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Our Finest Regards Barleywine

by Matt O'Connor

If you’re a beer enthusiast, there are few places where the perfect storm collides: the interest in craft beer is high, local breweries are of a high quality, and the city is a large enough mecca that quality non-local beer wants to exploit the market. When these conditions are all present, you get a vibrant beer scene with a wide selection of high quality local beers, but the presence of world-famous beers from around the country keeps local brewers honest to not rest on their laurels.

There’s always a debate when discussing beer about how much support for local establishments is healthy and how much is simple homerism. When it comes down to it, does a beer brewed in Minneapolis taste different in Minnesota than it does in Maine? (Presuming you don’t ship it to Maine in the back of a sun-drenched Conestoga wagon in the heat of summer.) No, of course it doesn’t. So, a lot of our personal taste springs from availability and preference for our neighbors. Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily -- just be aware of all your options.

When a great local beer comes around though, I won’t let go, and it’s one of my favorite Massachusetts breweries offering up the beer on review today. The Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is based in Somerville, MA and was founded by Dann and Martha Paquette, with experience brewing in both England and the US. However, their beer doesn't come out of a Somerville factory. Instead, Pretty Things produces beers by a system called tenant brewing, where a larger brewery rents out time to use its brewing infrastructure.

Just because Pretty Things doesn’t have its own brick and mortar establishment doesn’t make it any less delicious. They do all the formulating, mashing, and brewing by hand and the friendly people at Buzzards Bay Brewing Company in Westport, MA package it up for Pretty Things to distribute. The beers come in 22-ounce “bomber” bottles and kegs for bars, which I’ve been lucky enough to sample from at some of my favorite local places.

The lineup at Pretty Things is extremely solid, lead by their flagship Jack D’Or. This is the beer you’re most likely to see on tap if you can find it, though it's thankfully available in bottled form year round. The style is close to a saison, but as they say none of their beers fit any particular style exactly. Jack D’Or was my gateway drug, sampled over some delicious food at Cambridge’s Lord Hobo; I knew I had to get my hands on more of what this “project” was producing. I’m not alone either. For its size -- at least in the Boston area -- Pretty Things is very well known and respected. After Jack D’Or, my next favorite beer by Pretty Things is today’s review, the Our Finest Regards barleywine. The name is a mouthful, I know.

A barleywine, as it might sound, is a beer meant to give center stage to the noble barleycorn. The term "barleywine" is taken from both the star ingredient as well as the beer’s strength, with most examples being between 8-14% alcohol. Our Finest comes in at a burly 13.5% ABV, about the same as an average Cabernet Sauvignon, hence the “-wine” suffix. Modern examples of barleywines are Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Troegs Flying Mouflan, and J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale, all readily available across the US. The style is rich, dark, and best enjoyed slowly, preferably indoors on a cold winter evening. Accordingly, Pretty Things brews up Our Finest Regards as a winter seasonal. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 offering, so I aged a bottle for a year to enjoy its complex port wine qualities. However, in the interest of fairness, today’s tasting is of a fresh batch from the winter of 2011-2012.

The first thing I’d recommend is to let this warm up a bit if it’s been sitting in your fridge. To be honest, I poured the beer a bit too cold and I think it really hurt the head formation, which you can probably tell from my picture. So, let it sit at room temp for 15 minutes or so; roughly 50 degrees is the target. Our Finest pours a deep, dark reddish brown, just a gorgeous looking brew. You can tell when you’re pouring it that this stuff is packed with goodness; it has a nice thick viscosity in the glass. The smell only gets better with warmth. There’s a mix of dark fruits, plums, raisins, and, with the alcohol notes, it does really smell a bit like a nice Port.

Upon taking a sip, you’ll notice it’s minimally carbonated but there are bubbles there, just not an overwhelming amount. The beer is creamy and generally pretty sweet, in a rich brown sugar way, not the saccharine punch of candy. The alcohol is hidden pretty well. If I had tasted this blind I would never have guessed it’s as potent as wine. Lastly, as the style dictates there’s almost zero bitterness. Pretty Things lists the hops content as “There are hops in here?” I’m not sure of the meaning of their humor, but the hops are either missing or miniscule. Either way, I’m not complaining. The beer finishes with a really nice roasted note, with a lingering almost coffee-like aftertaste.

If you like the style of barleywine, this is a solid A+ in its class. I think it’s great even compared to all styles. Grade: A



Pretty Things Our Finest Regards

ABV: 13.5%

Enjoy at 50 degrees

Style: English Barleywine


Also Try:

Rare Vos, Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY). Pretty much everything by Ommegang is tasty and they do Belgian styles so well Duvel, the Belgian giant, bought them. Rare Vos is an Amber Ale with a nice round sweetness tempered by a bit of hops bitterness. Grade: A-

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Matt O’Connor lives in Boston and is a proud graduate of Boston University. Explore beer with him as he quits his job in the sciences and starts law school. Send any requests, beer, or job offers to him at: matt.oconnor[at]