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Classic Beer of the Month November 2014: Chiltern Bodgers Barley Wine, 8.5%

Chiltern Bodgers Barley Wine, 8.5%

Barley wine. Like stout, porter and IPA, it's another beer style that has fought its way back into the public conscience.

Chiltern Bodgers Barley WineIt's not hard to lay your hands on something strong and warming these days but, back in 1990, there weren't many such beers available in the UK.

That's why it seemed a bold move when Chiltern Brewery chose to create a barley wine to mark the occasion of its tenth birthday.

Chiltern called its new beer Bodgers, borrowing a name once given to artisan furniture makers in the lovely beechwood hills that surround the Buckinghamshire brewery.

It's a very fine ale, bright amber-copper in colour, a beer I've known and enjoyed for many years. I keep a small stock of it, dipping in now and again when I feel the need for a little indulgence of an evening.

The pleasure begins with the aroma as it billows over the rim of the glass and draws you in with luscious suggestions of grapes, pineapple and a little sherry, with a dab of caramel emerging as you edge closer.

In the taste, a big welcoming hug of warmth reveals that the yeast has worked diligently to convert lots of those abundant malty sugars into alcohol but, fortunately, it has also left plenty of sugars unfermented to provide a sweet, creamy, silky maltiness on the palate.

Fruit Notes

Then come the fruit notes, derived from both hops (Challenger, Fuggle and Golding) and esters, with more grapes, raisins, hints of bitter orange and then, just before the swallow, a suggestion of strawberry.

Underlying all this is a soft, cake-like character and there's also a hint of wood in the background that continues into the dry, warming finish where things turn gradually more bitter while raisins and creamy malt linger.

Being both strong and bottle conditioned, Bodgers is one of those beers you can have great fun with over time. The flavours I describe above came from a bottle that was six months past its labelled best before date. It was excellent. I then opened a bottle that was getting on for four years beyond the suggested shelf life.

It showed signs of age, as you would expect, and the carbonation was becoming a little intrusive, but was still a pleasure to drink, loaded with sherry, pine and tangerine flavours – a distillation, you could say, of Christmas in a glass.

That's just one reason why I'll be digging out a few more bottles as the nights draw in, and the sound of sleigh bells gets ever closer.

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