Review: Firestone Walker Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale (2017)

Barrel aging has become wildly popular in the craft-brewing world, but it remains, for the most part, a process almost exclusively applied to darker beers like porters and stouts. No strangers to pushing the envelope with their brews, California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Company bucks that trend with its Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale, which is brewed solely with English and American pale malts. It’s a risky move given how well the caramel notes in whiskey (and whiskey barrels) complement darker styles of beer. So how does this lighter beer fare with barrel aging?

Helldorado pours a great rose gold color. There are subtle tropical fruit and raw honey notes on the nose and less of the roasted cereal aroma typical of darker barrel-aged beers. It’s deceptively refreshing. Where darker boozy brews caution patience, this thing begs to be gulped. It’s initially crisp but with a huge body. On the palate, there are sticky sweet biscuit notes, vanilla, dried coconut, and more honey. Many darker beers slowly develop a slightly bitter finish, but Helldorado’s sweetness lingers like cream soda. Don’t get me wrong. I love my barrel-aged stouts and dark barley wines, but it’s very exciting to see lighter beers that barrel-age so well.

12.8% abv.

A / $15 / firestonebeer.com

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