TIPPING THE SCALES at 12% ABV, the 2012 limited edition Olde Bluehair Barleywine is Big Sky Brewing’s most potent brew. It’s also stronger than several of its own prior bottlings, which seem to have ranged down even to 8% or so before swelling to its current dimensions. And yet, as the benignly salutary old dame on the label implies, it’s far from a monstrous or deliberately challenging beer. With a broad array of sweet, nearly confectionary aromas and pleasant warmth, it rather invites you into its presence to sit, stay, and chat for a while. And take a few cookies home with you, why don’t you.
Pouring a rather viscous mahogany brown with little head, Bluehair leads with a full mouthfeel from the very outset—no acclimation period or second-half surge to wait for here. Playing on the tongue almost like a mead, it offers up golden raisins, honey, thick caramel, biscuit, and other pleasant chewables from an assuredly complex malt bill. Plenty of Special B went into 2013’s vintage and likely was also a star player in ‘12. (The recipe seems to change as frequently as the ABV.) Olde Bluehair stops short of sticky fruitiness, though, thanks to a hop counterpoint (73 IBU) that is the sturdy silent partner in this equation, holding the malt side in check without making itself too noticeable. Perhaps a little balancing bitterness towards the finish, but not more—barley is the unquestioned leader here. Alcohol does come forward some towards the end, warming but not sharp, rather like a port (or again, a fortified mead). More apparent in those latter stages is the five months of bourbon barrel-aging, which imparts some light vanilla, bit of corn, and wood tones that, in this relatively young vintage, still taste more like fresh oak than smoky char. Altogether as clement a barleywine experience as one can hope for in summer, where the more surly behemoths of gnarlier flavors would be markedly less appealing.
Served: 750 ml bottle (2012 Vintage)