Beer of the Week: Malthead Mayhem

Mcilhenney Brewing's barleywine saga progresses from Good to Great to Mayhem

From the Beer Writer: Maybe it’s my love of dad jokes (now that I’m a grandfather are they officially granddad jokes?), but for whatever reason, I’ll always remember sitting in a ballroom at Viejas Casino in 2010. The space was filled with tables for a pairing dinner featuring beers from Alpine Beer Co. (ABC), and the company’s founder and Brewmaster, Pat Mcilhenney, was at a podium describing the last beer of the evening. It was a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine served with cheesecake covered in cherries macerated with cognac and Benedictine liqueur. When describing the beer, Mcilhenney told the origin story of its unparalleled predecessor and how, when he first tasted that beer, he commented, “that’s good!” It was good enough to name that strong ale Good. After tasting that beer after a multi-month slumber in bourbon barrels, he exclaimed, “that’s great!” That last beer of the evening went by the handle…you guessed it…Great. Beer-naming doesn’t get much easier than that. Or much more amusing, at least if you are as easily tickled as I am. As vivid in my memory as that dissertation is the sultry, oaken, dried-fruit character of that barleywine. It’s something I’ve been chasing ever since, but my 12-year sprint has come to an end thanks to this week’s featured beer, Malthead Mayhem. After separating from ABC a few years ago, Pat and his son, Shawn, constructed the second coming of their family business, Mcilhenney Brewing, in the spot that housed their original brewery. There, they have brought back updated versions of their much-beloved creations from the ABV days. That redux roster now includes this modern-day iteration of Great, which is deserving of a hyperbolically positive adjective but won’t get one due to the Mcilhenneys’ looking-forward-not-back moniker methodology. No matter. I’m just glad to have this brawny, winter-ready 11.5% (alcohol-by-volume) standout back, and in four-packs of cans no less. They go on sale at the brewery’s tasting room in Alpine tomorrow. Now if I just had some brandy-and-Benedictine cherries…

From the Brewer: “Our American barleywine-style ale features copious amounts of the finest grown malted barley. Aged for 12 months in some of the most exquisite bourbon whiskey barrels Heaven Hill Distillery has to offer, it has a chestnut color with garnet accents. Its flavors and aromas include brûléed brown sugar, dark stone fruit, subtle oak and molasses, with hints of pine. Best served in a goblet or snifter, it’s mildly warming with a slightly dry finish.”—Shawn Mcilhenney, Co-founder & Head Brewer, Mcilhenney Brewing

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