25 Beers of Christmas: Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

Great Divide – Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

American Barleywine

10.2% ABV

Great Divide Brewing Co. – Denver, Colorado


I cannot think of a better beer to celebrate a long Christmas Day with family, with many gifts, rich foods, and hopefully a warm fire (though not this year), than Great Divide’s Barrel Aged Old Ruffian, an American Barleywine that drinks like an English one.

This deep copper brew pours somewhat thick, though it has very high clarity, and a half-inch of sudsy light tan foam builds on top.  The aromas are incredible and immaculate, with raisins, figs, cinnamon apples, tons of vanilla, and candied apricot.  Rich, thick toffee and caramel provide the backbone.  The beer is boozy and warm with sherry and alcohol notes.  If they made this as a candle, I’d buy them by the case.  The taste is of caramel and toffee and lots of vanilla, with some oaky, boozy notes, and again figs and raisins, with a vinous, sherry-like flavor.  It is full-bodied with medium-low carbonation, and sweet up front with a moderately bitter finish.  This is a highly hopped beer, ringing at 90-plus IBUs, but the barrel aging smooths out a lot of the hop flavor and bitterness.  Barrel Aged Old Ruffian is as close to a perfect beer as I have had.

This beer, along with most Barleywines, will pair best with cheese: blues, funky goats, and Stilton or Roquefort are all excellent options.  Rich beef or roasted pork dishes may be able to stand up to them as well, as will caramelized desserts like crème brulee.  Pour this beer at 55-60 degrees into a snifter, chalice, goblet, or a large wine glass, something you can cup in your hand to continue warming the beer as you drink.

Great Divide has no shortage of other great products, including the original Old Ruffian, which really accentuates the hop profile more than this barrel-aged version, as noted above.  Its Yeti line of imperial stouts, including the original Yeti, Oak Aged, Espresso Oak-Aged, and Chocolate Oak Aged, and Oatmeal versions (along with the now retired Belgian version, which I adored) are all spectacular.  Great Divide’s Titan IPA and Hercules Double IPA, along with its Hibernation old ale, are all well-regarded.  These beers are available in around 30 states, which unfortunately do not include Arkansas at this time, but does include most major markets.  Barrel Aged Old Ruffian has been somewhat limited in the past, but I have started to see it more and more on shelves everywhere.

One note that I hate to need to add: I believe the ABV of this beer used to be higher, around 12.7%, and I remember it with that higher ABV and a fuller, thicker body and richer nose than the bottle I drank yesterday.  I don’t know if it’s a permanent change or just character of this batch; if a permanent change to create wider availability, I think that would be a mistake, but as of this writing, I don’t have the info to discuss any further.  Still a fantastic beer and one I’m proud to cap off this countdown!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and so on to all of you who followed along!

JAB – 12/26/15