American Barleywine


American Barleywine



By May 2010 we had put 14 batches of various styles and strengths through our new Electric Brewery without any problems. We figured it was time to brew something that would really push the limits as to how much grain this 20 gallon system could handle so brewing a strong 12-13% ABV Barleywine seemed like the logical choice.

Up until then the strongest beer we had made was an 8.5% ABV Pliny the Elder (Double IPA) that used 25.9 lbs of grain. This Barleywine would push that up to a whopping 39.5 lbs. It would fill our 20 gallon Mash / Lauter Tun up to the 16.5 gallon mark.

We wanted to answer the following questions:

  • Would the Blichmann false bottom in the Mash/Lauter Tun be able to handle the weight of nearly 40 lbs of grain and 106 lbs of water? (We had no doubts it would, and it did).
  • How much would the mash efficiency drop when brewing such a high gravity beer? With really high gravity beers mash efficiency drops because you're using less sparge water than usual to rinse more grain than usual and end up leaving more sugars behind. This is true of any brewing setup. Our 8.5% ABV Pliny the Elder (Double IPA) still achieved our regular 95% mash efficiency which was nice to see. With this Barleywine the mash efficiency dropped to 86% which is still very high. The end result was a 12% ABV beer instead of the original target of 12.5% since we had assumed our typical 95% mash efficiency when formulating the recipe. We like the resultant beer so the recipe below is exactly what we brewed. We now know however how mash efficiency is affected when making a very strong beer so we can compensate in the future (if preferred).

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale balances fruity flavors with a good dose of bitternessSierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale balances fruity flavors with a good dose of bitterness. Image (c)

This is an American style Barleywine as opposed to English which means using American style hops and hopping to a higher level than the English counterpart. An English style Barleywine will be hopped usually in the 35-70 IBU range while American will be around 50-120 IBU. We aimed for around 100 IBU. While this may seem crazy high (higher than an American IPA), you have to remember that an American Barleywine is considerably more malty and has a higher alcohol content than an American IPA. The extra maltiness and booze offsets the increased hoppiness so that it doesn't taste as hoppy as you'd think. In fact, if you were to put a 70 IBU American IPA and this 100 IBU American Barleywine in front of someone and ask them which is more bitter, they'd probably choose the IPA.

The other aspect to keep in mind is that unlike an American IPA or IIPA that is meant to be consumed young and fresh when the hop flavour and aroma are at their peak, a Barleywine is best when aged so the apparent bitterness will subside over time. When we first tried this beer after kegging it, it was fairly bitter, almost harsh. 6-12 months later it had mellowed substantially. You want to aim high on the IBUs with a Barleywine.

We increased the boil time to a full two hours to allow for more caramelization. This boiled off 3.8 gallons. Since we wanted to end up with 12 gallons post boil this mean we needed a full 15.8 gallons pre-boil. That was pretty close to the top of our 20 gallon boil kettle so we'd have to watch carefully for boil overs. Another test of the limits of the system.

The recipe is a combination of the American Barleywine recipe found in Jamil Zainasheff's excellent recipe book Brewing Classic Styles and his Brewing Network podcast on Barleywine from January 15, 2007.

This beer was kegged in July 2010 and kept at serving temperature. It was interesting to taste how it changed over the first year and a half. The hoppiness mellowed a bit as expected and aiming high on IBU worked well. The malt flavours took on more of a plum/raisin taste as it aged and the 'hot' taste due to the high alcohol content subsided. 

A bunch of local brewers who were studying for their Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) exam recently got together to discuss the Barleywine / Old Ale style so we provided some of ours for them to compare against the commercial styles available. We're always curious to get feedback on our beers from other brewers so here are some of their comments on this Barleywine after being aged for 17 months:

"Hands down the hoppiest presence of all the BWs - but in a good way. Hoppily assertive up front, but balanced out by the malt, and a lingering, balanced malt/bitter finish."

"It was a great tasting barleywine and probably one of the best we tried last night."

"It was awesome Kal, thanks for bringing it."

October 2019 update: Fast forward to 9 (!) years later and the malt and hop flavours have completely mellowed and merged into interesting sherry-like flavours. The aroma is all plum and raisin (no hop aroma at all). The colour is rich and has ruby highlights (see video below). An amazing transformation over time. Incredibly full-bodied and smooth. Definitely worth saving.

Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!


Shop Electric Brewery products


American Barleywine

Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 86.1% (lower due to the high gravity)
Attenuation: 80.3%
Calories: 374 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity:
1.112 (style range: 1.080 - 1.120)
Final Gravity: 1.022 (style range: 1.016 - 1.030) 
Colour: 15.9 SRM (style range: 10 - 19)
Alcohol: 12% ABV (style range: 8% - 12%)
Bitterness: 101 IBU (style range: 50 - 120)

36.5 lb Maris Otter malt (2.5-4L) (86.9%)
2 lb Crystal malt (90L) (4.8%)
1 lb Dark Munich malt (9L) (2.4%)

4.5 oz Magnum hops (14.4%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [101 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
2.5 lb Regular table sugar (6%) - added during boil*, boiled 10 min (add slowly)

2 oz Chinook hops (11.4%) - added immediately after boil
3 oz Centennial hops (9.2%) - added immediately after boil
3 oz Amarillo hops (8.2%) - added immediately after boil

Fermentis Safale US-05 dry yeast** (68g recommended or make an equivalent starter)

Dry hop: 
3 oz Centennial hops (9.2%) - added to fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3 days
3 oz Amarillo hops (8.2%) - added to fermenter near end of fermentation, steeped 3 days

*It's been said that moving the addition of simple sugars like table sugar to the end of fermentation can help if you have attenuation problems. (We've never had issues so we always add to the boil per our recipe). If you prefer to add at the end of fermentation, heat up some distilled water to near boiling (above 180F) and stir in about 1lb of sugar. Let it cool and add directly to the fermenter. Repeat this process of adding 1lb every 2-3 days until all of the sugar is used up. Why is this said to help with attenuation? Yeast likes to eat simple sugars (like table sugar) first before it attacks the more complex ones produced by the grain. By giving the yeast only the 'less tasty' stuff (complex sugars) first they're more likely to finish it all before moving on the 'tasty stuff' (simple sugars). Giving them both at the same time is like giving your kids dinner and dessert at the same time. They'll eat dessert first and then be too full to eat their dinner. Given them dinner first, and there's always room for dessert. 😉

**If you prefer to use liquid yeast, Wyeast 1056 American Ale or White Labs WLP001 California Ale are excellent choices as they are the same clean fermenting Chico strain as US-05. You'll need ~1197 billion cells (11-12 fresh packs) or an equivalent starter.

Purchasing through our affiliate links helps support our site at no extra cost to you. We thank you!


Notes / Process

  • Add 500mg potassium metabisulfite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required). You'll likely need slightly more than 20 gallons total, so if using 20 kettles like we do, fill up your HLT (with sparge water) and MLT (with strike water) separately and treat separately. We recommend filling the HLT enough so that the HERMS coil is fully submerged.
  • Water treated with brewing salts to our Hoppy flavour profile: Ca=110, Mg=18, Na=16, Cl=50, SO4=275 (Basically Randy Mosher's ideal Pale Ale numbers with slightly less sulfate). For more information on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
  • 1.25 qt/lb mash thickness.
  • Single infusion mash at 149F for 120 mins.
  • Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
  • ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature).
  • Boil for 120 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at end of boil, start chilling immediately.
  • Cool the wort quickly to 66F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
  • Oxygenate the chilled wort to a level of 14 ppm dissolved oxygen. Given the high starting gravity, a second dose to 14 ppm is recommended approximately 12-18 hours after the yeast has been pitched. For more information refer to our Aerating / Oxygenating Wort guide.
  • Pitch yeast and ferment at 66-68F (wort temperature). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
  • Add dry hops once fermentation is nearing completion (i.e. 5 points from final gravity) and raise the temperature to 70-72F. In our case we simply turn off the fermenting fridges and allow the beer to naturally rise to room temperature. Steep hops for 3-5 days while fermentation finishes. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
  • Before packaging you may optionally rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days. Gelatin may "round off" some hop flavour / aroma so we tend to skip this step with hop forward beers like this. As well, the less you handle the beer through racking and potentially expose it to oxygen, the better. Given that this beer will take some time to age, you can also let time clear the beer on its own. Just make sure to use a glass or stainless vessel (not plastic as they are air permeable).
  • Package as you would normally and age 1+ years or as long as you can stand it! We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2, and then carbonate on the low side (around 1.6 to 1.8 volumes of CO2) to minimize carbonic bite and let the hop and malt flavours shine through. We chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve, but will still be very young. Try the beer every couple of months and see how it changes over time. Some hop bits will have invariably made their way into the keg during transfer so we use a Hop Stopper Keg Edition filter to ensure that hops do not clog the dip tube and/or end up in the glass.

For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.


Questions? Visit our American Barleywine forum thread


Shop made in the USA HERMS coils


Pictures / Videos

Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.