Since we have covered some other English Styles Ales, Scottish Ales, and various other topics, let’s stick with another Ale of England. As the name might indicate, Barley Wine is a very strong type of beer. In fact, it often rivals wines in ABV. These Ales have a tendency to be pretty sweet (because of all the grain content and remaining un-fermented sugars) but also have a high hop content. However, the hops often don’t seem that high because of all the malt involved in the brew. Of course, the mixture of high alcohol, high grain content, and high hop content lends itself particularly well for aging. It is not implausible to cellar some of these beers for 25 years. Thomas Hardy Ale is a great example of this type of beer and can age like the finest of wines.
Characteristics of a Barley Wine Ale include ale yeast used in the fermentation process and a color that is very red to very bronze. Other traits were mentioned above.
Now why did this style of beer actually come about? Weren’t there enough styles of beer? Did the English have a particular purpose behind brewing Barley Wine (practical or otherwise)? I would like to suggest that they did have at least one major reason for developing a Barley “Wine.” It was wine itself. In other words, French Wine tradition appears to be a major impetus for a competing product.
The French and English were constantly competing over various cultural aspects (and land). Britian did have a wine culture, but the French preferred and emphasized wine. British people were not havin’ that. This was especially true when the English were buying or drinking French wine. Finally, the British said, we are focusing on Ale and subsequently (more like eventually) developed Barley Wine as a response to wine.
Of course, this is an oversimplification, but it is not an inaccurate depiction. There were also environmental factors that made Ale a preferable product in England, not least of all the fact that French climate was more conducive to grape growth while England was more conducive to barley (as barley can tolerate more extremes than can grapes). It seems to me that the strength of Barley Wine is best explained, at least in part, to offer a viable alternative to wine and, by proxy, things French.