Brew Blog: Real Ale's Sisyphus Barleywine Ale

A loyal reader of Brew Blog whined to us last week about the recent foray into winter beers when it's, well, not winter outside.

But we tend not to agonize over our pickings when buying beer. The heart (gut? palate?) wants what it wants.

This week's pick, Real Ale's Sisyphus Barleywine Ale, had been swimming around in our mind for a few weeks since Anvil tapped a cask of it June 24 during the Firkin Fest (and we missed getting a sample). So we grabbed a bottle at Central Market recently and thought we'd share for those who may have only quaffed the Texas brewery's blue, green and brown-labeled bottles.

The satiny-lime-green-labeled Sisyphus is, like last week's stout, more of a winter beer, and the Blanco-based brewery releases it during cold weather (the brewery's first seasonal product, in fact, according to its Web site). Our sample was only from last year, but presumably there are older versions out and about if you ask.

We didn't regret the choice in the least.

Barleywines are an old style, hailing from an era when the drinking public toiled at manual labor tasks all day and needed a hearty brew or two to serve as not only beverage but also muscle relaxant and sleeping pill after sundown. The Sisyphus weighs in at about 11 percent alcohol, and you know it with each sip, but the booze never stings. That's nice.

This beer is thick and rich, but not syrupy, and while it's bitter first, there are plenty of other flavors to enjoy. There's a bright, fruity tinge to it and plenty of sweet aroma, but it transitions fairly quickly to bitter after the malty first notes, and finishes with a very long, very pronounced (but welcome) bitterness.

Frankly, it's nice to be reminded that a beer can be a sledgehammer without relying fully on the ashy flavor of over-roasted malt or the acidic slap of a bushel of hops. Toward the end of the glass the brew loses most of its bite and mellows out. The bitterness doesn't linger as long, and the bright fruit flavors fade. It's still rich, though.

We daresay this need not be a winter beer, though certainly don't try to sit outside and drink it -- unless you happen to own one of those fake-snow-making machines.

In that case, go ahead.

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