Trainwreck is a barleywine that Phillips has been producing once a year since at least 2008, maybe earlier. Barleywines are something I don’t have a lot of personal experience with – I’ve had a couple now, but by no means am I an expert on the style. That being said, I’ll still babble on about this one as subjectively as I can.
IPA’s are big on hops, stouts are big on malts; barleywines are big on everything. While I don’t know the IBU value on this particular stuff, barleywines are often in the 60-80 IBU range, generally over 50; meanwhile they have huge flavourful malts that can make that bitterness all but disappear, they have alcohol levels to rival any beer style, and nearly unmatched complexity as well. Though they are the whole package in principle, barleywines don’t have the following that stouts or IPAs have, at least that I’ve ever seen. I think they are more difficult to approach, and while they suit being drunk during the same weather as stouts, they don’t offer that thick, creamy stout body that is so comforting on a winter’s night. Then again, maybe I’m just projecting – they might be a lot more popular than I realize.
This is a 2012 bottling, bottled late in the year (I would hazard a guess at November). I picked up this bottle in January along with a second which I drank fresh. I did not take notes unfortunately, but I did really enjoy it, although I remember it being a little ‘hot’ on the alcohol. This bottle was stored warm for about four months, then transferred to my cellar at 55F for the last four months. Eight months is a pretty short amount of time to cellar a barleywine; 1.5 to 3 years is a more standard aging bracket (though it is important to always try fresh first!). However, since the first half its storage was above ideal temperature, I figured I should dip into it sooner than later.
Off the pour there is very strong caramel notes mixed with fruitiness. The fruits are hard to pick out, I would say a mix of peach, plum, fig and raisin all mixed in toffee’d sugar. There is also a lot of wood character in the smell – bourbon soaked oak, very sweet bourbon. Taking a sip, there is an earthy bitterness that balances off a lot of the aforementioned fruits, and the finish is bittersweet blackstrap molasses all the way for me. There is alcohol warming at the finish as well, not harsh but not hidden either.
I don’t know enough about barleywines to compare this to others, but I do know that it’s a really enjoyable beer – one of my favourite Phillips brews, in fact. I think I will grab 2 bottles of the 2013 release when it arrives, drink one fresh and try putting 2 – 2.5 years on the other and see how that does. Also, I do have about 5 other barleywines in the cellar currently so expect more in the coming months – I will become more versed on the style soon enough!