Before people began drinking beer and wine for the sheer enjoyment of it, alcoholic beverages were treated as a type of food. Literally, an important part of your meal. Unfortunately for brewers. wine was more respected; it was the drink of elitist, affluent sections of society. They needed something that could compete with wine.
The problem when brewing beer is that high concentrations of alcohol kill yeast. Whereas wine easily gets into the 10-15% range, it was difficult to create a beer even half as strong. Emerging techniques of those days eventually lead to a stronger, bolder brew. These were called barleywines, though practically there is little difference between barleywines and old ales. Borrowing some of the positive connotations associated with wine, these beers became flagships. They were the best a brewer had to offer, matching the complexity and alcohol content of wine.
As society outgrew its dependence on beer and wine for sustenance, barleywine fell out of favor, particularly in the United States. It wasn’t until the microbrewery revolution of the 1970s that barleywine production began to take off again. Since craft brew is about quality, and barleywines were always about the best a brewery had to offer, reigniting the boiling pot for complex, alcohol-laced beer was a natural step.
Let’s get onto today’s bottle: Short’s Brewing The Wizard, which seems to be the only Short’s beer not mentioned in their website’s listings. Perhaps it’s a secret beer.
Coming into The Wizard, I am anticipating a traditional barleywine profile, blending sweetness and hops with a strong alcohol taste. The bottle describes The Wizard as including raisins, but I am not expecting raisins to contribute strongly to the taste.
Like other barleywines, The Wizard comes with a big aroma. I can’t pick up raisins in my nose, but I do get a lot of Scotch ale. That’s not a bad thing.
On my tongue, The Wizard is hoppy up front before giving way to sweetness, toffee, and roasted malts down the middle. Finally, at the back, I pick up the raisins, which complement the rest of the flavor profile very well. There’s a noticeable alcohol taste all the way through, but it’s not overly strong.
The Wizard is nowhere near as complex or interesting as Hair of the Dog Adam, but I found it exceptionally drinkable and worthy of an additional purchase for aging. Short’s gives this beer some robustness, but balances it with a bit more carbonation than you would otherwise expect for a barleywine.
Seth from The Michigan Beer blog compares The Wizard to Fred Savage.
The taste is intimidating. I can’t be sure, but I have to assume from the alcohol overtones that the Wizard weighs in around 9-10% alcohol by volume. Raisins and fruit dance in front, but their sweetness is tempered by the same piney hops I mentioned earlier. The combination of bitter hops and sweet raisins blends into the malted barley to create a nutty tone, like eating raw walnuts or pecans. It’s thinner than I expected for a barleywine, but it’s still a hefty beer.
John from Michigan Microbrews is expecting the unexpected from Short’s.
This isn’t your typical barleywine, it’s a Short’s barleywine. It’s big, full of flavor and it will smack you in the mouth and call you Susie. It may not be what you expect, but that’s right in line with what the gang from Short’s leads us to… the unexpected. The Wizard is one of the most robust brews I’ve had from Short’s (and that’s saying a lot). It has all the makings of an amazing barleywine and then some. I’m going to be very interested to see how this one ages.