Grayson Haver Currin
Come to daddy
To my mind, there are few styles of beer more versatile than barleywine. The European-style versions are often sweet in that malt-heavy way and boozy, dark, and complex, almost approaching old ales. The American take on it, meanwhile, is traditionally more hop-centric and bitter (sort of like a better-balanced double IPA) and often paler, with subtle sweetness. See Dogfish Head’s excellent Olde School Barleywine
, one of my favorites of the genre.
It is decidedly into the latter category that BMX, a barrel-aged barleywine that will be released by Raleigh's Crank Arm tomorrow, falls. In fact, the beer is reminiscent of Sam Calagione’s work at Dogfish Head, though perhaps not quite as sweet.
When I told Crank Arm co-owner Adam Eckhardt that, he was pleased: “I’ll take a comparison to Dogfish Head any day.”
This is Crank Arm’s second turn at BMX; last year’s variety was aged for six months in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. But this year, Eckhardt says, those barrels were nowhere to be found. (Eckhardt blames InBev—which purchased erstwhile craft brewer Goose Island, which makes a bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine—for the shortage.) Instead, they bought cognac, Spanish rum, and bourbon barrels, aged the beer in them for six months, and then combined the results.
Those results are, in a word, superb. BMX is boozy (10.3 percent ABV), hoppy without being oppressively so (58 IBU), and thicker than I expected, pouring a darker brown than many of its American contemporaries. Eckhardt says this owes to the darker crystal malt they use. It was dry, bitter, complex, weighty—and a full 22-ounce bottle did me in for the night.
While this year’s version is sweeter than last year’s, Eckhardt says, he and his business partner, Michael Morris, generally steer clear of sweet beers. What you get instead is a high-gravity, well-balanced concoction that marries sweet and
bitter, subtly drawing out hints of the sharpness of cognac and the spice of rum.
You won’t be able to get them for long. This is a limited release, available at the brewery (319 West Davie St., across the street from The Pit) starting Saturday at noon. But they only made about 650 bottles, Eckhardt says, and if history is a guide, they’ll be out in a week. (You can only buy four at a time, also.) If they don’t go as quickly as expected, they’ll distribute the remainders to area bottle shops.
But don’t risk it: BMX is well worth a trip to the Warehouse District.