It’s rare that I try a completely new style of beer. This is a barley wine from my home nation’s craft brewery that has taken the beer world by storm: BrewDog. I managed to get my hands on one of their Abstrakt bottles, “Abstrakt 25”, and I slotted the beer aside for a special occasion. Birthday weekend, special occasion? I would think so! Unfortunately, I turned 26 this year, one ahead of this Abstract bottle!
What is barley wine? These beers have a stronger ABV, typically in the double digits, reflective of the usual grape-based drink. Given that it is made from grains, rather than a fruit, the drink is named after this. Originating from the 18th Century, England were at war with France, so it was difficult to import wine from regions such as Bordeaux; consequently, upper-class families drank strong brewed ale to match the needs and desires of their palates that had become accustomed to wine. Today, due to the ever-increasing craft beer demand, the barley wine scene has expanded as breweries test new, stronger combinations.
So that is the history of barley wine, now it is time to find out what one tastes like.
Mandatory “Abstrakt 25” Facts
- Untappd Rating: 4.16 (at time of writing)
- ABV: 13.3%
- IBU: 35
- Style: Barley Wine
- Serving: Bottle, 375ml
The bottle was different to any that I’ve previously come across. It had teal blue accents on it, with an “abstract” design. A thick strikethrough had been used to block out all but two numbers from 1-10, leaving only “2” and “5” remaining. At the top of the bottle, a wax ring encompassed the upper 20% circumferentially. This was the point at which I was very, very stupid: I took a Swiss army utility knife and unhinged the bottle opener portion. I thought that with the sharp teeth I could indent the seal and open the bottle with a firm pull… to no avail. Upon trying again, I had no success. I then took the blade and broke the complete seal, creating a weak point. At this point, the cap came away exceptionally smoothly… with some glass! It was officially the first time I have broken a bottle whilst opening it! I carefully poured the dark liquid (away from the broken glass) into my Teku. The colour of the beer was a very deep mahogany, though there was a ruby element when I examined the beer in the light. A firm white foam head sat atop, producing the primary scents of deep malts and bourbon. The latter wasn’t surprising given that this beer was aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months prior to bottling. Though not a bourbon enthusiast (I’d take a bottle of rum or vodka over it), I enjoy when beers are infused in their barrels.
On sampling there were a few dominant flavours: roasted malts, a sweet deep toffee flavour and a warming bourbon finish that highlighted the 13.3% ABV. Given the number of double and triple IPA beers that I’ve sampled recently, I knew that I would slowly sip the beer, but the strength wasn’t overwhelming. The foam head was gone before even half the beer had been consumed, but this didn’t detract from the drinking experience. I really liked the toffee-bourbon combination, and made a mental not to look for these complementary flavours again.
Diagnosis: 3.5/5. “Abstrakt 25” is a good place to begin if, like me, you’ve never had a barley wine. It’s not overwhelming and has a great well-rounded blend of flavours. The start of a new category in my beer journey was successful; hopefully there will be many more to enjoy along the way!