How to make barley wine

The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Homemade Barley Wine

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Are you ready to embark on an exciting brewing adventure? Our comprehensive guide teaches you how to make barley wine – a rich, high-alcohol beer bursting with complex flavours. Our step-by-step process, from selecting premium ingredients to mastering fermentation techniques, will help you craft a batch of this traditional beer that’s sure to impress. Discover the intricacies of this storied beverage and enhance your brewing skills along the way. Get ready to plunge into the art of making barley wine and experience the satisfaction of creating something truly special.

Crafting Your Own Barley Wine

To make barley wine, choose quality barley and hops. Mash the barley, boil it with hops, ferment it with robust yeast, and age to develop its high alcohol content and rich flavours. Perfect for seasoned brewers seeking a rewarding project.

This simple and effective recipe will guide you through the process, ensuring your brew is delicious and successful. The barley wine recipe is designed to produce a batch size of 19 litres. 


Brewing Process


  1. Heat water to approximately 76.5°C.
  2. Add Pale Malt, Maris Otter.
  3. Adjust to maintain a stable temperature of 65°C.
  4. Maintain this temperature for 60 minutes to allow the enzymes to convert the starches into sugars.


  1. Bring the mash to a boil.
  2. Immediately add Target hops to the boiling wort.
  3. After 30 minutes of boiling, add the first addition of East Kent Goldings hops.
  4. Add the second addition of East Kent Goldings hops with 15 minutes remaining in the boil.


  1. After the boil, cool the wort to fermentation temperature (usually around 18-20°C for most ale yeasts).
  2. Transfer the cooled wort to a fermenter.
  3. Add the yeast (Safale S-04) to initiate the fermentation process.
  4. Allow fermentation to proceed for about one to two weeks or until fermentation activity appears to have stopped.

Adding Sugar:

  1. Add the dark brown sugar in the last 10-15 minutes of the boil. This helps caramelise the sugar slightly and integrates it well with the wort.


  • This recipe aims for a Barley Wine rich in malt flavours rather than overly bitter.
  • The fermentation process is crucial. After primary fermentation, allow the beer to ferment in secondary for about a month.
  • Ageing is key. Allow at least 8-12 months of conditioning in bottles to let the flavours develop and meld together.

This recipe provides a straightforward approach to brewing barley wine, focusing on quality ingredients and patient fermentation to yield a robust and flavourful beer. 

Is Barley Wine Really a Beer?

Is barley wine a beer?
Is barley wine a beer?

The term ‘barley wine’ often sparks intrigue and curiosity—is it actually a beer? The answer is a definitive yes. Barley wine is a strong ale with 6-12% alcohol by volume, made from grain, not fruit. Its name reflects its wine-like alcohol strength, but it is firmly a beer, divided into American and English styles, each with distinct bitterness and colour profiles.

Barley wine’s rich history dates back to 1870 when Bass No. 1 Ale was first marketed under this name. Anchor Brewing Company introduced the style to the United States with its Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale in 1976. The use of ‘barleywine’ as one word in some labels arose from concerns about regulatory approval due to the word ‘wine’.

This beer style is divided into two primary categories: the American and the English barley wine. The American style is known for being hoppier and more bitter, typically presenting amber to light brown in colour. In contrast, the English style is usually less bitter, with minimal hop flavour and a more varied colour palette, ranging from red-gold to opaque black.

Understanding these nuances highlights barley wine’s unique position in the beer world. It’s a testament to the diversity and creativity of brewing, offering a rich, complex experience that challenges and delights beer enthusiasts. As we explore barley wines further, let’s explore some of the best variants available, each with its own distinct character.

Discovering the Best Barley wines

The best barleywines, like Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Anchor Old Foghorn, and Dogfish Head Olde School, offer a spectrum from hop-forward American styles to rich, malt-heavy English varieties, each with unique notes ranging from fruity aromas to deep toffee and vanilla. Here are some of the best barleywines, each offering a unique experience.

1. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot: A stalwart of American barleywines, Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot is hop-forward yet maintains the signature malt complexity. It’s perfect for those who enjoy a drier, more robust ale.

2. Anchor Old Foghorn: This English-style barleywine, with deep malt, toffee, and raisin notes, is best enjoyed slightly warm. Anchor’s Old Foghorn represents a classic in the barleywine category, offering a rich, complex experience.

3. Dogfish Head Olde School: Fermented with dates and figs, this 15% ABV barleywine stands out with its complex fruity aroma and warming quality. It’s a brew that improves with age, making it ideal for those who appreciate a developing flavour profile.

4. Revolution Straight Jacket: This bourbon barrel-aged barleywine features American and Belgian malts, creating a unique blend of molasses, vanilla, and toasted coconut aromas. Revolution’s Straight Jacket is an excellent choice for those seeking a nuanced, aged flavour.

5. Firestone Walker Helldorado: Leaning more towards the English style, Helldorado is barrel-aged and rich with toffee, caramel, oak, and vanilla notes. It’s a warming brew without being overly alcoholic.

6. J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale: Renowned for being the pinnacle of English barleywines, Harvest Ale is a once-a-year treat, bursting with dark fruit, caramel, and toffee. It’s a testament to the complexity and craft of barleywine brewing.

7. Avery Hog HeavenAn American barleywine where hops take centre stage, balanced by a deep, decadent malt structure. Avery’s Hog Heaven is ideal for those who enjoy a hoppy twist to their barleywine.

8. Thomas Hardy’s AleKnown for its initial sweetness that unfolds into numerous complexities, Thomas Hardy’s Ale offers notes of prune, rose, vanilla, pomegranate, figs, dates, and coffee. It’s a brew that challenges and delights the palate.

Exploring these barleywines offers a journey through some of the finest examples of this beer style. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or new to barleywines, these selections promise a rewarding tasting experience.


Our exploration of barley wine has unravelled its identity as a distinctive beer crafted through careful brewing of grain, not fruit. With a rich array of styles from the hoppy American to the malty English, barley wine is a brewer’s canvas. Our journey through the best barleywines, from Sierra Nevada Bigfoot to J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale, showcases the diversity and depth of this beer style. Whether crafting your own barley wine or savouring a bottle from renowned breweries, each sip promises a complex, flavourful experience, solidifying its revered status in the beer world.

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