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I was seduced at The Brickskeller last night, and it wasn’t by the gents pictured above. It was by a barleywine.
The beer tasting was called “Why is there beer?” and featured a well-curated lineup by an expert panel. All 10 beers were tasty, except the Grozet gooseberry and wheat beer, which was more like soapy fruit. But a pair of rare, aged beers — a 1997 Anchor Old Foghorn and a 2005 Thomas Hardy’s barleywine — elevated the night to a special occasion. Going in, I was skeptical, nay fearful, of tasting a 12-year-old beer. Even an aging beer like Old Foghorn typically peaks in the first five years, and the last time I had a beer that old at Brickskeller, it tasted like furniture.
But the 1997 Old Foghorn held up, emerging a mellow, plum-colored ale with vanilla and oak flavors. Even a naysayer would have to admit it was more on the leather-jacket side than, say, varnish.
Now the 2005 Thomas Hardy’s. Oh my, this beer was delicious. Beer historian Bob Tupper introduced it with what sounded like a truly touching story about first tasting this on the day his wife Ellie brought home their newborn daughter. Forgive me if the details escape me; I was lost in the huge melted-butter aroma wafting up from my glass. Melted butter poured over top of peanut brittle. I had never been seduced by a beer before. The warming, golden ale drank like butterscotch cream, with deep touches of oak in the background. I wanted to drown in it.
Thomas Hardy barleywines, made in small batches in southern England, are hard to find in the area; it’s typically the kind of beer you make a road trip for. And of course at The Brickskeller, if you see a bottle on the menu, that doesn’t mean they have it; if you don’t see it, that doesn’t mean they don’t.
I know I’m not being helpful here, so how’s this: Also in the tasting was Rodenbach a wonderfully tart and oaky Belgian red ale unique to the Flanders region. The bar is currently serving it on draft. Go forth, drink, and be merry.