A strong, boozy, high-ABV beer style that’s malt forward, barleywine gained notoriety in the U.S. with iconic beers like Anchor Old Foghorn® Ale, Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot, Firestone Walker Helldorado, and Deschutes Mirror Mirror, to name a few. But all of those American barleywines get their roots from their predecessor—the English barleywine.
Requiring an immense amount of malt boiled for an extended period to create a complex level of sugars, barleywines often hit a high ABV (usually between eight to twelve percent but often reaching upwards of seventeen percent). Hence the reference to “barley” and “wine” in its name.
A descendant of the nineteenth-century Scotch ale and Burton ales—darker beers known for their lower attenuation and higher residual sugars—barleywines were originally called old ales.
Someone eventually caught on, too, putting two and two together. In 1872, Bass Brewery in Burton-on-Trent in the English Midlands coined the term “barleywine.” A moniker used to describe the brewery’s “No. 1” beer, barleywine eventually became its own style.
An English barleywine, in particular, focuses on high-quality English pale and caramel malts and a longer boil when mashing in, again to coax out the malt’s beautifully deep, rich flavors.
Hops only play a supporting role in English barleywines. These are big, bold, brash beers that put malt before all.
Accordingly, the breweries represented in the list below do not play around. These are some of the best English barleywine brewers in the United States (and one in Norway!), which, yes, we understand is a bit of an oxymoron, but hey, we didn’t make the list. You all did with all of your check-ins!
Curl up in front of the fire and check out the top ten highest all-time rated English barleywines on the Untappd app.
Untappd’s All-Time Top-Rated Barleywines
Please note that this list covers only English barleywines. We will cover American barleywines at a later date.
M.J.K. (2021) – Side Project Brewing
Saint Louis, MO
First brewed in June 2018, M.J.K. (2021) is so special because it includes a crazy amount of artfully blended barleywines all in one.
“These unique expressions allowed our ever-changing perception of what barleywine is to be explored and revealed to you through our precise blending of double barrel-aged and triple barrel-aged barleywine,” writes Side Project.
Just so you understand what they mean, here is everything that went into the M.J.K. 2021 blend:
M.J.K. Mash #1 – Brewed June 2018
Aged- Willett Family Estate Bourbon
Rested – Willett Family Estate Bourbon
Finished- Willett Family Estate Bourbon
M.J.K. Mash #2 – Brewed July 2018
Aged- Willett Family Bourbon
Rested- Willett Family Bourbon
Finished- Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon
M.J.K. Mash #3 – Brewed June 2019
Aged- Willett Family Bourbon
Finished- Willett Family Estate Bourbon at 20% ABV and bottled still
Yeah, that’s why this English barleywine is number one with an absolutely astonishing 4.88 rating out of 5 on Untappd.
Double Barrel V.S.O.J – Revolution Brewing Company
You’ll find the original V.S.O.J (Very Special Old Jacket) later along on this list, but the double version rightfully takes its place at number two. A blend of English barleywines aged anywhere from one to three years, Double Barrel V.S.O.J. spends an additional eighteen months in Templeton Rye barrels for an ultra-exclusive, kind of once-in-a-lifetime beer that as a “harmonic malt complexity” and “uncharted depths of flavor,” according to Revolution. “The absolute pinnacle of our barleywine journey to date.
King Henry – Goose Island Beer Co.
Surely English barleywine royalty, King Henry reigns inside Pappy Van Winkle 23 bourbon barrels that previously housed Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. It’s like a barleywine inside a stout!
“King Henry is a burgundy-hued English-style barleywine with aromas of vanilla, oak, and dark fruit. Caramel and toffee flavors blend together with bold notes of bourbon delivered in a smooth body followed by a malty finish,” writes Revolution. “ No matter the occasion, King Henry promises a regal drinking experience.”
Continuance (TWCP 2021) – Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, MO
Part of a series of blended imperial stouts and barleywines, Continuance (TWCP 2021) ages in used oak barrels from Double Barrel-Aged M.J.K and hand-selected four- and eight-year-old Willett bourbon barrels. Side Project finishes this 16% ABV, 4.77-rated English barleywine with a touch of Mexican vanilla beans.
10 Year Barleywine – Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, MO
The freshest barleywine dropped on this list, 10 Year Barleywine must have made a huge impact to climb to the fifth spot on this ranking in just four months. 😱😱 Of course, we expect no less from the bastions of barleywine, Side Project, especially when they make a beer to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
According to the brewery, planning for this English barleywine started more than two years ago.
Taking a single and double-barreled-aged M.J.K., Side Project finishes this 17% ABV barleywine for eighteen to twenty-seven months in Willett Family Estate Bourbon barrels.
Uniquely, for a finishing touch, they also add a touch of Längst, the brewery’s bourbon barrel-aged Adambier, a strong, malty German ale.
Side Project calls this extraordinary English barleywine deep, rich, and luxurious.
Bourbon County Brand 2-Year Barleywine Reserve (2022) – Goose Island Beer Co.
Clocking in at 17% ABV, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand 2-Year Barleywine Reserve will knock you back on your butt if you’re not careful. Aged in fourteen-year, sixteen-year, and seventeen-year-old Old Fitzgerald whiskey barrels, this English barleywine evokes toffee, cherry, vanilla, fig, and almond notes. And despite its high alcohol content, it rolls smoothly off the tongue, which is probably a big reason why it’s rated just outside the top five on this list.
V.S.O.J. (Very Special Old Jacket) – Revolution Brewing Company
One of Revolution’s most stunning special-release beers, V.S.O.J. is “a celebration of malt, oak, and patience,” according to the Chicago-based brewery, which calls this a cuvée of English barleywines aged between two and four years in its favorite bourbon barrels. “Lusciously sweet and colossally complex, V.S.O.J. is equal parts refinement and excess,” according to Revolution.
With a 15% ABV and rating on Untappd just a breadth shy of 4.6, V.S.O.J. has entered the realm of white whale for many beer traders. When Revolution releases this beer each year, it often sells out within hours, with cans showing up for resell, sometimes at four times its value—which we personally hate, but should tell you something about the ungodly status of this English barleywine.
Anabasis (Blend #3) – Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, MO
Anabasis (Blend #3) rounds out Side Project’s spots in the top ten with four total. Although no longer produced by the brewery, this English barleywine clocks in with an incredibly strong 4.64 rating on Untappd.
Initially a homebrew recipe, Anabasis (prounounced uh-nab-uh-sis) stays consistent across the different batches with its water profile, American malt and hops, and strong English ale yeast strain. But with each new blend, Side Project experiments with different barrels and resting times.
For instance, with Blend #3, Anabasis sat for twenty-four months in Heaven Hill barrels.
PARAGON 2019 – LERVIG
Stavanger, Rogaland Norway
The only selection from an international brewery on this list, PARAGON 2019 from LERVIG in Norway, may fall into ninth place but still hits an amazing 4.53 rating on Untappd.
“This year’s vintage is a blend of time,” writes LERVIG. This English barleywine rests in bourbon barrels from various years—2017 and 2019—and distilleries—Heaven Hill, Angel’s Envy, and Wild Turkey.
Despite the impressive barrel list, LERVIG says a bourbon character doesn’t dominate this barleywine, which instead drinks with notes of “dried figs, raisins, and vanilla,” writes the brewery. “Then the malt gives Paragon its caramel, toffee, and chocolate flavors that round out with mild sweetness, bringing it full circle.”
Brew 5000 (2021) – Fremont Brewing
When it comes to barrel-aged beers, Fremont is often a brewery that comes to mind. And for good reason. Over the years, Fremont has built Washington’s largest beer barrel-aging program, starting with a hefty winter ale called Bourbon Abominable, now known as B-Bomb. And while other standouts include Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star (BBADS) and The Rusty Nail, both imperial oatmeal stouts, Fremont’s Brew 5000 gets top marks for English barleywine here.
Brewed to commemorate Fremont’s 5000th batch of beer, this bourbon barrel-aged barleywine starts with Maris Otter Pale and Carafa 2 Special malts, White Wheat, and includes Magnum and U.S. Goldings hops.
This top-ten-rated English Barleywine spends sixteen months in single-used ten-to-fifteen-year-old bourbon barrels for a beer worthy of such a milestone.
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