Having spent my formative years drinking wine, I have to admit, I love it when beer gets winey! And, well, what better expression of this mashup of styles than barley wine?
Barley wines are essentially strong beers with a high abv, made with barley not fruit and starting with a sweet wort with a high gravity. You need the sugar, of course, to generate the alcohol but, whatever is left behind, will feed into the beer's malt profile, opening up the possibility of big hops to balance. These beers are typically dark, malty, fruity and hoppy (to a lesser or greater degree). What’s not to like right!
This Rochefort 10 comes in at over 11% abv and so, as such, could be called a barley wine, but with little mention of the Belgian barley wine in beer style guides - I doubt the monks that originally brewed it set out to brew a barley wine. Rather, they would have been aiming at an all round, stonkingly big beer, which others might call a Quadrupel. Oh the semantics of beer… you’ve got to love it really!
Semantics aside.. let’s see what makes this beer tick and what the predominant flavours and aromas are. Then, if it's any good, and it’s one you’ve never had the pleasure of trying, maybe I can tempt you into giving it a go?
The beer is a deep, yet limpid brown in the glass with a light orange head. The nose is lighter than I had expected, but still packing plenty of dark malt, chocolate and caramel aromas. There’s black and red fruits in there too, cherries for sure, and which lead to a definite Black Forest gâteau vibe. Spice and confected liquorice add some further layers. You certainly wouldn’t accuse the palate of being light. My, my… that is a stunning mouthful I am not sure where to begin. It’s rich and sweet but with some lift from the hops and all the aromas mentioned above are there in flavour form, coming along for the journey.
It certainly is winey, and takes you into the territory of ports and higher abv wines like Amarone. This is one to sip or serve after a meal… it’s a dessert in itself. They say never to mix grape and grain - but stylistically speaking, I’d say it’s a perfect marriage.