This month, we are beyond excited to be showcasing the 2016 vintage of the legendary Old Greg’s Barley Wine. A beer that is absolutely perfect for ageing, let’s take a look at how the style came to be, and how Five Points’ 2016 edition is tasting today…
First, A Brief History of (Old Greg’s) Barley Wine
Barley Wines were named so because even though they were made from barley, they approached the ABV levels of wines. Brewers have been brewing small-batch strong ales to commemorate seasons or special events since the 1700s. Releasing a special beer like this might be the rare occasion that a brewery would divert from its core range, which at the time would be pretty extensive and typically contain bitters, milds, stouts or porters, pales and IPAs.
The Five Points’ tribute to this heritage beer style is their Old Greg’s Barley Wine, a beer which started out as home-brew recipe of their Head Brewer Greg and is now a thing of legend in the Five Points brewing calendar. Getting together each year on New Year’s Eve to brew a big, boozy barley wine is a Five Points tradition and celebration of the close of the year, as well as a chance to pay homage to a proper classic British beer style.
The recipe and ABV for Old Greg’s changes annually, but it’s always going to be strong and has ranged from 9%, up to a boozy 12.4% in the 2019 release most recently. It’s an expression of considered brewing and the intention of making something special to last. Age patiently in a (cool and dark) cupboard or fridge (even better!).
Old Greg’s Barley Wine, 2016 Vintage
Greg Hobbs, Head Brewer of The Five Points, explains, “Old Greg’s Barley Wine is our annual New Year’s Eve celebration of all things rich and malty. The ruby red 2016 version was brewed with heritage barley variety, Maris Otter, and late hopped with English Bramling Cross for hedgerow berries character.”
He continues, “At 9.3% ABV, this is a bottle conditioned ‘keeping’ beer, whose character will develop and refine over time. Expect honey, toffee, dark fruits and berries along with a sherry-like character, and a full mouthfeel.”
Greg says, “Brewing these traditional or old school beers such as Barley Wines pays homage to our heritage. But, it also keeps these styles alive in modern times when their popularity may have dropped off. This might be due to taxation (as higher ABVs are taxed more and therefore more expensive to make) or inferior quality examples because brewers are subbing in cheap alternative sugars.”
Barrel-Ageing Works in Arch 440
Beyond simply allowing vintages like 2016 to age in bottle, Five Points’ barrel-ageing works is currently home to a particularly special version of Old Greg. Housed in its railway-arch brewery in Hackney, East London, Five Points’ barrel-ageing project currently contains 30 wine and whisky barrels, patiently ageing a range of different brews.
The 2017 vintage of Old Greg’s Barley Wine went into Grand Cru barrels, each with a Medium Plus toast. This darker char (essentially the levels at which the barrel was burnt) is designed to stand-up to heavy, stronger flavours. With this in mind, Five Points’ pitched the 2017 vintage of Old Greg’s Barley Wine with a ‘Strong’ Brettanomyces yeast strain, and the two are currently undergoing a secondary fermentation. expect a delicious mix of tart and funky flavours from the wild yeast, and the sweet and jammy flavours of the Old Greg’s Barley Wine. It’s certainly one to look forward to…