As a ripe twenty-two year old, I feel qualified– no, entitled– to declare that one’s quarter century is (probably) a sort of unheard felling of a large redwood in a nondescript Californian forest. It’s a seething age. The inimitable crossroads of youth and senile folly reveal two perks: you’re tame enough to rent a Charger, and great West Coast breweries team up incestuously to produce such a beer as the Class of ’88 Barleywine.
With three giants in the beer world such as these, a brew like this is daunting. It’s easy to fear it’d end up like some “supergroup” of some washed up rockers who thought their collaborative efforts would rein in a new age of musical enlightenment and rapture, only to find that their very work was the death knell of their time and place in sonic history.
Free of coked-out delusion, the Class of ’88 does not completely disappoint; or at least, North Coast’s take does not (Apparently Deschutes, and I assume Rogue, has their own respective version as well). It pours a rich, yet clear tangerine color with a generous, effervescent, and playful head (last time I use those two words together). On the nose, there are some definite dark plum, pear and concord grape-skin essences that dance about. Even still, there are some full-blown citrus notes so indicative of the West Coast style akin to lush, ripe, grapefruit juice. It’s very phenolic. There’s some initial bitterness from the hops on the tongue, and by the middle of the mouth it pummels the palate. Rich, bread-y, caramel-y flavors lunge forth towards the back of the mouth and give way to a sort of hybrid banana-peachy-pear syrupy-ness that descends back down to a strong juicy grapefruit bitterness and finally ends with a cleansing malty sweetness. (Side note: Chris Steltz of Beer Geek Nation reviewed Deschutes edition and came off slightly underwhelmed, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dENEz8QcdA . I personally have then come to the conclusion that between Deschutes and North Coast, we’re assessing two very different beers.)
I will be honest, this is not at ALL true to the barleywine style. In fact, I’d be more tempted to call this a triple IPA, and a weaker one at that. It has some elements of a barleywine; this is certain. From the rich, dark fruit aroma to the superbly creamy and downright THICK mouthfeel (the most redeeming quality of this beer), it possesses some characteristics, but it has a big, bright flavor that is a bit unexpected. Like a 25-year-old, it’s caught between a youthful essence and a pensive, rich, yet complex languidness. It’s a bit baffling, and I’m troubled by it. I find the beer to be highly enjoyable, but only because it possesses all of the qualities I look for in certain beers all wrapped into one– however, it’s not a barleywine. If you’re looking for one here, you’ll be disappointed, but not too much.
Because it doesn’t live up to it’s name, but prevails in flavor, I’d give this beer an 8.9/10.
P.s. Be prepared to drop BANK into this weirdo. It’s $12 flat in Vermont.