Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

2007 Toronado Barleywine Fest Winners

By William Brand
Sunday, February 18th, 2007 at 1:30 pm in Uncategorized.

Getting tired of beer labels, thought I’d run this photo of
Alaskan Brewing. A beautiful place, indeed.
Credit: 200306Alaska.html

SAN FRANCISCO – I walked out of the 17th or is it the 18th annual Toronado Barleywine Festival Saturday night with my head spinning. I was puzzled. After all, I’d only sampled eight beers and they were three-ounce samples. Hmmm. More in a minute.

This note: The fest continues all week until the beer is gone. If you’re reading this Sunday morning, my advice is go there today, the winners tend to be consumed fast.

Here are the winners of this growing, huge, excellent festival. Toronado proprietor David Keene said in all there were 90 judges (is that right, David?), who spent half a day picking the winners from 54 barleywines.

First Place: Big Nugget 200, Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, Alaska, My tasting notes: A deep copper beer with a thick tan head, toffee aroma. Taste is complex, inititally sweet, but with a growing tartness and warming alcohol. Wow! FOUR STARS. 11 percent alcohol, 75 IBU (International bitterness units). Comparison: Bud, 13 IBU, 5 percent ABV.

Second Place: Angel’s Share, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, San Marcos.
My tasting notes: An opaque, dark brown, almost still with very little foam, like a real ale, which, of course, it is. Brandy nose from a minimum of six months in brandy barrels. Ahhh the taste. A huge initial sweetness, drowned quickly in a rush of wood, oak, vanilla, brandy and alcohol that fades into a fairly sweet follow with a tang of hops and warmth from the alcohol – 10 percent ABV. FOUR STARS. Best news of the day. This one’s bottled in 750 ml, corked bottles, and can be found as Port Brewing says, “at inspired locations.” For our list of good retail beer outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, shoot me an e-mail at

Third Place. A tie.

Doggie Claws, Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR. My tasting notes: Brewer Alan Sprints makes this one as his holiday beer. It’s 11.5 percent ABV and 75 IBUs. Hugely sweet from the toffee aroma to the finish with great warming from the alcohol. A real sipper. THREE STARS. ***. It’s great to see this very fine beer recognized by a panel of judges. It’s bottled, but sells out quickly each December.

Anniversary 2004, Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT. My tasting notes: Another great beer, 9.8 percent alcohol, it’s produced year-round and sold in 12-ounce six packs. Haven’t seen it in the Bay Area, but I’m gonna’ look. Tasting notes: Liquid malty nose, sweet malt taste explodes in your mouth. Sweetness slowly fades into a warming alcohol finish. Wow. THREE STARS.

Also: David Keene said there were five other finalists besides the four winners:

Arctic Devil, Midnight Sun, Anchorage, AK. It was sold out by the time I got to the Toronado. Some way, I’ve never gotten a taste of this perennial favorite.

Bourbon Bigfoot, Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA. Another great beer. Sierra Nevada’s Steve Dresler says Jorg Rupf and Lance Winters of St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA. asked Sierra Nevada to make a beer that they planned to distill into a (I guess, a Bourbon-style whiskey) and age in barrels. When the project was finished, Dresler got the barrels, put regular Bigfoot in them. Oh my. Power-Bigfoot. Huge Bourbon nose. The wood and whiskey notes blend nicely with the major hops and malts of regular Bigfoot. This one’s a treat. FOUR STARS.

Barleywine, Cucapa’ Brewing Co., Mexicali, Baja California Norte, Mexico. I was fascinated by this one, the first-ever finalist from Mexico. It’s a craft brewer operating since 1999 in the border city of Mexicali. The name’s taken from a small band of native people who live along the Colorado River delta, the first humans to inhabit the Mexicali Valley. I tasted this one and loved it: Compared to some of the powerhouses in this festival, it was mellow. The taste is a bit of a shock, dry initially, then with a rising sweetness that lasts into a long follow. An excellent beer, indeed. THREE STARS.

–John Barleycorn 2006, Mad River, Blue Lake, CA.,

–Old Bluehair, Big Sky, Missoula, MT.

And finally, back to the beer I drank. I figured it out, eight three-ounce samples of beer that was all above 9 percent, one was 11 percent, another almost 11 percent alcohol. A regular California table wine’s about 12.5 percent. So doing a bit of ersatz algebra, I’m guessing I had the equivalent of about five glasses of wine.

Thank God I took BART. Saludos companeros.

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  • David

    I have to agree with William on Cucapá Barley Wine – This stuff is great. In the states this only sold in San Diego County. There are about 8 places in San Diego that have this on tap – here are some of them:

    San Diego Brewing Company
    Coronado Brewing Company
    Stone Brewing and World Bistro
    Hamilton’s Tavern
    The Liar’s Club

    These mexican micro brews will probably continue to surprise us – Salud!

  • William Brand

    Thanks David. If you’re in San Diego, this one’s worth a try. Viva Mexico.