Being a beer critic is a low-risk low-reward paradigm. You take the vibrant product that someone else created, distill it into actual piss, and then point out faults. It is inherently DEconstructive and never appears productive. You co-opt someone else’s work and your entire art is based upon deriding the vulnerability of their efforts. Industry niceties even effectively bind them with a gag order from responding. I am all too aware of the scope of my “art.” if all else fails, you can envelop yourself in a shroud of intersubjectivity and negate all in criticism. Brewers do not have this luxury. Brewing beer is an inherently productive act, in the Platonic “pursuit of the good” sort of manner. You are coordinating billions cells to create culture, to influence culture, and thereby modify Culture. With the highest risk of creation comes the vulnerability of presentation, injecting sticky life liquid into a crowd of petulant hateful consumers whose own confirmation of self-worth is the metabolization of everything a someone else has made. The consumer chews through and emits toxicity not unlike the propagated cultures themselves. There is a solipsistic balance to the process. It’s a fantastic dance. Today I grip the mash paddle and the Moleskin as a pulpit of ultimate self-indulgence, the cringe of deconstructing something that I helped create: Highland Park Brewing’s Taking Donations.
There are three variants of this English Barleywine: single barrel brandy, single barrel bourbon, and a component blend of the two casks. Let’s review each in turn:
Single Barrel Brandy
I enjoyed this the least out of the three variants, but the reasons for that are complicated. This is extremely unique and meticulously crafted. The cask profile just sweats beads of brandy profile throughout and the double helix of malt creates something worthy of your contemplation. On one side the brandy presents waves of plum, red fruit, currant, black cherry, and fig. It is intensely fruity and never lets a saccharine profile dominate. In some respects it feels spiritually akin to a red wine quad, but the malt helps to provide depth and structure to prevent it from entering a vinous zone. The barley component pulls it back into reality and ends up feeling that an exceptionally well done version of North Coast Brandy Old Stock. The body is a touch diaphanous, never domineering but providing enough substance the oaky bread pudding swallow to unfold, and this is the worst version.
Single Barrel Bourbon
I enjoyed this the most out of the three treatments and this is very enjoyable. The body across all three has the Highland Park fingerprints all over it, the clean drops, the tight lines, all flab excised down to exactly what is needed and nothing further. For the reasons that some Floridian breweries can lean upon their residual sugar and THICCCC profiles, this pulls the sled entirely based upon the massive cask presence and pure restraint. The beer is a marriage of Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel 4th Dementia and Adam from the Wood. It has an amazing lacquer and planed lumber aspect united somehow with creme brulee shell. I suspect the wortmouthed contingency will complain that the body is too svelte, or that the carb is too gentle. Perhaps adhering to the standards of Munster Indiana gourmands isn’t the pinnacle of fermented aspirations. Despite the lack of rye, it drinks akin to Sazerac with silky mellow carb and a lively Dr Pepper meets old fashioned execution. Lauding praise feels extremely gauche throughout, thanks for checking in, I am well aware.
Brandy and Bourbon Blend
I suspect this is the variant that people will enjoy the most. It is a pure speakeasy Goldilocks, maintaining the awesome fruit character of the brandy and marrying it with the expressive oaky bitterness of the bourbon and the two work in tandem beautifully. Fifteen months of oak aging would seem excessive in the stout world, but for the indefatigable barleywine, this was the sweet meets stave spot. You will have no problem killing these 500ml bottles alone, but the frustratingly small run is the real bottleneck. I hope that there are consumers out there who try this and perhaps give barleywine another chance. It is an overlooked style and this is a fantastic expression across the board of what the style is capable of. I am very proud of what the guys at Highland Park Brewing have accomplished with this one but I need to go take a shower after reviewing this and wash off all the braggadocio and hubris and stench of self-congratulation. This review is inherently dripping in bias and I would urge you to try these and form your own opinion as this perspective is hardly impartial, I’m just over here doing my best okay.
The introspection feels filthier than the brewday itself and I think I dislocated my deltoid patting myself on the back so hard. At least I have waves of inevitable complaints to look forward to, the endless distillation of piss crashing in waves upon my DMs. What a time to brew alive.