Style: Barrel-Aged and Blended American Barleywine
Barrels Mentioned: “Red Wine, Sauternes, Banyuls and Whisky”
Barrels Assumed from 2013 Maiden: “Madeira, Bourbon, Armagnac & Tequila”
From: Wokingham, UK
Brewery’s Note: “The goal for Maiden is to celebrate our love of experimentation and the impact of wood and time on a beer. A big barley wine is brewed and then split into many different barrels with varied spirits and wines and differing types of wood to impart a wide palette of flavours. Then after a year has gone by we would then bring them back together and craft a blend that would bring complexity and balance. The base beer was the first batch brewed in 2014, which was a solid American style hoppy barley wine. This was partly used in the 2013 release and the rest was used to top up the barrels from our first year release. New barrels including red wine, sauternes, banyuls and whisky were then also added to the mix. This year, along with our own team of brewers and back of house team, we asked for help in putting together the blend from Andrew at Le Grappin & the team at East London Liquor Company. The day started off with a discussion about the beer and the vision for the project, making it clear to everyone that we were looking for the best possible beer from the day, not to make sure we make the most out of all the barrels we had. Then both of our guests were invited to talk about their process for creating and blending when working in their own field. A sample of each of the barrels were laid out in front of us, including the base beer for what will become Maiden 2015, and we all tasted each and every barrel made notes, discussed and tasted some more. A few of the barrels had picked up some Brett, and some of them in a very nice way, however, Maiden is not about brettanomyces so these barrels were kept aside for future projects. After a full afternoon of tasting and discussion, the time for talking was over, we each put forward our individual favourite blend for a vote. The decision was not easy, there were many different approaches taken with each resulting in different highlights and accents, but a majority vote won through. The process of taking the beer out of the barrels (leaving 10% in for the next year), blending and bottling has now been done. Just over 5000 bottles are now conditioning nicely waiting for their release on the 7th March at our party. We are really excited about how this year’s blend has turned out, and the addition of the Wine, Banyuls and Sauternes has really added a depth to last year’s batch.”
The beer pours a ruddy, muddy, dark copper with a small head of fizzy yellowing bubbles that cling on as a thick scrim. When splashed against the sides of the glass, the beer leaves fat sheets of shimmering legs that last alongside a gradient of polka dots of thin lacing. The body is a murky, opaque mystery that gives brief hints of almost-opacity when held to the light. It looks stately and full in the glass, brooding and liquor-like, yet a beer in all its glory. On the nose, the beer smells of fresh, spicy and earthy hops alongside papery malts. Raw, bitter paper waivers over a hidden sea of figs, dates, and oh-so-succulent honey (which occasionally rears a sticky honeycomb head). Grass, dirt, paper, and honey. There is also a tarter, funkier edge to the scent, suggesting cranberries, tannic cab sauv, overripe pineapple, and a touch of gassier funk reminiscent of brett brux. The nose evolves and unfolds as only the best can. Let this beer warm in a glass and unfold layer after layer of delicious delicacy! Caramel and baked bread are there in the nose, too, but they are hidden and layered beside intricate oxidation and melded booze barrels. As I contemplate it more, I start to sense oxidized rum, corked wine, and a faint heat and spice of raw spirits. The nose is a delicacy I could spend all day on! On the tongue, the beer tastes of bitter booze and paper. These are swiftly encased in sweet caramel, then a brief touch hot booze before it turns spicy and starts working in earthy and sweet barrel character, followed by tannic oak, bitter spicy hops, and more bitter oxidation. A touch of dark fruit acidity tickles at the edges of the tongue, moving in and out of the spicy booze bite, especially at the start of the sip. Perhaps there is a little maple syrup in the start, but this is delicate sweetness that the booze and bitters quickly drown, more akin to Grade-A finery than the sticky sweet opulence of Grade-B. The beer has the some rough edges of oxidation, which will surely morph into rich decadence with a few more years on it, but as of now it is still fresh, bitter, and boozy in a very integrated sense. In the mouth, the beer is full in body, yet crisp and attenuated; dry and astringent, yet luxurious and soft. Carbonation is nearly nonexistent, but the bite of alcohol and bitters in the mouth provide a nice balance, and when it all leaves, the mouth is left slightly wet along the edges of the tongue, while the middle and the roof of the mouth feel dry, and a bit scratchy from the booze. Overall, this is boozy, nuanced, bitter, fresh, heavy, and utterly delicious. For my own tastes, I prefer a more saccharine and English bent to my barleywines, if only because of my child’s palate for the style. For me, I think a year or two of careful cellar will pull out the honeyed oxidation a touch more, step off the bitters, and further integrate the myriad of flavors bouncing around in this beer. Without age, however, this is lush and complex, full of barrel and spirit characters that I cannot begin to describe, as I am woefully under experienced in that regard. This is a pricey cup that is worth the price of entry. Siren has only impressed me thus far. Their barrel aging program seems to be putting out pure excellence, and every time I sip a brew from them I am left with a long list of new flavors and complexities that I’ve never come across in a beer before. This is a delicious, bitter, barrel aged American barleywine.