Barrel-Aged Beers Dominate Awards at Brouwer’s 10th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival

March 5th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Events

This past Saturday Brouwer’s Cafe held the 10th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival featuring over sixty barleywines on draft all in one day. A long line of dedicated drinkers from all over the NW formed early (I think the first person was reported in line around 7:30am?) before the doors cracked open at 11:15am. In addition to tables of people sampling all the wares, a judging is held for the festival starting at 9am. Here are the results of that judging, with some comments on the process and results afterward:

1st Place: Lost Abbey The Angel’s Share Brandy Barrel 2011
2nd Place: Firestone Walker Abacus 2011
3rd Place: Black Raven Old Birdbrain 2010
4th Place (Toughest Tiger Award): Lost Abbey The Angel’s Share Bourbon Barrel 2011

There are two rounds to the judging, with the first round kicking off at 9am. Around 30 or so people with various involvement in the beer industry or respected palates are blindly given samples that they then score on a standardized scale. The score sheets are then collected and tallied, and a certain percentage of the beers with the top average score from the judges then move into a second round of judging. Ten beers advanced into the second round this year for further evaluation. This second round included 7 judges this year (including myself) who do not participate in the first round judging, and each were given a full flight of all ten beers. After individually giving each beer consideration, the group then discusses all beers in the flight and comes to a consensus on the top beers. Opinions are given, and the majority wins when deciding the final rankings.

This year, all of the top four beers from the judging turned out to be barrel-aged barleywines that stray (some more than others) from the traditional BJCP definition of English-style and American-style barleywines. These results are in stark contrast to last year’s Hard Liver results, when two more traditional-style, non-barrel-aged barleywines took the top spots.

Some people take issue with winning beers all being barrel-aged. As for myself, I have no complaints. This is not a BJCP competition for traditional barleywines only. While I’d love to see a more traditional-style beer in the top spots, it is hard to argue with the beers that ended up there. There just wasn’t an impressive enough traditional-style barleywine in the final ten to knock these barrel-aged beers out of their winning spots (not saying there wasn’t one at the festival, just not in the final flight).

I also think the winning beers reflect what the average attendee at the festival would vote for as their favorites if you went around table-to-table and polled them. The Angel’s Share Brandy Barrel is just a beautiful beer, with the barrel-aged flavors really complimenting the base strong ale flavors. I don’t think the barrel character was even close to dominant in the brandy barrel version. This “fresh” 2011 vintage is complex, yet smooth and not at all too sweet. The 2nd place Abacus is a little more rough around the edges, but still a wonderful beer. I was pleased to find out that the 3rd place beer turned out to  be the Black Raven. I had this as my #2 overall beer in the flight and really enjoyed the mix of assertive hops and malt, with just a bit of barrel-character. There were some flaws coming through, but the strengths far outweighed those flaws for me.

If you are one of the people who don’t like to see the barrel-aged beers dominating the top spots, what were your favorite non-barrel-aged beers from the festival? I really enjoyed the Big Al, but I didn’t stick around too late and didn’t try much else outside of the final tasting.

If you didn’t make it this weekend, fear not as many barleywines will still be available on tap at Brouwer’s this week. Stop in and see what is still available.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Marti

    Had a great time. Funny how the Black Raven and Firestone Walker wins mirrored the Great Alaska Barleywine Fest. The Old Guardian vertical should be fun.

  • DonS

    Yep, not a BJCP or similar judging at all … this is much more a “hedonic” judging. I say this from the experience(s) of a 1st-round judge who gave my two highest scores – in order! – to the two beers that took 1st and 2nd place… and this is the 2nd year in a row I picked winners like this. The thing I’ve learned the most: don’t over-analyze, and first impressions count for quite a lot.

    As always, a great fest and a great time was had.

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