Though it can sometimes feel that IPAs are the hottest commodity in the craft beer world these days, it’s important to show just as much love to the rest of the brew spectrum as well. WIth that in mind, today’s review is quite the distance from an IPA. It’s Clown Shoes’ Crunkle Sam Barleywine, an 11% monster of malty bliss and tongue numbing strength. I’ve been a fan of barleywines since I first experienced their potent fury, enraptured by just how much massive flavor could be contained within one flimsy, glass bottle. Crunkle Sam is no exception. It may not be the absolute strongest barleywine out there, but don’t let it hear you say that.
The experience begins with a potent aroma of rich bread malts, bringing a slight roasted quality that adds a bit of toast to the mix. Even in the aroma, there’s a hint of an alcohol tang that sticks to the inside of your nostrils. Following the bread, dark fruits galore arrive in force, consisting of raisins, plums, a few figs, and even a cherry or two. Curiously, at the sides lie faint vapors of citrus, mainly grapefruit and orange zest. It’s not the same style of citrus you’d find in an IPA. Instead, it’s just flavor, with no pithy bitterness. As this brew is basically a massive malt cannon, sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel show up with a passion, not inundating the nose with sugary notes, but instead glazing the bread to create that traditional “ultra-malt” profile. Near the end of each breath, a faint dusting of cinnamon coincides with a low rumble of Grape Nuts as the aroma resets. Complex and rich are definitely two fitting adjectives here, my friends. This wonderful bouquet rises up out of a rich, dark brown brew, complete with a light khaki head.
On the tongue, the alcohol arrives from the first drop, kicking your tongue with a righteous tang that sends it tingling immediately. Rich malts follow, mainly hearty bread and a touch of Grape Nuts, mingling within the alcohol sea. Again, brown sugar and caramel flow in from the sides, somewhat subdued compared to the aroma, but still discernible amongst the bread notes. There’s actually quite a bit of hoppage within this brew, which is evident from notes of fresh pine and citrus that chill out beneath the malts. This creates a buried, citrusy sweetness that arises every now and then, but the hops’ largest contribution is a noticeable bitterness at the back of the tongue, lasting through the malt wash and staying from start to finish. Notes of over-ripe apples arrive next, bringing and earthy fruit quality that mingles with the caramel notes to near perfection (aww yeah, caramel apples). Near the end, the hops also donate a bit of peppery spiciness, bumping up the alcohol burn a bit. To some, this can be off-putting, especially as it’s a sign of young age (the alcohol edge mellows with time. For me, I happen to enjoy the bracing strength and burn, so it doesn’t bother me. The flavors end with more dark fruits (raisins, but there’s a cherry vibe every now and then), before everything more or less fades from the tongue, presumably from the unmasked alcohol quality. It’s harsh, in the most delicious way.
Crunkle Sam is an awesome example of a barleywine. Huge malts, mild fruits, pleasing sweetness, and a numbing tongue when finished. Again, this bottle may be a bit young due to just how sharp the alcohol edge was, but I’m not complaining. Drinking a barleywine should, in my opinion, be an experience that you need to prepare for. One shouldn’t simply grab a bottle and enjoy. Respect the brilliance and new-age alchemy that is a barleywine, and it will most certainly respect you. If you pick this up be sure to snag two bottles minimum – one to enjoy as is (if you’d like) and one to age (if you have the proper aging settings). That way, you’ll be able to see the difference between a fresh and aged brew. If you only have the one bottle, it’s all good. You’ll still experience the massive flavor that Crunkle Sam has to offer. Enjoy it, for sure.
Crunkle Sam will be best enjoyed as slow as possible, preferably over an evening where you can just chill and relax. Let it work its calming magic as you sink into a world of liquid, bready potency. I wouldn’t advise drinking with any food – the flavors of the beer are already complex and shouldn’t be muddied or altered with anything from the outside. Clown Shoes’ Crunkle Sam earns 9 Beards out of 10. Pick up a bottle to experience the massive flavor for yourself.
Lasting Strength: 9/10
Overall: 9/10 A-