While I like them well enough, I’m not especially partial to barleywines. If I were to list my favourite beer styles in order, barleywines would be mid-way through the list at best. As a beer enthusiast, it’s expected that I’d hold them in high regard: they are several styles all combined to create one beast of a beer: huge hops character combined with lots of malt. Like a pale ale that’s been taking steroids. However, I usually end up finding them a little too harsh for my tastebuds. Even 2013 Woolly Bugger from Howe Sound, which by all accounts is an amazing example of the style, is a little on the harsh side for me. I have decided that I like my barleywines with some age on them to help round off those harsh peaks and enrich the body of the beer.
This year’s Old Cellar Dweller from Driftwood Brewery has thrown a wrench in that self-diagnosis because it’s nothing like I’ve come to expect from a barleywine. Perhaps it’s a little off-base to call it a barleywine at all. A similar sub-genre of beer, the barrel-aged double IPA, has a very special place in my heart. A good example is Burton Baton from Dogfish Head. It’s got the big hops character of a DIPA but with a sweet malt backbone. This year’s Old Cellar Dweller is a departure from year’s past and follows very similarly to what I’d expect from a barrel-aged DIPA. It is exactly what I love.
Instead of caramel in the malts though, Old Cellar Dweller is much more in line with honey sweetness. Huge honey sweetness, in fact. The hops are huge, citrus and floral in taste plus some great citrus pine on the nose, but their bitterness is astoundingly gentle. More Sartori than Fat Tug. Despite the 11.6% ABV, the alcohol is all but nonexistent. There is none of the dark fruits or chocolate you might find in previous years. 2013 Old Cellar Dweller is bright, light, sweet, and (to keep the rhyme) a total delight.
A note on the packaging as well. I think Driftwood has really stepped up their game on the waxing, taking cues from Dark Lord with the stringy runs of wax down the bottle. It might be silly, but these runs of wax are icing on the cake when buying a cellar staple such as this. For the first time in Old Cellar Dweller history though, I wonder if there’s any point in sitting on bottles of this for any length of time. It’s just so good right now and there’s no harshness or booziness that needs time to settle. That said I will sit on a couple anyway in the name of science, I just don’t think it’s likely to yield any great benefit.