I’m not afraid to admit it, I’m a huge geek: I read fantasy novels, I collect comics, and yes, I play D&D. Well, not as actively as I once did, as my work schedule is constantly changing, so I can’t commit to a group.
So when I see a beer called “Critical Hit” with a D20 on the label there is no doubt that I am going to buy it. Add to that the fact that it is a barley wine made by Eugene Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing and you have just sold yourself a beer!
Bottle: 650ml bomber
Description: In the Ninkasi tradition, this barley wine is hopped to high heaven –using more than 16 pounds per barrel! Critical Hit’s rich, malty expression is balanced by 16 varieties of hops that linger on the palate. Its high gravity nature warms the cheeks and soul. Critical Hit does maximum damage, so you might have to roll to save if you take this ale for granted.
I managed to pick up the final bottle of the 2013 vintage of this beer from Cook Street Liquor, meaning that it had been aging in the bottle for three years when opened. This is very desirable for a barley wine, as the flavours become mellow out with age and take on interesting notes that you wouldn’t normally expect from a beer.
The beer poured out a reddish caramel colour with a thin film of head that dissipated quickly—this is to be expected, because barley wines aren’t heavily carbonated to begin with a CO2 escapes over time if the bottle isn’t wax dipped.
The aroma was of citrus, pine, and grass thanks to the aforementioned 16 varieties of hops and reminded me of an ESB. The flavour was a complex mix of the bitterness of aged hops and the smoothness of roasted malt, which produced a palate of caramel, dates, bananas, and port.
I’ve heard some complain that fresh bottles of this beer are far too hoppy, like an imperial IPA. I’ve experienced this with other barley wines, which is why they are recommended for cellaring. I think I might have caught this sample at its prime age!
All in all, this was a very well balanced barley wine that is one of the better examples of the style I have tried. It’s not quite as good as Driftwood’s “Old Cellar Dweller,” but it’s damn close!
Not to mention that at 10.4% abv this elixir is perfect for working up the courage to take on a horde of orcs!