Break the Ice With Barley Wine

With temperatures hovering in the freeze-your-face range throughout much of the country, now's a great time to snuggle next to the fireplace with a new friend.

Barley wine is becoming a favorite among adults looking for something unique to unwind with during the dark, cold winter months.

Barley wine is a bit of a conundrum. First of all, it's not really wine. It's beer. Barley wine is so named because, like its grape counterpart, barley wine usually offers a much higher alcohol content than most beers -- 9 to 13 percent compared to an average 4 to 6 percent. Think of it as wine made from grains instead of grapes.

Barley wine's theme song could be the Rolling Stone's classic, "Time Is On My Side." Most beer is best consumed fresh, but barley wine is suitable for cellaring or "laying down" -- just like a bottle of grape wine. Many are served at cellar temperature, which isn't room temperature, but certainly isn't fresh out of the fridge, either -- similar to the temperature for serving red wine.

Partly because of its strength, barley wine exhibits other characteristics similar to wine. Its equivalent in the wine world might be port, which is also a sippin' beverage. Both feature some sweetness and a full-bodied complexity that often is enjoyed after dinner or with dessert.

Among beer or wine, one thing that makes barley wine stand alone is its complex fruitiness, which comes from the production of higher alcohols known as esters. Esters give barley wine -- and other strong beers -- aroma and flavor full of subtle nuances that tend to come and go while sipping. Often the flavors can be reminiscent of prunes, plums, pears, raisins, figs, cherries, apricots, vanilla, caramel and even some spices.

Barley wine is a seasonal treat that many local and regional brewers create several months or even years in advance so it is ready to be served this time of year. Often, a brewer will age the beer in a wooden cask or barrel, sometimes old bourbon, or even wine barrels, to create more complexity in the aroma and palate.

So sip into something comfortable this season and try a barley wine . Chances are you will warm up to one.

Where to find barley wine in D.C.

The Brickskeller, located at 1523 22nd St NW, carries 5 different kinds of barley wine. These include Sierra Nevada's Big Foot, Dogfish Head's Olde School, Anchor Steam's Old Foghorn, Victory's Old Horizontal, and Weyerbacher's Blithering Idiot. Prices range from $4.50 (Old Horizontal, 10.5% abv) to $15.95 (Olde School, 15% abv).

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