New Brew: Great Dane Belgian Barleywine

9 Mar

Currently on-tap at the Great Dane downtown, Belgian Barleywine is a monster of a beer and over a year in the making.  According to Robin Shepard of Isthmus, brewmasters Kirby Nelson of Capital Brewery and Rob LoBreglio of Great Dane Pub & Brewing collaborated some 14 months ago on a beer with sights set on pushing the boundaries of traditionally-brewed beer.

The Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer should only be made from 3 ingredients – water, barley, and hops (yeast’s role in fermentation wasn’t fully understood until the 1800’s with the help of Louis Pasteur and wheat as a fermentable is still technically non-compliant with the law).  While the law was repealed in 1987, brewers in Bavaria and those abroad with German roots still use the Reinheitsgebot as a marketing tool and signifier of tradition and quality.

It was with this rich tradition in mind the Kirby and Rob set out to make the strongest (by alcoholic potency) beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot in the world.  Using Austrian über-bock Samiclaus and its 14% abv as a benchmark, Rob’s barleywine expertise as inspiration, they implemented an extended fermentation where additional wort was added to the special blend of high-alcohol-tolerant Belgian yeasts at 4 to 5 hour increments over the course of 5 days and aged the 10-barrel batch for 14 months. Despite falling short of their 17% abv goal, the resulting Belgian Barleywine is no joke at nearly 14% abv.

Beer: Belgian Barleywine

Style: Belgian-style barleywine

Vitals: ~13.75% abv, proprietary blend of Belgian-style yeast strains, adheres to Reinheitsgebot

My take: sits a densely hazed cider brown in the snifter with a thin ring of tan bubbles struggling to survive around the perimeter.  Nose is intensely fruity with notes of dried apricot, golden raisins and clovey Belgian yeast.  As you might expect out of an ale with the heft of 3,000 lbs of barley behind it, the palate is drowned in sticky sweet malts that again evoke concentrated dried fruits along with caramel and banana-clove courtesy of the Belgian-style yeasts.  The sticky mouthfeel is somewhat tempered by the dryness of the high-octane alcohol presence, but this is still a beer that will stick your lips together.

There is word that some of this rocket fuel might make its way into bourbon barrels for a later release.  I personally think wine barrels would be a more natural fit for the fruitiness and yeast profile of this beer, but am intrigued either way to try this beer again with the benefit of some age and softening.  A very cool collaboration by two of Wisconsin’s best brewers.  Won’t likely be available for long so get your butt downtown and get your six ounces before they’re locked back in the cellar.

One Response to “New Brew: Great Dane Belgian Barleywine”


  1. New Brew: Dave’s BrewFarm Select « 43north/89west - March 11, 2010

    […] libation is a grand departure from my lastest New Brew installments – Bell’s Batch 9000 and Great Dane Belgian Barleywine. The aforementioned ales pulled no punches with their strength and and potency of flavor; indeed, […]

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