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John Barleycorn Barleywine

Judges Rating: 
24 / 24
6 / 6
38 / 40
9 / 10
Overall Impression: 
19 / 20

Nestled quietly in Blue Lake, Calif., Mad River is just finishing up its second decade of brewing operations. From the beginning, back in 1990, they have churned out beers of exceptional character and quality, and their vintages of John Barleycorn top the list of California’s most sought-after beers every year. The beer explodes from the bottle dripping with gobs of resiny, earthy hops and luscious fruity notes of cherry, blackberry and Concord grapes. In addition to the hops, Nick dug out some pleasant freshly baked bread malt aromas punctuated by an almost grape jelly ester. Tom, however, keyed in on the new mown hay character of the hops and found the fruitiness tilted more toward crabapple and Montmorency cherries. Pouring from the bottle with a pronounced chill haze, this beer presents as a dark, saturated copper leviathan and clings to the sides of the glass. The head is a creamy, light tan and persists surprisingly long for a beer of such strength. Swirling throughout are flavors of treacle, apples, citrus fruit, dark berries and, of course, alcohol. Noting that ripe, dark berry fruits “lead the charge,” Lee was blown away by the integration of flavor components and the brewer’s obvious skill at producing a monstrous yet nuanced brew. Rick was of a different opinion and felt the hops took center stage, making their presence known by their “evergreen bough” notes. Not a beer for the faint of heart or spirit, John Barleycorn is every bit a Northern California barleywine perfectly suited to take the chill off a foggy Humboldt coast morning.