You fancy yourself cultured, don't you? You do. It's so obvious. If only you knew how obvious it is. You're one of the special people: You've been to Europe (Eastern Europe, no less), you speak French, you're dying to get to Hong Kong, you've at least tried to read Proust (and, as it was last year, it's a resolution for the new year), you love both Spike Jonze and Douglas Sirk and you can't wait for your daily SpongeBob fix and the next issue of McSweeney's. We're impressed.
Bet you ain't never drank no barleywine, mister.
It's a beer -- but it's a wine! It's a wine -- but it's a beer! It's a beer that tastes kind of like wine, actually, and it's delicious. The St. Louis Brewery & Tap Room makes and sells barleywine once a year: now. If you've never had it, this is a good chance to add to your oh-so-impressive list of lifetime achievements and drink a pint of the fruitiest beer you'll ever have that was originally concocted, like all great things in life, by Vikings.
James Ottolini is chief engineer at the Tap Room, and he pours more thoughts per minute into an ear than anyone in St. Louis. They're dense thoughts, so dense that we, the thick-headed, are sometimes reduced to nodding faux-authoritatively while internally panicking at our relative stupidity. When asked about barleywine, Ottolini launches into a circuitously fascinating explanation of why the beer's so fruity, an explanation that meanders from chemical compounds to the gases that bananas produce, gases that react with something or other in avocadoes -- which is why if you place an unripe avocado in a bag with a banana, the avocado will ripen overnight.
The reason this barleywine, which is a beer, tastes kind of like wine, says Ottolini, is because of organic compounds called esters. Esters are the reason fruit tastes, er, fruity, and the slow process of creating the beer produces a high volume of these thingies. Thus lots of fruitiness, and therefore barleywine.
Barleywine is a huge beer, both in flavor and alcohol content. It's the color of deep maple wood; it has a tiny head and not all that much carbonation. As a result, it sort of glides past the taste buds. Unlike most of those Frankenstein beers that have fruit added to them, nothing's forced or contrived about barleywine. It is what it is: a big, brawny beer, one that will fill you up, then lay you down on the floor and give you sweet, sweet kisses on the cheek.
Hurry to the Tap Room. There's a finite number of barrels in the barleywine batch, and the stuff will be served until it's gone, which is probably no more than another week.