Guest Review: Duck-Rabbit Barleywine Ale

Name: Duck-Rabbit Barleywine Ale
Brewery: The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
Country of Origin: United States
City & State: Farmville, NC
Style: American Barleywine
Alcohol Content (ABV): 11%

I couldn’t make it over to the release of the newest batch of Steel String’s Cryin’ Holy. They’re even one of 3 bars currently open after the “icepocalypse” and “snowmageddon,” but I guess I’ll just have to wait a week.

This week, I’m going to feature one of the more forgotten beers in the state: Duck-Rabbit’s Barleywine Ale. Everyone loves to age this beer, and I understand why. I’ve had a 3 year old bottle that was just as good as fresh. Duck-Rabbit specializes in dark beers (I think this is their lightest colored beer – with their Amber being close). Last year, Duck-Rabbit had some serious lactobacillus problems; that nasty little bug found its way into their Schwarzbier, RIS, and Baltic Porter (it may have gotten into more, but that’s everywhere I found it). Thankfully, they cleaned up that mess, and now they’re back to making great dark and darker beers!

It’s actually refreshing to see a brewery that doesn’t make a pale ale or IPA (Duck-Rabbit doesn’t even mess with it – so famously does The Bruery), they do make a Cascadian Dark Ale (Hoppy Bunny) which is my personal favorite from them and possibly one of the best examples of the style I’ve had. Don’t get me wrong, I love IPAs, pales, and IPAs masquerading pales (I’m staring straight at you Zombie Dust).  I am definitely on the Heady Topper train, and Lawson’s/NoDa/Alpine make some world class IPAs, but I give respect to someone that has been in business as long as Duck-Rabbit without touching the monster that is an IPA. Their Milk Stout sits at most bars in the Triangle, and, if it’s not on draft, there’s most likely bottles for sale.

In the Glass: Initial pour had a nice ¾ inch off-white head with semi-large bubbles. Low carbonation, but exactly what I’d expect in an American Barleywine.

Nose:  Oh. My. Lord. The hops are the front and center. Lemons and oranges explode from the glass; I could even smell it when I opened the bottle. I only get a hint of the malt backbone, which is strange in style. The nose reminds me quite a bit of Three Floyds Behemoth. Every now and again, I get a hint of medicinal hops that fade just as fast.

Flavor:  It’s still all dominating American hops. Oranges, lemons, and a bit of mango come at you, almost like they actually made a DIPA. For a barleywine, the malt is very subdued. I get just enough sweetness that I consider this near style, but it’s very light. Assertive bitterness comes in right after the citrus fruit fades giving a nice backup to all the hops.

The best part is the balance. Yes this is a hop-forward barlewyine, but the malt has just enough to say that there’s a nice conversation going on. Those huge citrus notes play right into my wheel house of hop glory. Columbus Brewing Co. IPA, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, Fat Heads Head Hunter and the newest batch of Foothills Jade come to mind when I think of similar hop profiles.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied and drinkable for the style. I actually have to force myself to slow down a bit to finish the review because it drinks so easily and smoothly. I like how it’s not so sweet that you have to sip it like port or whiskey. I would never have guessed this was 11%!

Aftertaste: I get more of the malt here. Yes, I still feel the bitterness in the sides of my mouth, but I get more of a sticky sweet malt feeling here (finally!).

I love this beer. Like I said earlier, the hop profile is like they asked me what I like (then turned around and pulled it off almost perfectly). The balance is impeccable, and the drinkability is probably better than any barleywine I’ve ever seen.  I had to take a few notches off because it’s just too light-bodied for the style. I like barleywines to have a little more body (I mean come on, it’s a sipping style after all).

Rating: 4.2/5

Next week (and I promise this time), I will do the entire column on Steel String Brewery in Carrboro, NC. I haven’t been there in something like a week, so I’m past due. I might ask the guys a few questions, but most likely I’ll give my always intriguing thoughts on them. Good guys, great beer, and amazing atmosphere.  Well, I’m off to West 94th Street Pub in Durham, NC to have a few rounds with the college roommate.

Cheers, y’all.

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