Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Iced Barley Wine

New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI

Style: Barley Wine
ABV: 13.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
Before I begin, (that’s a bogus statement since I’ve already begun), let me assure you loyal Dorks that you aren’t crazy, the updates have been a bit slow for the month of March. There is good reason for this (namely the fact that a dingo ate Eddie’s baby), but rest assured it’s a temporary slowdown, much like that temporary economic slowdown that’s been squeezing our balls for well over a year now. We Dorks are an eclectic bunch, and you never know what type of non-website related shenanigans we’re getting into, though the warm spring weather will undoubtedly get our proverbial juices flowing again soon.

I have a lineup of Midwestern brews in storage that I’ve been hoping to get to for a couple of months now, but have been diverted from thanks to a hectic schedule and the first annual International Beer Month. Hoping to make a dent in that lineup (namely the Summit Winter Ale, considering it’s almost spring, and the Viking Hot Chocolate that’s been taking up precious space in the fridge since New Years), I was once again distracted, although anyone who knows Nigel will instantly understand why:

New Glarus Unplugged Iced Barley Wine.

While the names New Glarus, Unplugged, and Barley Wine are sure bets for Nigel, the “Iced” part threw me off a bit and has me wondering what exactly Dan Carey has up his sleeve for this take on one of my favorite styles. In the shit beer world, “Ice” refers to a shitty beer that’s a touch stronger, both in ABV and shit flavor. As a brewing newbie, I always assumed it was something about the brewing process that was tweaked, but wasn’t sure what. Iced Barley Wine is also cranked in the ABV department (a whopping 13.5%), something that isn’t easy to do with an already powerful style. In fact, a quick check of New Glarus’ website indicates that IBW undergoes an intense 12 week fermentation process while being frozen in the cellars (hence, “iced”). Again, I’m a brewing newbie so I have no clue what the freezing does to the various microorganisms responsible for creating a fine brew, but I’m sure Jug or Franz would know if anyone is curious.

While the Unplugged series is always unique and typically tasty, the last three releases have been relatively tame in terms of size. Bohemian Lager, Apple Ale, and Berliner Weiss all checked in with low ABV’s, and the later of the two were so uniquely sweet and fruity that you hardly knew you were drinking a beer at all. The last monster in the Unplugged series was the phenomenal Imperial Weizen from last summer, although the current monster would eat that monster for lunch. New Glarus also explains what should be obvious to most, but needs discussion nonetheless: this is a SIPPING beer, not a chugger. 28.5 degrees OG and 13.5% ABV make for an intense experience. The inspiration for Carey’s creation was the traditional English barley wine, which was well aged, extremely strong, and drunk only in the presence of high class company. Think of Iced Barley Wine as a thick, dark, sugary wine rather than a beer, as it will kick you hard if you attempt to drink more than a couple over the course of the night.

What will be most interesting to me is what the “ice” does to the typical characteristics in a barley wine. Barley wines are meant to encompass everything good about beer, accentuating many of those things to the extreme. Ultra thick, ultra dark, ultra syrupy, ultra malty, ultra fruity, and, in a few instances (ahem, Bigfoot), ultra hoppy, barley wines are meant to be aged to perfection and often taste different depending on how old they are and how properly they’ve been stored. Will the freezing process accentuate these characteristics? Will they temper them? Will the alcohol be too much? Will our heroes escape impending doom? Stay tuned...

And we’re back. Iced Barley Wine pours like any other example of the style, with a nominal creamy head of a quarter inch that quickly dissipates, leaving little in the way of lacing on top of a deep mahogany brew with some sedimentation that sticks to the side of the glass as much as it does to your tongue. Initial aromas are nice and powerful as they should be for a barley wine, though my fear was somewhat realized: there is a distinct zip of alcohol in the aroma. Other wafts are present as well, including huge amounts of thick, sugary malt and dark fruits (black cherry and fig dominate), as well as a slight spiciness. No hint of hops in the aroma, but all in all it’s not bad, just a bit too alcoholic for my tastes.

The flavor is great, which is no shock to anyone familiar with New Glarus, particularly when it comes to the Unplugged series. What may be a shock is when Nigel states “this isn’t anything too impressive”. Ok, that’s a lie… it’s an impressive beer for sure, but I was expecting more and I can’t say this on my exclusive list of top barley wines. All the flavors are there, from the intensely rich, syrupy, sugary malt (flavors of toffee, molasses, and dark brown sugar dominate) to the dark fruit (black cherry, fig, and raisin), to the alcoholic esters you’d expect from a jacked-up brew. However, the alcohol was again a touch too much, it could have been a tad bit spicier and/or hoppier to counterbalance the intense sweetness, and frankly… it just doesn’t quite live up to many of the fine barley wines available out there. In my opinion, the freezing, or “iced” part did actually temper the flavors a bit, though it certainly didn’t destroy them. That having been said, it’s still a frickin’ great beer (four mugs is nothing to be ashamed of), that doesn’t quite live up to my lofty expectations for the style and the brewery. Full bodied and challenging, this is the definition of a sippin’ brew, and is meant to be taken seriously.

Ultimately I’m not disappointed with Iced Barley Wine, and I’m surely going to be sampling it again during its limited run. To say you fall short of the elite in barley wines is not an insult, but there’s just too much alcohol present and not quite enough in the other areas. But again, kudos to Dan and New Glarus for another fine brew that proved to be a worthy adversary. Try it for sure if you should find it, but be prepared to tackle a monster.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 11, 2009.
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