Monday, February 26, 2007


I didn't think I was going to make this getting-to-be-nationally-reknown event this year, as I'd heard all the rumors that if you don't go and start drinking from the selection of 80+ different specialty barleywines on the opening weekend, you're going to be high & dry if you show up later in the week. Well, President's Day weekend didn't pan out for me, but there I was last Wednesday night sitting at the TORONADO in San Francisco, my favorite bar in the world for over 15 years, enjoying 5 good-to-great barleywines that I'll likely never get to taste again. Oh, and the pundits were right: you gotta show up early, but even 5 days on, there were still some fantastic drinks left from world-class breweries, just not the "winners" from the opening weekend.

First, you probably should read a couple quick takes on the 2007 festival from others to get your bearings - so please click on the links here, here and here. There. Thanks for that. When I got there on Wednesday, all the winners were gone - the Russian River, the Stone, the Alaskan, the Hair of the Dog, even that Mexican one. Let me tell you what I was able to try, because I had some good 'uns:

MOYLAN'S OLD BLARNEY -- Leave it to MOYLAN'S, maybe the most underrated brewery in California if not the USA, to make a fantastic small-batch barleywine. Very straightforward, full-bodied, and delicious. No messing around - just great high-alcohol beer. (Hey! I just found out this is bottled - right on!) 8/10.

GREEN FLASH BARLEYWINE 2006 - I've heard some good things about this Vista, CA brewer - now I can confirm them. You can really taste the alcohol in this one, which normally I don't like, but my notes say this one was "smooth smooth smooth". I guess so! 7.5/10.

UINTA ANNIVERSARY 2004 - A friend claimed this as his fave from the night before; I was less bowled over but it did the job. I mean, they are from Salt Lake City, right? I found it a little too sweet. Looks like this might be bottled as well, so shut my mouth. 6/10.

MAD RIVER JOHN BARLEYCORN 2006 - Wow - this one was outstanding as well, really full of flavor and with a deep, malty taste. No wonder they call it a "winter warmer". I have to start paying attention to this brewer. 8/10.

FULL CIRCLE OLD CALIFORNIOS - Really the only one I can say wasn't that special; sort of a strange, off-balance taste that was too thin to boot. Not awful by any means, but probably suffered a bit following the winners above as I headed out the door. 5.5/10.

So if these were that good, I wonder what the quote-unquote winners were like? I know that trying these was, for me, the tipping point when it comes to barleywine, a style I loathed when I first tried it in the early 90s, and which I now love. Join me for the Friday night campout on Haight Street before the doors open on Toronado Barleywine Fest 2008, OK?

1 comment:

mumbly said...

There were probably 50 people in line at the Toronado at 10am in the morning, waiting to get in and get a seat. Everyone got a seat when they opened, so you won't have to camp out the night before.

The downside of going the Friday before is that they usually have started taking beers off in preparation for the fest (keep in mind, they have to start switching over the 50+ taps to the barleywines after they close at 2AM), so their selection is "poor".

I tried all of the final panel beers. My group passed on both the Hair of the Dog and the Mad River. HotD was the clear winner from our group, but the Mad River was a very nice, clean, American style BW. The HotD was just a better beer (more in the English style). We also had the Pelican Storm Watcher, which I thought was very nice (of the six we judged, only one was a clear pass).

I preferred the Port Brewing of the top two, but it clearly fell into that "other" category that can make or break you in the end. The Alaska was a more traditional beer and was also excellent.

In all, there were only a handfull of beers that I tried that were less than good. Brewers have definitely gotten better at this style over the years.