Chicagoist's Beer Of The Week: Revolution's Straight Jacket Barley Wine
By Jason Baldacci in Food on Feb 8, 2013 9:20PM
Personally, we like to reserve incredibly strong beers for specific times of the year. When we get an ice storm that makes our sidewalks about as easy to walk on as an arctic tundra, we bust out the barley wine.
Last year, Revolution Brewing made a barley wine called 'Institutionalized," and it was great. This year, they released Straight Jacket, which is a batch of "Institutionalized" barleywine that spent six months hanging out in Woodford Reserve barrels, and it just might be better. Everything about this beer is big, which is what you would expect for something that's 13 percent alcohol content. We get notes of burnt caramel and spicy toffee, with hints of figs and stone fruit as well. Those bourbon barrels lend a bit of vanilla to the mix, in addition to some oak char, but it's all balanced very well into the brew. Sometimes, we joke that beer is just liquid bread. If that's the case, then Straight Jacket is almost like a liquid sticky bun, and we mean that as a compliment.
Barley wines trace back to the British Aristocracy. If you were wealthy, you drank wine, which had to be imported from continental Europe since the climate in Britain isn't very suitable for growing grapes. When wars with neighboring countries left wine in short supply, the wealthy had no choice but to turn to the drink of the common man: beer. But instead of drinking the easy going ales of the working class, they had a stronger, richer version brewed for themselves, and called it barley wine. These special beers are usually deep blond to ruby-brown in color, and can sometimes push alcohol contents of 14-15 percent. They are typically mild in carbonation, and sometimes will leave a little sweetness lingering on the palate. Classic British barley wines are usually lightly hopped, but over the past few years, American brewers have taken to making more bitter representations of the style, and then doing things like aging them in Woodford Reserve barrels.