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It’s Barleywine Time in San Francisco

Photo courtesy of Brian Stechschulte.

Though there are still several hundred SF Beer Week events scheduled between now and next Sunday, the granddaddy of them all, the one that predates SF Beer Week and was the inspiration for Strong Beer Month takes place this weekend: Toronado’s Barleywine Festival.

Barleywine boasts the highest alcohol level of any beer style, normally 8% abv or higher, and its velvety maltiness can border on the chewy. Barleywines were first brewed commercially in England in the mid 1700s exclusively for the aristocratic class. England and the winegrowing countries on the continent were at war sporadically and wealthy Englishmen wanted to ensure that they had uninterrupted access to something “of a vinous nature” as one period brewing book put it. For brewers, barleywines are expensive and difficult to produce. They can require three or four times as much malt as other styles and once brewed are aged, often in barrels, from several months to a year or more.

Although barleywine isn’t as popular in the UK as it once was, US craft brewers have adopted the style and not only produce traditional English recipes, but added their own regional spins. Not surprisingly, craft brewers on this coast often add copious amounts of citrusy hops into the rich malty mix.

Toronado Pub is slated to tap more than 50 barleywines from next Saturday, 2/15 though Monday, 2/17 (or till the barleywines run out). If you make your way to the fest bring cash (they don’t take plastic), and patience. It’s always a well-attended event.

If you have a taste for the strong stuff, but not the Toronado crowds, you’ve got other options. Magnolia Pub & Brewery and 21st Amendment Brewery are hosting their 12th Annual Strong Beer Month. The fest runs all February at both breweries; each put six strong beers on tap at the start of the month, all over 8.5% ABV, for a total of 12 beers. If you make it through all 12 beers you get to keep a specially designed commemorative glass, while supplies last.

Magnolia’s Strong Beers:

RyeRye Rocco- Rye Brown Ale- 8.8%

Let It Rauch- German-influenced Smoked Beer- 8.1%

Promised Land Imperial IPA- Imperial (Double) IPA- 11.2%

Smokestack Lightning Imperial Stout- Imperial Stout- 9.7%

Quadlibet For Tender Feet- Belgian Abbey-style Quadruple 8.0% ABV

Old Thunderpussy Barleywine-Barleywine- 10.6%

21st Amendment’s Strong Beers:

Framboise Forte d’Or – Belgian-style Raspberry Golden Ale – 10.2%

Dub Step – Imperial IPA – 10.2%

Beast of Burden – American-Belgo Imperial IPA – 9.9%

Red Titan – Giant Red Ale – 12.8%

Bike LaneHopper – Imperial Black IPA – 9.6%

Hendrik’s Imperial Stout – Imperial Stout – 9.3%

Social Kitchen has also been serving strong beers in February for the past several years and this year’s Strong Beer Social features the following heavyweights:

Ghost Ride - Strong Dark Belgian Abbey 9.3% abv

Frèrè Rouge (collaboration with Headlands Brewing Co.) Hoppy Imperial Belgian Red 9.4%

Kilderkin Bowling Rye - English Double Rye IPA. 10.4% abv.

Jungle Cruise - Triple IPA. 11.7% abv