In the mood for something different, I grabbed one of the latest releases from Avery Brewing Co.’s barrel-aged series, the Fiel al Estilo, a Mexican-style barleywine aged in tequila barrels.
The Fiel is No. 31 in the brewery’s barrel-aged series, and this batch came out in mid-December. Only 485 cases of the brew were distributed, but you can still find it in the single-bottle sections of many Boulder County liquor stores.
I was drawn to the Fiel because I didn’t quite recognize what a Mexican-style barleywine was. Typically, barleywine is separated into American and English styles: the former is hoppy and bitter, the latter much less so. Avery’s take on the style is of the American tradition; its color is reddish-brown, and there is a decent amount of hops in the brew.
What makes it Mexican-style, one assumes, is the additions of chili peppers and agave in the recipe and tequila-barrel aging.
Barleywine in general clocks in higher on the alcohol scale, and the Fiel is characteristic of the style with a 9.9 percent ABV. In fact, barleywine got its name because of its high concentrations of alcohol and, of course, barley.
Avery threw in malted barley, malted smoked wheat and “imported specialty German malted barley” to create the Fiel. They also put in the aforementioned agave syrup and peppers, hops and yeast. What results is a brew that is slightly sweet, punchy with alcohol and is a distinctive barleywine.
Now whether you like barleywines or not, the Fiel is notable for its unique flavor profile. You’re hit with hot wood and sweet pepper in the aroma. There’s also that unmistakable smell of barleywine on the nose, too. The color is pretty magnificent: like light mahogany or cherrywood with a clear composition and steady carbonation. The head is cream-colored and billows with large bubbles.
The taste is pretty similar to the aroma, at least for me, and that’s because the high alcohol content sort of cuts the nuance out of the taste. The one new thing that does emanate on the tongue is a low, pleasant kick of spice. This is not a jalapeno-in-a-beer-can situation; the chili heats from the stomach, and Avery was expertly able to coax out all of the fruitiness from the pepper.
You also get a fair amount of tequila flavor, imparted from the used tequila barrels. It tastes like good tequila smells — that is, it’s sweet, salty and slightly dank.
Overall, it’s an excellent experiment and a beer that shows how elegantly Avery can refine a recipe. This beer could be over-the-top with flavor and alcohol, but the Fiel is easy to drink while retaining the characteristics of barleywine and the strong flavors of tequila and agave that Avery set out to achieve.
Next for Avery in the series is the Expletus, which came out on March 20. Inspired by a tequila sunrise cocktail, it’s a sour ale aged with cherries in tequila barrels for six months. Find that and the Fiel al Estilo in local liquor stores now.