John Barleycorn Must Die (Brewing a Barleywine)

A couple of weeks ago I visited Hopfenstark’s new pub in Montreal. It’s a wonderful place full of wonderful beers. One that stood out in my memory was a barley wine called Captain Swing. For a long time I have had a Barleywine recipe kicking around that I’ve really wanted to brew and drinking that wonderful example pushed me over the edge. So, I picked up a three gallon better bottle so I could bulk age a beer like this and went to work.


The BJCP lists the aroma of an English Barleywine as:

Aroma: Very rich and strongly malty, often with a caramel-like aroma. May have moderate to strong fruitiness, often with a dried-fruit character. English hop aroma may range from mild to assertive. Alcohol aromatics may be low to moderate, but never harsh, hot or solventy. The intensity of these aromatics often subsides with age. The aroma may have a rich character including bready, toasty, toffee, molasses, and/or treacle notes. Aged versions may have a sherry-like quality, possibly vinous or port-like aromatics, and generally more muted malt aromas. Low to no diacetyl.

For me, the key there is the dried-fruit character. I love the almost vinous, grape aroma that comes from the malt when properly made. For me, I don’t much care for the hop aroma in this style: it’s all about the malt.

A little about the name. “John Barleycorn Must Die” is an English folk song, though the most well known version of it is by the band Traffic. It’s a song about the Barley harvest and about beer making in general, so I was surprised there wasn’t already a beer with a name riffing on it. Some say that John Barleycorn is an avatar for Beowa, a figure sometimes though to be Beowulf, and whose name derives from the old english word for barley, beow. There are very few beers riffing on these words from what I can see from Beer Advocate searches, which I find quite odd! I love the long name for a beer especially the almost old-west feel of the death proclamation. I get a “The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford” vibe.

As for designing the beer, I took the recipe list from Firestone Walker’s Scuba as a template, but ended up tweaking it a fair bit. I doubt it’s much like their version!

Batch Size: 3.04 gal
Style: English Barleywine (19B)
Color: 21.0 SRM
Bitterness: 46.3 IBUs
Boil Time: 90 min
Est OG: 1.104 (24.5° P)
Est FG: 1.026 SG (6.6° P)
Mash Profile: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
ABV: 10.4%

Amount Name Type #
8 lbs Pale Malt (Weyermann) (3.3 SRM) Grain 1
2 lbs Munich I (Weyermann) (7.1 SRM) Grain 2
8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 3
8.0 oz Caramunich I (Weyermann) (51.0 SRM) Grain 4
4.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 5
4.0 oz Chocolate Malt (250.0 SRM) Grain 6
1.0 oz Centennial [10.0%] – Boil 60 min Hops 7
0.5 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.0%] – Boil 25 min Hops 8
0.5 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.0%] – Boil 10 min Hops 9
1 pkgs London Ale (White Labs #WLP013) Yeast 10

2L starter.



The brewday was pretty uneventful, which is, in my books, always a good thing. My efficiency was a little low and I only ended up hitting 1.090. I should have extended the mash time from 60 to 90 minutes since I was using a good deal of speciality grain and mashing a little warm. I’d probably also even out my batch sparge steps next time.


The London Ale yeast I pitched was very interesting tasting. It had that strawberry jam on toast kind of flavour which I associate with scotch ales and a little oak earthiness. I think it’s going to make for a pretty flavourful beer.

The plan right now is to ferment it (brewed on September 1, 2013) for two weeks in a primary and then rack it to a secondary (my three gallon carboy) for the next month or two to condition. I’m pretty excited about this one and I hope, if it tastes alight, to hide some bottles away for a while to see how they age!

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One Response to John Barleycorn Must Die (Brewing a Barleywine)

  1. Pingback: 2013 Year in Upalong Homebrewing | Upalong Brewing

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