As a local to Frederick Maryland, having such a monster brewery like Flying Dog nearby is a real treat. This was highlighted this week with the Horn Dog 2017 release event. A couple of us all made sure to get there right at noon, not wanting to miss any of the awesomeness.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with the sweetness of 4 Horn Dog vintages on tap – 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. I opted for the very reasonable $7 flight of the four, and I retreated to the window seat to get a glimpse of the beauties with a bit of sunlight shining through.
I started off with the 2017 and worked backward, doing my best to test my palate’s ability to taste the aging process, something that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. This was worth it in itself – a chance to try the same beer from four different years, side by side. After a few sips of each, the claims of aging mellowing a beer were definitely confirmed. For those of you unfamiliar, let me try to explain.
The aging process in the context of these barleywines is relatively straightforward. At the time of initial production and packaging, the hop addition is at its peak. Now, technically speaking, Horn Dog is an English style Barleywine – meaning a lower IBU and more reserved hop addition, especially when contrasted to another cultish barleywine – the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot American Barleywine. Nonetheless, these beers both have a forward hop profile that offsets the huge malty sweetness that remains after fermentation. The result is a monster of a beer that packs a ton of flavor, along with a lofty ABV. While delicious fresh, this is a beer style that can completely evolve over a few years in the cellar. The reason is due in large part to the instability of hop flavor and aroma over time. The bitterness of the hop will remain, but the initial citrus/pine/fruity taste will mellow away, allowing the complex malt backbone to become even more pronounced. Further complementing this is the new flavors that develop from the small amount of oxygen in the bottle, allowing flavors of fig and raisin to come about. The end result is a completely different beer that was originally presented, and is really only achievable by allowing the beer to cellar.
And the greatest part of all of this, is that Flying Dog did the hardest part for me – actually leaving the beer alone for 2, 3, and 4 years to develop without me pestering it. In my opinion, the 2017 still had a freshness that the vintages simply couldn’t match. There was a crispness in the hop taste that was noticeably absent in the later years. I was actually quite satisfied with this fact, because it means theres a reason to buy the fresh barleywine and not stash it for a few years. Score! But as anticipated, there were a ton of flavors that were found in the later vintages that just couldn’t be found in the new beer. It was a real treat to say the least. So much so the I left with a six pack of the vintages – which included a 2012 to boot! Leaving these for another year will be a challenge, but thankfully there are so many awesome breweries that keep producing quality beer to keep me occupied. Until next time, these guys will reside in the cellar!