World of Beer Brewed Here in Hawai‘i: American Barley Wines
Three Hawai‘i breweries brewing this strong, bold, special-occasion beer.
The world of beer is diverse and exciting. Far beyond just fizzy bitter liquid, there is a wide range of tastes, colors and ingredients. Unique beer styles developed due to geographic limitations, water chemistry, and availability of grain and hops. The remoteness of Hawai‘i poses extra challenges for brewers in added shipping costs and freshness of ingredients that cannot be grown locally. This article series is an introduction to the rainbow of flavors out there and where you can buy local examples to enjoy.
You think IPAs pack a punch? Try a barley wine! Barley wines are typically the strongest beer you can get on tap at a bar or brewery and are often brewed for special occasions like anniversaries and holidays. Because of their alcoholic warmth, many are best enjoyed on breezy cool evenings or paired with a heavy meal.
The Beer Judge Certification Program describes the style as “a well-hopped American interpretation of the richest and strongest of the English ales. The hop characters should be evident throughout. The alcohol strength and hop bitterness often combine to leave a long finish.” It is an amber to dark color—the aroma showcases citrusy and resinous flavors present in American hop varieties. The flavor focus is on rich malt, which is often sweet and fruity with hints of caramel and bread. even the lower examples are strong. Bitterness is also high due to the heavy hops. Because of their strength (their alcohol range approaches actual wine at 8% to 12%) barley wine is commonly served in smaller glasses or snifters and is ideal for sipping, not chugging. Barley wines are often aged in hard liquor barrels, the same as bourbon or whiskey, to impart those flavors as well as the flavor of the wood itself. Many barley wines taste more complex after aging, from six months to a year, as time mellows its harsh flavors.
One of the first American versions brewed commercially was Old Foghorn by Anchor Brewing in San Francisco in 1975. Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Ale, which is credited for setting the style, has been brewed since 1983 and is available for purchase in Hawai‘i from January through May (this year due to shipping and production delays, it is still available in late summer). The bottles are commonly marked with the “vintage” year, leading fans to collect them annually, often doing side-by-side comparisons of multiple years to see how aging has changed the flavor.
If you want to try something big and strong while supporting local Hawai‘i breweries, give these celebratory beers a try:
5th Anniversary Barley Wine
Waikīkī Brewing Co.
ABV 9.6% IBU 80
PHOTOS: ALEXANDER GATES
Waikīkī Brewing Co. releases a barley wine annually for its anniversary in March. In addition, it releases barrel-aged versions of previous years’ offerings to highlight changes in flavor. While this year’s release boasts classic English malts direct from the U.K., the hop profile is distinctly American, with Centennial and Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest for a piney resinous profile. The inclusion of rye and dry hopped with Sabro creates a complex grain bill and adds tropical notes. From the brewery’s description: “subtle aromas and flavors of cream, coconut, and leather, this is a delightfully strong sipping beer.” It can be found on draft only at its Kaka‘ako pub (goblet $10).
831 Queen St., waikikibrewing.com
Cyclhops Barley Wine
Aloha Beer Co.
ABV 10.2% IBU 85
Two years ago, Aloha Beer Co. released a beast of a double IPA, the Cyclhops. Aloha Beer Co. recently reopened after the stay-at-home orders with a new outdoor beer garden, pizza menu and remodeled bar. The additions called for a celebratory beer so Cyclhops returned as a barley wine. From the brewery’s menu: “We used Mosaic hops exclusively in this big barley wine monster, and let it age for over half a year.” The result is a smooth and slick malt-focused beer, perfect for sipping with charcuterie. It is available on draft at the brewery (half pint $7).
700 Queen St., alohabeer.com
Kūhiō Barley Wine
Hana Koa Brewing Co.
Hana Koa celebrated King Kamehameha Day in 2020 with the release of its first barley wine, Kūhiō. As described by the brewery: “Meaning to perpetuate the present to innovate for the future,” its offering showcased flavors of dried cherry, canned peaches and an emphasis on rich malt flavor. It was available on draft at the brewery on Kamehameha weekend only (5-ounce for $5.50 or 10-ounce for $10). While it is not currently on tap, look for it on special occasions and holidays, with barrel-aged varieties in the future.
962 Kawaiaha‘o St., hanakoabrewing.com
As this is not an exhaustive list of American barley wines brewed in Hawai‘i, look for the style and closely related English barley wines on your next brewery visit or beer purchase.