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February 5th, 2014 12:01 am WW Staff | Beer Guide

Beer Guide 2014: Nine of Our Favorite Ten Beers of 2014

4. 2013 Night Court Barleywine (McMenamins Edgefield)

You never know what’s going to come out of the barrel. Unlike steel tanks that are hosed down and sanitized with industrial-strength bug killer, liquor barrels double as petri dishes—sometimes the microflora and wild yeast inside are tasty, sometimes they’re not.

So there’s only so much credit Matt Bergfield is willing to take for Night Court Barleywine. “It was a happy accident with experimentation and the ingredients we had on tap that really panned out,” he says. “I wasn’t really sure what we were going to get out of it. We just knew we had those rum barrels and coffee beans and wouldn’t it be cool if we did something with them?”

Such magic happens when you have interesting ingredients and license to experiment, as does the team at McMenamins’ largest brewery. The barrels used to age Night Court came fresh, still wet from Edgefield’s own distillery, unlike those that stew in the back of a truck traveling from Kentucky or farther. Same goes for house-roasted coffee beans previously used to infuse a coffee liquor made onsite. The finished product is an extraordinary burst of caramel and vanilla with a little smoky bitterness and a shimmering dark caramel color. “It’s a really neat confluence of all these big and sweet flavors that make something pretty well-rounded—it’s not cloying, because the base barleywine is strong enough to carry the weight and not let it overpower it,” Bergfield says.

The base beer was brewed in November 2012, originally a “wimpy” 9 percent alcohol.

“We made it the traditional English way,” Bergfield says. “You don’t use a lot of specialty malts—you use basic malts, boiled for longer than you normally would. That long contact with the heat is key, because it basically caramelizes the sugars. That creates flavor you can’t get otherwise.

Then, it’s up to the barrel to do the work.

“We don’t call it Night Court unless it comes out of a wet barrel directly from our distillery,” he says. “It really makes sure you’re going to hit a home run with that rum flavor and get that character.” MARTIN CIZMAR. 

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