Perhaps because of their firm grounding in history and tradition, Anchor Brewing has not succumbed to the temptations of the “extreme” beer movement which has been the darling of many beer enthusiasts for the past several years. The extreme beer movement gave us imperial stouts with 18% ABV and double IPAs with well over 100 IBUs. While I enjoy extreme beers, there is much that can be said in praise of brewers that have opted to focus on producing well balanced brews of the highest quality.
Anchor Old Foghorn fits that description perfectly. Produced since 1975, when Old Foghorn was first brewed there was no such thing as “American barley wine” as a distinct style (as it is today). At that time all barleywines were produced in England, where the style originated. They were historically somewhat sweet, very malty and lightly-hopped beers with alcohol contents comparable to wine (thus the name). The brewers at Anchor created a version using American-grown Cascade hops which added a citrus element not found in traditional English examples. They also increased the bittering hops to better balance out the malt sweetness, and added dry hops after fermentation was complete.
The resulting beer is as close as anyone has ever come to a perfect balance between hops and malt in a brew with 8% ABV. Lots of caramel sweetness rides over your tongue as a little orangey citrus comes through, and the flavors pop with a very pleasant alcohol warmth. For a relatively strong beer it’s amazingly easy to drink.
And it was the precursor to many less-balanced barley wines. From Old Foghorn ultimately sprang the American barley wine style, which is characterized by even more alcohol and far more hops. One brewery already mentioned here — Sierra Nevada — came out with their Bigfoot in 1984. I love Bigfoot, but it’s hop-heavy enough to make you cry, if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Old Foghorn has the balance to be appealing to the barley wine newbie plus the complexity to keep the most seasoned craft beer aficionado coming back for more.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org