“Savor it between now and 2020.”
That’s the tagline on Commander Barleywine Ale by Lift Bridge Brewing, and it’s no joke — like wine, the stuff appreciates with the careful application of years spent in a cool, dark environment. And also like wine, it packs a substantial wallop, clocking in at 12.5% ABV. This is the second year that Lift Bridge has made Commander, an English-style barleywine. “English-style barleywines tend to be on the sweeter end of the spectrum,” says Lift Bridge brewer Brad Glynn. “American barleywines tend to be a little bit more hoppy, a little bit more assertive. We use orange peel to bring up a bit of orange flavor, but really it’s just got a ton of English malt that gives it a caramel-y sweetness. And we use cardamom in it, so that’s a little bit unusual and a divergence from the traditional English style.”
The creation of the 2012 Commander involved blending 6-month, 12-month, and 18-month incarnations of Lift Bridge barleywine aged out in racked bourbon or rye barrels. Heavy Table writer John Garland attended a blending and tasting session earlier this month, and he writes:
“The blending session really showed off a progression from awkward disjointed booziness to mellow maturity. The selections brewed in April 2012 were both still very viscous, but with a piercing alcohol note to them. The stuff brewed in September 2011 was more approachable — starting to form an identity, burgeoning ripe fruit flavors, complexity on the nose, started to get that nice raisin-like barleywine depth to it.
“Transition to their very first batch — May 2011 — you see where it’s all going. The stuff just hugs your tongue. Burnt sugar, bitter chocolate and raisin / black cherry notes come together like it’s a brewed Manhattan.”
We tasted the 2012 version of the barleywine earlier this week and found it appealing — a kick of orange zest supported by warm, holiday-friendly spices served as the beer’s opening note, followed by a lovely clean caramel-vanilla flavor that roosted comfortably at the end of each sip. It would serve admirably as a post-Thanksgiving meal warmer, perhaps accompanying a slice of pecan pie or a 10-year-old cheddar cheese — anything with smoky, caramel notes, or a warm umami that would respond well to a soulful bourbon or rye. It also compared favorably to our recollection of 2011’s edition, which similarly had charm to spare but also a hot, boozy edge.
Like many local artisan foods, Commander Barleywine is around for a limited time in limited quantities. Look for it starting this weekend through the holidays in the neighborhood of $16 a bottle. Both 22-oz and slightly larger 750-ml bottles will be available.
Lift Bridge Brewery will host its 2nd Annual Commander Barleywine Release Party this Saturday, Nov. 17, from 3-8pm. The event’s “old timey circus” theme will include a circus costume contest, a Commander mustache competition, classic carnival games, live music by Thrift Store Sonata, food, and of course, Lift Bridge Beer. Tickets will be available at the brewery tap room during open hours (Tuesday – Thursday – 5-8pm, Friday 12-8pm, Saturday 12-5pm) or online.