Can’t Cut Loose Without My Juice: Gimme That Barleywine!

Jim Lundstrom

Celebrating its 30th year in the craft beer industry last year, Summit Brewing Co. of St. Paul released a series of special releases in honor of its senior status among craft brewers.

The first 30th anniversary release was an excellent double IPA, which I reviewed earlier this year. 

That was followed by a pils, which I did not see. Next was a “West London-style ale” (huh? I never heard of that “style” when I lived in England, but I guess that was quite a while ago; I suppose a new beer could have been invented since 1980). I also did not see that beer.

Finally, last winter, an English-style barleywine was released, and I did see it just recently in a Superior, Wis., liquor store, in the form of a four-pack of bottles.

Hello, barleywine! Remember me? I’m the guy you made fall off his stool when I first met you at the age of 18 in a pub in Bicker, Lincolnshire. I remember it was a Watney’s house, so it must have been a Watney’s barleywine. The name “stingo” comes to me, but I think I’m getting it wrong. I can almost see the bottle, but not quite. After all, it was in a different century.


The name says it all. This is no mere beer. It is so packed with barley that it nears the strength of wine. You could also call it Superbeer. This particular version weighs in at an impressive 11.5 percent. 
Summit says this barleywine takes its inspiration from the brewery’s flagship Extra Pale ale, “adopting the same essential profile while taking flavor and character to even greater heights.” 

The style calls for little or no hop presence but a big sweet maltiness and the definite punch of alcohol. Barleywine pulls no punches.

As I poured another serving from the bottle, a point was driven home by Summit calling this an English-style barleywine. There was a time when a barleywine was a barleywine, but now there is also something known as American barleywine, where what I said about malt forward-little hop presence is turned on its ear. 

Sorry, I’m a barleywine traditionalist. You might call your hopped up, high octane ale an American barleywine, but it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that thing, and any English barleywine fan knows what I mean by “that thing.”

The judges tasted “that thing” during the 2014 Door County Homebrew Competition, which was won by Rich Wolter with an unmistakable English-style barleywine. It was the most true-to-style beer of the day, which is why it easily won best of show.

It’s that barleywine thing. Glory. Beauty. Power. Cellarability. It reminds me that I only drink for medicinal purposes.

Thank you, Summit, for always being there – in those distant early days of the 1980s when craft breweries were still few and far between, and through to today and beyond. 

Best wishes for many more celebratory beers!