Origin: Lochristi, Oost-Vlaanderen
Highly creative and prolific Danish cuckoo brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø will need no introduction to craft beer connoisseurs. His preconception-challenging products have cut a swathe through the world of beer appreciation since his kitchen home brews first went on sale at a København shop in 2005, and have helped shift the international discussion of beer to a new level.
Mikkel brews a huge range of beers including in more sessionable styles, but he’s best known for the big strong stuff, often inspired by Belgian or historic British models. Much of the beer is made at the reliable Proef brewery in Lochristi, Belgium, many a would-be brewing warrior’s facility of choice for progressing domestic experimentation to the commercial level.
Big Bad Worse Barley Wine, a stronger successor to the earlier Big Bad Barley Wine, is one of the best Mikkeller beers I’ve tasted yet. It’s brewed from pilsner and caramunich barley malt, with added candy sugar, and a blend of Nugget, Cascade and Centennial hops.
The beer pours a cloudy burgundy colour with a thick yellowish-fawn head. A prominent and very complex aroma has notes of pine, figs, tobacco ash and malt loaf with a delicate fruity waft.
The palate is sweet but well balanced by delicate dryness, with dark candied citrus peel, apricot fruit and piny, herbal edges. A slowly drying citric finish turns quite chalky and mineral-tinged with fresh nuts, and hops forming a bitter nugget amidst smooth, syrupy mouth-coating malt.
This isn’t a weird beer – in many ways it’s a very straightforward and traditional interpretation of the style, though brilliantly accomplished to produce an immensely complex and exquisite glassful.
I bought a bottle with an April 2016 best before date at the always reliable Kris Wines, London N7, as a seasonal treat for myself in December 2012 and it turned out to be a perfect choice. Although more than ready to drink, it would also be worth cellaring.