barley wine and old ale?". Zythophile (blog).