This time last year I started what I hope to be an annual tradition, brewing a barleywine in late November or early December and letting it sit until the following Thanksgiving. In trying to think of a name for the beer in question, I batted about several ideas, including Vintage Velky Ale. In the end I settled on the name Samoset Vintage.
The name Samoset comes from the first Native American to make contact with the Plymouth Colony, who of course had made landfall because their supplies were running low, especially their beer (more's the pity their modern co-religionists don't share such a view of beer, and alcohol in general). According to Mourt's Relation, Samoset strolled into the Plymouth Colony, welcomed the colonists in his broken English and asked if they had any beer. When presented with a draft of finest English ale, he is reputed to have commented "this is not to style!".*
Anyway, so last November I brewed the first Samoset Vintage Ale, a barleywine which once fermentation was done, weighed in at 12% abv. In the boil I used Challenger and East Kent Goldings, I then dry hopped the beer with Cascade for a couple of months. The malt bill was simplicity itself, lots of pale dry malt extract and a pound of Caramel 40 for colour and flavour. The yeast was 1728 Scottish Ale from Wyeast. Given that last week was Thanksgiving, it was time to finally enjoy, I hoped, the beer. A quick disclaimer though, I had a bottle in June to make sure it was carbonated properly and then another when I tried not to get in the way of brewing the Pilsner with Devils Backbone.
So to the beer itself. As the pictures quite nicely show, it pours a rich dark copper, topping off with a large, off-white, rocky head that hangs around for the duration - and with a quick swirl of the glass refreshes itself. The nose is by turns lemony, lightly piney, boozy and earthy, then as it warms it becomes quite spicy, almost curryesque. In terms of taste, the first mouthful is a hefty hit of caramel sweetness, but not cloyingly so. The bitterness of all the hops comes through in the finish to cut through the sweetness leaving a nice balance. As the bitterness fades there is a warming afterglow of booze.
The beer is quite full bodied and has a nice level of carbonation that is not overly fizzy, but not "flat" either, given the good head on the beer it is not really all that surprising that the beer left plenty of lacing down the glass.
The only downside to Samoset Vintage 2009 is that it is deceptively easy to drink. The alcohol is very well integrated and if I hadn't known the alcohol content then I would have been happy to drink my entire stash of the beer, and then wonder why my legs refused to function.
Actually, there is another downside to the beer. I only have 7 bottles left, and I was hoping to age at least a 6 pack for next year's Thanksgiving - and do a comparison with this year's, yet to be finalised, recipe. Perhaps I only need a couple of bottles though?
You could say then that I am very happy with the end result of my first barleywine, and you'd be right!
* I made that bit up.