At, 11%, 75 IBUs, brewed with pale, crystal, cara, chocolate and special B malts, and seasoned with nugget, fuggles, and golding hops, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger barley wine is a highly complex, highly refined, must-see-for-yourself beer. It is thick, with bits of sediment/pebbles floating in the bottle; not to worry, decant it finely and enjoy the character it bestows.
While not a huge fan of barley wine, and having not yet tasted one that really floats my boat, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger blew me away. The beer is bursting with flavour, both on the nose and the palate; each individual sensation is distinct, yet well integrated, and highly pronounced. On the nose, there is a rich chocolate caramel sweetness that mingles with delicate hops — particularly the fuggles (reminds me of the Anchor Christmas Ale) — and a red wine-like acidity. The alcohol presents itself with a slightly citrus sourness that deftly complements the rich sweetness of the malts.
The beer is profoundly sweet, but the malty sweetness is balanced by robust hops, and enough IBUs to instill a crisp finish. At 11%, it is slightly heavy and the malt sticks to the sides of your cheeks. Since the flavours are so well endowed, you really can’t drink too much; one is perfect. This is currently the best barley wine I have tried, though I never got a chance to taste Driftwood’s highly regarded ‘Old Cellar Dweller’. Rogue, however, makes a close second.
Kamran: 87 pts.
Without a doubt, Howe Sound Brewing’s Woolly Bugger is one of the best barley wines I’ve had to date. With an 11% alcohol content and 75 IBU’s, this beer packs a pleasant and complex punch with the wide variety of malts and hops contained in the bottle. And while generally I’m not a huge fan of beers with fuggles hops (such as the Innis and Gunn Canada Day 2011 release), the mix of fuggles with other varieties was a nice counter balance to the malts. This beer had an ability to constantly keep your palate guessing as to the flavours and an ability to leave you wanting more; a feeling some barley wines lack.
On the nose, the malty sweetness is quite prevalent as in any barley wine, yet the fuggles hops really cut through to my sense of smell. Surprisingly hoppy, the floral aroma is very inviting when mixed with the malty sweetness. The body is thicker than I anticipated, but it still allows for easy drinking. In terms of taste – having been sitting in my cellar aging for over six months – the tones of chocolate were noticeable through the sweetness. As well, the hops was adding to the rich complexity that Kamran and I both enjoyed. The finish had a flash of bitterness on the tongue with a lingering sweetness and a chocolate taste that seemed to stick to the cheeks and back of the tongue. It even had the similarity of an alcohol taste like a cognac from what we could derive.
This beer is best enjoyed alone and at a cool temperature, and is one of the only barley wines I could recommend as a session beer if the occasion arose seeing as I could easily have a few in a night. So if you happen across this beer in a store, buy it and enjoy!
Tristan: 89.5 pts.
Final Average: 88.25 pts.