The term “barley wine-style” is a new one on us. We like to think the guys at Avery Brewing Co. were making hand quotation marks as they seized on the phrase. That’s because Hog Heaven is hardly the malt bomb that you’d expect from a bottle with “Barley Wine” on the label. Most powerhouses in the barley wine class, like Stone’s Old Guardian or Anchor’s Old Foghorn, are heavy on sugary roasted malts and can knock you out with a boozy left hook. In a class of beasts and brutes, Hog Heaven is the Oscar de la Hoya of the barley wine world.
Avery’s beverages, if you’re not familiar, are brutes themselves, specializing in the huge and hoppy. Stone’s strongest beer never exceeds 12 percent alcohol by volume, whereas Avery brews at least three that exceed 15 percent. Which is why it’s kind of insane that this monolith's only attempt at the barley wine is one of its weakest beers at “only” 9.2 percent.
On first pour the beer looks caramel red and opaque and deceptively “smooth.” The nose is there; it certainly smells like a barley wine—all alcohol and sugar. But the first sip shatters that impression. We were reminded of a super sweet IPA (think Lenny’s RIPA). Like an IPA, it was supremely drinkable, not merely sipable like most barley wines tend to be. There was little head, but it stuck around. The burnt-amber booze flavor slid down the gullet rather than sticking to our tongues. Misnomer or stroke of genius? We don’t know. Either way, the bottle needs to say “Barley Wine-style” along with a sticker that reads: "Danger: Thirsty Beware."