How to Brew English Barleywine | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: December 29, 2020

English Barleywine is a beer style that showcases a malty backbone with intense and very complex flavors. Interestingly enough, in the UK the style is written as “barley wine,” while in the US, the style is written as “barleywine.”

With an alcohol warmth, a rich body, and pleasant hoppiness. When aged, Barley wines take on more of a port-like flavor and is a style best enjoyed as a wintertime sipper by the fire. 

What’s in a Name?

Barley wine originated in England and received their name because although they were made from barley, they reached alcohol levels close to wine. Barleywines actually went by many names such as: Strong ale, Stock ale, Old ale, Stale ale, Double ale, and even Double-double ale.

The descriptor, English Barleywines, was used long before it became a beer style. Barleywine was used as a term when there was nothing else to compare it to but to say it was like a wine. Also in the book, Anabasis by Xenophon, the Greek word, “oinos krithios,” literally translates to barley wine. 

The Start of the English Barleywine. 

It has been said that English barleywines were likely started in the 1400s, which ironically was the same time hops became more prevalent in the brewing world. The modern version of barley wine was first brewed in England as Bass No. 1. This beer was first called a barleywine in 1872. 

Parti-Gyle Brewing Technique

The parti-gyle technique seems to have found a place in the barley wine roots. The reason this technique became so popular and still used today is due to the amount of sugars still available after the first runnings of a barleywine.

Many brewers, especially years ago, felt that dumping the spent grains with so many sugars still available for  another wort was wasteful. This technique maximises the amount of beer that can be produced and therefore sold. Warning…it does make for a long brew day.  

Parti-gyle is an English brewing technique in which two or more “runnings” are taken from the same mash. Sometimes one beer is made from each running – for example a stronger beer from the first runnings and a medium beer from the second runnings.

Oftentimes the beer was blended to hit a specific gravity of two or more styles. Some brewers feel that blending gives them better control over their starting gravity. 

Nick Carr of Kegerator.com wrote this about the barleywine style:

English barleywine is the aged grandfather of the beer world. He can be intimidating at first, having lived a life entire, before ever coming to share your class. He is bold, even biting sometimes, yet most of his harsh edges have been worn away by time, leaving a kindly, warming, complex character. He is a storyteller. And as you contemplate his company, lift the glass for that first tentative sip, you’ll know it’s a story to be lingered over, to be studied, shared, and savored.

Seems to be a fitting way to think of such incredible beer style. 

Style Profile for English Barleywine

Appearance

Due to the nature of this style’s brewing process, its characteristics are wide-ranging. Color ranges from dark amber to a mahogany brown with ruby highlights. Beer can be quite clear, but opaque of aged. The head will be low to moderate and will be mostly small and quick to dissipate due to high alcohol.

Aroma

The aroma is complex and varied in character, including strong malt backbone. Notes of caramel, bready, toasty, and/or molasses, sherry-like, vinous, and/or port like if aged all are common. 

Flavor

Rich and complex flavors exist in this beer. Malt character is often strong, almost intense, notes of dark caramel, molasses, nut, and dark toast in darker versions. In lighter versions of this beer notes of biscuit, bread, and toffee also exist.

Sweetness may be moderate to high across the palate. The finish of this style can be either moderately sweet or moderately dry. A dark or dried fruit character can range from medium to high.

Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel can be full-bodied, chewy with a smooth texture. This will decline slowly with long aging. There should be low smooth alcohol warmth. Carbonation is often low. 

Food Pairing

When it comes to pairing an English barleywine with food, game meats, lamb chops, duck, and wild poultry are all great ideas to start.

Also, aged cheddar and goat cheeses can pair really well with a barleywine. For dessert pairings, creme brulee and caramel desserts are all good choices. 

Tips for Brewing your own English Barleywine

Grain

Since the style is a traditional English style, British pale malt would be appropriate. Maris Otter is a solid choice. Since English pale malt is kilned a couple degrees darker than American two-row or pale malt, it makes for a better choice of a base grain for a barleywine.

If you are unable to source English pale malt or just prefer American two-row or pale malt, mix in 5-10 percent of Munich malt. The specialty malts you want to consider are a darker crystal malt 60°L and above. Keep it at 5-8% to add some nice color and adding elements of toast, caramel, and dried fruit character.

Some say adding some wheat or carapils will aid in head retention. To add a bit of complexity to your barleywine, consider some Victory, Munich, Biscuit, and Special Roast to broaden the taste profile of this beer. 

Hops

English hops such as Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, Northdown, Target, and Challenger should be considered when brewing an English barleywine. A bitterness-to-starting-gravity (IBU:OG) of 0.5 to 0.6 is average.

However, if you are planning on aging this finished beer a bit, bump that ratio to 0.6 and 0.8. Late hop additions are usually one or two additions, any time between 20 minutes left in the boil to flameout.

The range can be anywhere between 1 to 6 ounces depending on the aroma you want to achieve in your finished beer. If you decide to dry hop this beer, then 2 to 5 ounces is average for the style. 

Yeast

London Ale Wyeast #1028, British Ale II Wyeast #1335, White Labs Irish Ale (WLP004), British Ale (WLP005) and Danstar Nottingham would be good choices for yeast. Of course since this is for such a large beer, a yeast starter is a very good idea.  

English Barleywine the By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 8 – 22 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.080 – 1.120 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.018 – 1.030 FG
  • IBU Range: 35 – 70
  • ABV Range: 8.0 – 12.0%

Martin Keen’s English Barleywine Recipe

Grain

87%          17 lbs        Maris Otter      

  5 %           1 lb          Amber Malt     

  5 %           1 lb          Crystal 45

  3 %           8 oz         Cara-Pils

Hops

2 oz         Target – Boil 60 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg   London Ale Yeast Wyeast Labs #1028

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: This week, we’re brewing two beers for the price of one. I’m brewing an English Barleywine and Parti-Gyle.

I’m Martin Keen. And on this channel, the Homebrew challenge, I brew a different beer each week until I’ve worked my way through 99 styles.

Except this week, I’m actually brewing two beers. The main beer is English Barleywine. This is an intense Malty Sipper. And then I’m going to reuse the same grains from the barley wine to brew a second beer.

Parti-Gyle

And that is through a process called Parti-Gyle, which is basically taking the mash, all of the grains from that mash from the first brew, and then reusing them in a second brew. So effectively kind of a second runnings through the mash bed.

Now Parti-Gyle has a rich history with English Barley wine. And we’ll look at the whole process about parti-gyle in just a little bit, but first of all, let’s focus on English Barley wine.

And barley wine is a style that doesn’t mess about. I will in fact, be brewing two different barley wines on my Homebrew challenge. There’s a English barley wine and an American barley wine.

And I’ll probably come as a little surprise that the English barley wine is more malt forward and the American barley wine is more hop forward.

And in addition to that strong malt character, the beer also has a high ABV. The style guidelines support up to 12% ABV for an English barley wine. This is also a beer that does really well with aging. As the beer ages, it oxidizes slightly, and that will bring out notes of sweetness like toffee and honey.

In terms of recipe design, this is not a complicated beer to make you want to use a good biscuity base malts, something like Maris Otter, and a whole lot of it. So I’m going to build a gravity here of around 10 89 as my original gravity. I’m never quite sure what conversion I’m going to get with these bigger beers, but this is about what I’m aiming for, which should give us an ABV around 9%.

In terms of what’s actually in the grist. Well, 87% of the grist is the aforementioned Maris Otter. I then have 5% of crystal, 45, 5% Amber malt, and then 3% of Carapils.

The grains have gone in for their first mash. This is for the English barley wine. I’m mashing in here at 152 Fahrenheit, 67 Celsius for about an hour.

I’m performing a quick mash out. This is at 76 Celsius or 168 Fahrenheit. And I’m going to in a moment, pull these grains out. Let all the water drain through into the kettle. And then start the boil.

Normally at this stage of the brew day, I would be busy emptying out the grains out of my grains basket and giving it a rinse. But not today. This is just going to sit here and wait its turn for a second go.

Now, as I alluded to, there’s not a huge amount of hop character in this beer, just bittering hops. I am going to add 67 IBU of bittering hops, which sounds like an enormous amount, but when you consider the gravity, this isn’t really going to make the beer particularly bitter.

Um, I’m using Target and I’m going to use two ounces in a 5 gallon batch.

The barley wine is transferred in to my fermentor. It’s still just a little bit warm. The groundwater it’s so warm this time of year. So I’m just going to put it in my chest freezer for a little while to cool off before I add the yeast. But now I’m going to give everything a quick rinse and get ready for the second beer.

So the idea here is with this parti-gyle that there are still sugars left in this grain that are basically available for conversion. So by putting this back into a fresh mash, so more clean water at about 152 Fahrenheit or 67 Celsius, then we can extract more of the sugars and make another beer.

And if you just taste this, it is still really, really sweet. So I’m going to be very interested to see what sort of conversion rate I get from this. Let’s put it in.

Now, the method I’m using for parti-gyle to create two completely separate beers isn’t the only way to use this technique. Another thing you can do is to create blended beers.

So you take the runnings from the first mash. Those will be a higher gravity. And then the runnings from the second mash, those will be a lower gravity and you can combine them or blend them to get the exact gravity that you want. And apparently this is how some breweries still do this today, including some of the Fullers beers.

Speaking of gravity, the gravity of the barley wine came in at 10 83. That’s a few points under what I was going for at 10 89. Um, I was checking the gravity on this one quite closely. And at the pre boil stage, I was pretty much right on.

So somewhere in the boil stage, I guess I didn’t have quite the boil off rate I would expect, but we’re not too far off.

Then for the yeast I’m adding in white Wyeast at 1028, that is London ale. This one is quite happy with higher gravity beers and it should also support the slightly fruity profile we’re hoping to get with a bit of aging.

Now I’ve just taken a pre boil gravity now that the mash is done and I have a pre-boil gravity of 10 24. So I was able to extract some stuff out of that malt. And we’re on track here for a beer around 2.9%.

Now it’s time to add some hops and I’m going to just use the same hop schedule as I used for the barley wine. So that’s just a bittering hop and it’s going to be target. And I have here 0.3, five ounces of target hops, which I’m going to put in now.

Why naught 0.35 target hops? Well, let me explain.

So I’ve done a bit of reverse engineering in beersmith. Let me show you, so what did the others, I took my pre boil gravity reading, which was 10 20 at 95 Fahrenheit. So the corrected adjusted value is 10 24. That is my current gravity pre boil.

Then when I did is I took my recipe for the barley wine and just replicated it here for parti-gyle, the same base malts, same hops as well. And I changed the brew house efficiency to 20%. Why 20%?

Well, a bit of reverse engineering. I looked at to my parti-gyle here, and I adjusted that I got to a pre-boil gravity. That was pretty close to what my actual pre boil gravity was 20%. So they would get a pre boiled gravity of 10 23. I got 10 24, so that’s pretty close.

Now, if I just keep everything the same, I do a 30 minute boil and add at the same target hops in I’m going to get an IBU rating of 103, which is kind of ridiculous.

So to address that we need to bring down the number of hops we add. Now, what I did here is I switched to a style that has a similar original gravity. So we have an estimated original gravity here of 10 29, an ordinary bitter has a original gravity about the same and it’s a similar set of ingredients.

So if I change the amount of bittering hops, I’m going to add to 0.3, five, you can see now that that puts me at an IBU rating of 26 and that’s more or less in the range of what you’d expect from a beer like this. So yeah, my made up best style is going to have an IBU of roughly 26.

Final gravity came in at 10 24. So again, it ended up coming a little bit under what we expected to get based on boil off. So it’s pretty consistent between, uh, between both beers. So I think I need to just make an adjustment in Beer Smith for that, but regardless, yeah, we actually got something that has the potential to be beer here to actually make it big.

And I need to add some yeast now, just thinking about using the same yeast for this beer as well, and just basically having a weeker version of barley wine, but I’ve elected to pick something else.

So I’ve gone for German ale yeast. This is white labs, 029, and I’m going to ferment with that. And it’ll be quite interesting to see the difference between the two beers considering they do have different yeasts. And I’m electing to ferment this beer in a corny keg. That’s something that work quite well when I’ve tried it before. And also it has the advantage of it fits in my keezer.

Okay. So going let these guys ferment, and then I’m going to have two beers for tasting.

So two beers for one, Evan. Yeah. You’re inviting me back and giving me a double trouble. Absolutely. So, so let’s start with, well, first of all, let’s just start with the appearance of both of these beers because they’re same mash, but of course they’re definitely completely different.

Yeah. Very sort of dark kind of, yeah. On the way to like a darkie stout color, just personally, this was the one I would be picking if we would just based on color, but I’m not sure about taste yet. Okay.

Uh, let’s just discard that one for a minute. All right. We’ll come back to you later. Yeah. And we’re going to focus on the main event, which is the barley wine. So let’s see what we get on aroma on this beer.

Um, for anybody who’s a fan of maybe English breakfast food. This has a smell of sort of Marmite, which is sort of a yeast extract type thing for strong, very Brown. Um, so I would say that yeah, maybe bready a little bit as well. Yeah. Yeah. I would agree with a bit of yeasty bready kind of smell on it.

Now this beer is six weeks old. Okay. Uh, I would like to have aged it for much longer than that and the style should be aged for maybe six months. And the reason I bring that up now is because of what you said about this, the aroma is I think the sort of the yeasty bready smell is because it’s so young. Okay.

And so would we expect the color to change as well as it got older or we’d be looking at this sort of color, we would hope that the color stays the same because if the color changes, it’s probably been oxidized. Okay. All right. So we’re looking good so far. Yeah. Okay.

So let’s finally get to a taste for this one – that is very strong. No, that has a very strong light coats the mouth, I would say, like it’s thick. Um, and to me it almost tastes like the beginning of a liquor, like almost has like a sort of whiskey type flavor.

Yeah. Definitely would love to age us a little bit more so that we can really develop some of the characters. I think it does have a sort of a whisky or maybe a Brandy kind of, um, tone to it. Um, but I think that’s only going to get better with a bit more time. And I know we said that with some of the other beers recently, but, um, it’s very drinkable in its current form, but I would like to give it a little bit longer.

Oh, we can slide in our here’s one. You made here, I made earlier. So this is the parti-gyle. It’s a totally made up style. Yep. Just using the same mash, um, different yeast. Just see what comes out of it. I’ve got to say that the flavor of the barley wine is still deep in my mouth, so I’m not sure I can be completely biased, but maybe it will help.

Yeah. Um, with the ingredients you use, what would you most compare it to? I mean, it should come in as some kind of English style ale, I think is what you would expect from the mash. I’m not getting the caramel sweetness that you would get from an English ale.

I’m not really getting any sort of hop flavor, or any earthy flavor. It tastes like it tastes like when I first started brewing and with Mr beer kits and I was doing it wrong.

Well, I distinctly remember there was an Apple flavor at one point. I wouldn’t say Apple here. No, I know what you mean. Not, not the flavors are expecting. Yeah. So you took a shot about using the leftover ingredients. Like like you should recycle, but maybe it hasn’t worked so well here.

No, I think it hasn’t really worked out. I think what we’ve got here is we’ve got a sipper. Yes. And a tipper.

Cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.