The Motherlode: Great Divide Old Ruffian

I know I’ve been prone to hyperbole before, but late last week, I had one of the top ten beers that I’ve ever had. Or at least I feel that way about it right now.

The beer to which I’m referring is Great Divide’s Old Ruffian, and after drinking it, I found out I was not alone in my lust for it. It is currently listed at #95 on BeerAdvocate’s list of top beers. (It’s only at #291 on RateBeer’s list, and only its 20th-best barleywine, but it is in it’s 100th percentile.)

So, you are asking yourself, what the hell is so DAMN special about this DAMN beer? I’d have to say pretty much everything. I poured the first half of this 12.7% abv monstrosity into a tulip glass, and noticed an uncommonly elegant ruby red color, topped by a full finger of fluffy head. Alliteration aside, it positively glows in the light like a red lava lamp, with a heavy dose of bubbles rushing to the surface.

The aroma is striking, in that its initial scent is not the husky barley I expected, but a perfume of woody hops: oak and rich mahogany, like so many leather-bound books. Once you bury your nose a little deeper (please use a tissue first, especially if you’re using my glass), that grainy barley does come though, and since the hops has already prepared you for some bitterness, it’s a welcome aroma. Even further into the nasal cavity, you’ll find fleeting notes of grapes, sweet raisins and toffee. It’s a little intimidating, but also welcoming for those who like a challenge.

The first sip is dark, sweet grapes on the front of the tongue, with a magnificently pine-tinged hop, with just a hint of a citrus that wasn’t quite apparent in the aroma. The barley malt comes through again, manifesting itself as a smoky tobacco leaf flavor. Honey, candi sugars and puckery grape skins jab their way in here and there. There is a beautiful little alcohol burn on the way down too, which warms up the innards on a chilly evening.

I’m usually one who will have a pint or half-pint, and then cork the bottle and save it for later. With this one, as bitter and alcohol-heavy as it was, I had to finish it. I opted to use a four-ounce sampler glass for the remainder of the bottle, to maximize enjoyment. This beer might not be for everyone, but it’s the kind of beer that makes me laugh when wine-aficianados suggest that they drink the superior beverage. This is one that snuck up on me and reminded me why all the money I drop on this stuff could never be considered a waste.

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~ by William H on April 28, 2010.

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