A short while ago, the incredibly generous people at Truth or Consequences Brewing offered to send us a three-year vertical of Truth Serum Barleywine. There would be three 22-ounce bottles of the regular versions produced for 2018, 2019 and 2020, plus three each of their barrel-aged versions.
This was not something we would ever say no to, so once they were able to find a friend to deliver it to Albuquerque, and we were able to arrange a time and place to pick it up (thanks, REI parking lot, for being there), we ended up just needing to figure out a time and place to drink it and review it.
Well, with Franz Solo keeping his fire pit area off limits for the remainder of the pandemic, we contacted our friend Dan for the use of his backyard and fire pit. Dan, whom some of you have probably seen wearing a Crew shirt and a kilt at beer festivals, is a barleywine geek of the highest order, so he was more than willing to set up four chairs six feet apart around his fire pit. We gathered as safely as we could on New Year’s Day (well, night, technically) and poured out each of the six bottles between the four of us, with Brandon and Erin the other Crew members present.
I brought along my digital recorder, and off we went for a night of barleywine, burning chairs (don’t ask), and trying our best to keep the dogs from getting too close to the fire (no animals were harmed). As the barleywines took hold, of course, we managed to become less coherent, and actually did not record comments for two of the six. We will do better next time.
2018 regular edition
Brandon: This drinks like a damn nitro, it’s that smooth.
Erin: It feels a little bubbly when you’re bringing it in, but once it’s in your mouth it’s just like silky.
Dan: It’s excellent.
Stoutmeister: It’s got a nice dry characteristic to it, too. It’s very good.
Brandon: This is American style.
(We go off-topic for a bit, then work our way back to what’s in our glasses.)
Brandon: This isn’t like an overly hop-forward. I think the dryness at the end, maybe that’s from it, but I don’t think so. This is more English style. Honestly, it’s kind of in between American and English style, which is more malt forward, which I love.
Dan: There’s floral (element) on the back end, too. It kind of lingers.
Brandon: I like those little smoke notes that I get immediately. Am I getting fire pit or from the beer?
Stoutmeister: This does not feel like it’s been sitting around for two years. This feels like a beer that’s new.
Brandon: That’s impressive. This has held up well.
Stoutmeister: Just look at the carbonation that holds up.
Brandon: I get a little bit of heat around the middle, but it’s not much. It’s a pleasant kind of warming. It’s a hot toddy, but not if I make it.
Dan: What are NB hops?
Stoutmeister: Northern Brewer, which makes sense, they’re classic.
Brandon: Those are the hops you’ll find traditionally.
Stoutmeister: You’re going to find Northern Brewer, Fuggles, those are the kinds of hops you’ll find in your malt-forward beers.
Brandon: More of the earthy, you’re not going to get a lot of citrus. You’re not going to get the IPA notes, which you don’t want in barleywine, unless you do, in which case whatever.
Stoutmeister: Someone (local) did a hopped-up barleywine, but I can’t remember who.
Brandon: They exist. People have done them. I’ve had them where they’re executed well, but they’re not my thing. I still prefer more straight-forward, traditional, English style.
Erin: Well, if I think of barleywine, I want something more in this style. Barleywine is not something I drink as regularly as other styles, so when I want it, I want something that tastes like it.
Brandon: I used to drink more barleywine a few years ago.
Stoutmeister: Well, more people were doing it. Everyone saw Santa Fe doing it (with Chicken Killer), and they decided to do their own. The problem is they almost oversaturated the market. I think people got bored with barleywine.
(We are interrupted by treat-seeking dogs.)
Brandon: It’s got a little bit of a bite, which is probably good. Honestly, it’s incredibly easy to drink. Again, the smoothness of the mouthfeel on it, the silkiness of the body … nice head retention on it. This is really fucking awesome.
Erin: I’m really enjoying this. I would seek this out, you know what I mean? And the label is really cool, too. I love the two-tone purple. It’s like my hair and my house!
Dan: Does it retail anywhere?
Stoutmeister: Not up here. I don’t think they’re selling them up here, usually. They’ve talked about it.
Brandon: I’m getting a little bit of vanilla in it, too, just a touch of it. I get some dried fruit in there, too, like a little bit of plum.
Erin: I got a streak of vanilla. I don’t know what it was, but it was like a lightning strike of vanilla. I love vanilla in barleywine.
Stoutmeister: Yeah, I think we’ll get even more of that from the barrel-aged.
2019 regular edition
Erin: It’s hoppier, too. It’s got a bit more of a bite.
Stoutmeister: It’s got some different flavors in it.
Brandon: Not as smooth.
Erin: No, it stays in the mouth, that little bit of bitterness. It’s still clean.
Brandon: I get a little more hop bite, too.
Stoutmeister: It’s got something going right in the middle and a little into the back.
Brandon: I get a little earthy, almost forest-y hop flavor at the back.
Erin: That’s where I’m getting it, too.
Brandon: The alcohol presence is still minimal, too.
Dan: It’s a little more noticeable.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s a little more pronounced than 2018.
Erin: I think it’s brought out by that bitterness, too. That stings in the mouth.
(We are all enraptured by the fire.)
Brandon: All the caramel notes in there, it’s what you want from a barleywine. I’m getting little bits of chewy fruit in there, little hints of burnt caramel, a little bit of brown sugar in there.
Stoutmeister: OK, that’s it, brown sugar is what I’m getting. It rolls to the back of your palate.
Brandon: That dryness is a little bit more. It’s really nice.
Erin: It’s a good balance between the caramel and the floral IPA bitterness, hoppiness.
Stoutmeister: I would be curious to see what hops were used on this.
Brandon: I would be willing to bet they had an additional hop or boil schedule.
Erin: Yeah, I can see that.
Stoutmeister: They tossed it into the whirlpool, maybe.
Dan: The whirlpool?
Stoutmeister: It’s the very end of the boil.
(We have to explain to Dan the final process of brewing; see, we learned something from our various brew days at brewers and at Franz Solo’s house.)
Brandon: This one is a little more straightforward, I think. Its profile stays without. I’m still very much enjoying it. I enjoyed the ’18 a little bit more, but this one is still awesome.
Stoutmeister: I think the ’18 just has a little extra sweetness in it.
(Poor Giggsy singed his tail, which produced quite the smell. It took him a minute to realize it.)
(Then we go into a Simpsons quote marathon.)
For the record, the hops for 2019 were Columbus and Cascade. 2019 is also 11.4-percent ABV, as opposed to 12.8 percent of 2018. 2020 is even lower, only 9.5 percent.
2020 regular edition
Dan: First you get hops, then you get the malt covering it.
Erin: The flavor that lingers is still a hoppy bitterness.
Brandon: It’s got a brighter aroma to it, actually.
Erin: Honestly, drinking this, barleywine is not the first thing to come to mind.
Brandon: This smells like, that hop bill, like a pale.
Stoutmeister: It’s a really strong pale ale.
Erin: Even like a cask.
Stoutmeister: That’s the Amarillo, I think.
(We end up discussing whether or not Quarter Celtic has ever used the hops growing on the patio in a beer.)
(And then we go completely off the rails, discussing all sorts of weird, random things.)
The final ramblings, after the barleywines truly took hold
Erin: I’m almost getting an apple-y at the beginning.
Brandon: I get like a pear or something like that, actually. It tastes like sand.
Erin: I don’t know what sand you’ve been eating, Brandon. I feel like I can bite into it, a juicy fruit.
Brandon: The malts are blending together in like a more, dare I say, kind of refreshing barleywine.
Dan: It is. It’s like a summer barleywine.
Erin: That’s what I mean it’s like a pear, it’s juicy on the front end.
Stoutmeister: I don’t get a ton of barrel. … I want this one to age more.
Erin: It feels a little green.
Brandon: Based on what we’ve tried from the aged beers, they’ve held up really well. I think that this one might do well to sit for a year.
Stoutmeister: If I had another bottle of this I’d sit on it and try it next year.
Dan: Do you think it would sit in a bottle good?
Brandon: Based on the other ones, it would do well.
Stoutmeister: They seal well.
Erin: Is this the 2020?
Dan: You get a little bit of the barrel. There’s a little bit of a wood finish.
Brandon: I think it needs time to develop. I think the ’18 and ’19 developed a lot more. You got a little more oakiness. You got some of the grain.
Stoutmeister: You get that vanilla flavor.
Erin: If you got another year or two on the barrels …
Brandon: Overall, I would say both for the barrel and the taste, they really know what they’re doing for their aging process. They’re fortifying them well enough to where they hold up for the process. They’re not degrading. I’d be curious to see how well they age longer. That’s always a gamble. Barleywines tend to age better than anything else, really, but this is really good. But, I think it would be really, really good with time, with about a year aging.
Dan: It’s a really good beer, but 2018, fuck. Maybe that’s a sign, let these recipes sit for longer and that’s how they develop.
Brandon: It’s impressive that a smaller brewery in town in New Mexico is knocking it out of the park with their barrel-aging program. It’s nuanced, and that’s something that’s hard to do. They really fucking nailed it. I would honestly say personally, ’18, just the base one is probably my favorite. The barrel-aged was fucking great, but the ’18 base was just holy shit.
Erin: Even then, there was something about those flavors, they were so much more pure in the base even than in the barrel. In the barrel-aged you tasted the barrel flavors, but there was something about the naked 2018. The mixture was so pure.
(We all end up talking over one another, but it’s all about barleywine, so it was good ramble to finish this recording.)
A huge thank you to Truth or Consequences Brewing for sending us these beers. We truly enjoyed each and every version.
If anyone finds themselves driving down Interstate 25, take the time to stop by TorC and grab some beer to go, or enjoy a pint on the patio. You will not disappointed in any styles they produce.
Keep supporting local!