Amid the explosion of new breweries in the Twin Cities, it’s easy to forget that much of the most exciting innovation around here still comes from a hardened core of old reliable brewers. These are companies that have conquered their niche but continue to prioritize innovation — a group that includes Schell’s, Surly, and Summit. While new breweries sometimes (understandably) work to nail down a consumer-friendly IPA and ensure that their taprooms function as profit-driving event spaces, the big, old-school outfits have, ironically, the personnel, experience, and cash reserves to play around with revolutionary ideas.
For example, the Union Series from Summit concentrates on sourcing unusual ingredients such as exotic and newly developed hops and malts. More specifically, Summit’s newly released Old Blaggard English-Style Barleywine utilizes Odyssey pale malt from Simpson’s Malting Company in Great Britain and the newly developed Endeavor hops. The beer is also aged for six months (thus the “Old” in the name). All of this, of course, would be well-intentioned flimflam if the beer didn’t work, but this one certainly does.
Blaggard’s press release claims that the beer is a “beautifully balanced strong ale.” This is one of those happy occasions where you should, in fact, believe the hype. Blaggard has a bold, deep, sweet, and spicy malt body and a crisp, astringent, hoppy finish that deftly complement one another. Despite its 10.1 percent ABV, there isn’t a trace of booziness to this stuff, and as it warms up toward room temperature, it gains fig-inflected, fruity depth that plays nicely with the other components. As is typical for a good barleywine, a 15 to 30 minute post-fridge thaw and the use of a snifter or other round-bottomed glass elicits exciting new exclamations from the beer.
Barleywines are made for celebration, but not all are created equal. Old Blaggard has a lovely range — it would pair admirably with everything from a raging solstice party to a home-cooked dinner for two.