Old Dominion Brewery – Millennium Barley-Wine

The battle between big beer and craft beer seems to be heating up lately.  Big beer probably has nothing to worry about, but some of their actions lately seem to suggest something a little different.  Although they aren’t going out and buying huge portions of smaller craft beer companies, they have begun to just put a toe in the ever growing craft beer pond.  Such is the case with Old Dominion Brewery.  In 2007, Fordham Brewing company put up a bid to buy Old Dominion.  This may not really sound like a huge deal in the beer war; however, some of the backing money for the purchase came from  Anheuser-Busch.  Anheuser-Busch doesn’t have a huge claim in either Fordham or Dominion, but they have enough to have a role in the distribution.  Maybe it isn’t very much, but many see it, and many other similar situations, as a sign of big beer encroaching on the craft beer industry.  As far as I understand, this was one of the last beers that was completely Old Dominion, that is, before they packed up and moved to Delaware.

Dominion really isn’t typically one of those breweries I run to the self for, and barleywine isn’t exactly a style of beer I crave.  But, I just couldn’t help myself.  I saw a bunch of people reaching for it, and I noticed that they had a single of it, so I just grabbed it.  Barleywine is a bit of a weird style.  If you’re not familiar with it at all, then you should probably check it out.  Be very aware, however, that it is a very strong style of beer.  Doing a little research on the style, it appears that its name is derived from its very high alcohol content.  It really isn’t a wine at all because it is brewed with barley instead of fruit.  I feel like someone should probably come up with a cooler name for it, but I think we may be stuck with it by now.

The appearance on the pour is much like a lot of the other barleywines I’ve enjoyed.  It pours a very auburn orangey hue.  Although this is a color that is pretty frequent with this style, they do tend to vary in colors.  There is never really a lot of head on these types of beer.  The alcohol is really high, so a very thin white head develops on top of the beer.  It does get slightly sudsy with the swirl, but it really isn’t all that much to speak of.  The swirl more displays the legs that are visible on the side of the glass.  A really sticky residue sits on the side of the glass.  The beer appears really hazy, and there is definitely a minimal amount of carbonation visible in the glass.

The smell really makes you snap your head back from the burn of the alcohol.  You almost forget you’re about to drink a beer when there is so much alcohol present on the nose.  There is definitely a certain sweetness to this beer as well.  The sticky sweetness seems to come from some dark rich fruits.  An interesting aroma that I don’t remember on most barleywines is a little spiciness.  I really like this aspect.  I doubt it’s because this one has been aged in oak barrels, but that part has me excited as well.  There are definitely ample malts here, and as expected, it is completely void of any hops.  I wouldn’t expect them from this style though.  I think before tasting the smell got me most interested.

The first sip really kicks you in the teeth with the ample amount of alcohol.  Perhaps I should have better prepared myself.  Either way, The beer has a very sweet and rich cherry or dark fruit flavor.  This is combined with some very sweet malts.  The sweetness leads you really quickly into the strong burn of the booze in the middle.  The burn of the alcohol really takes over and is combined with a little spice. It’s not till the finish that you start to taste a few of the other flavors.  There is once again some really sticky sweetness on the ending.  The sweetness has an interesting earthy oak flavoring that definitely comes from the barrels. This leads you into the sweet earthy boozy finish.

The mouthfeel is exactly what I was expecting.  This is really syrupy with just a little light carbonation to help mellow the thickness.  The boozy flavor is huge, but it isn’t all together unpleasant.  As I said, I’m not big into barleywines.  I like to have one or two around for when I want one heavy beer, but they aren’t everyday beers.  The oak flavoring on the end is really pleasant and welcoming.  Perhaps it’s what helps me enjoy this one more than some other barleywines.

With the Old Dominion being purchased by any part of a big beer company, I’m sure some people will immediately try to stay away from them.  It’s like when a band signs to a small record label you later find out is backed by Atlantic or some other major record label.  Did they sell out?  Whether you think they did or not, this is definitely a good beer.  It certainly isn’t for the faint at heart, but if you like a strong beer, give this one a try for sure.

Teacher Grade: B



  1. It’s interesting how there are all these avenues BMC are taking into the world of craft beer. It’s very similar to the moves made by major labels into indie rock, particularly in the 90’s.

    • Yeah that’s what I sort of referenced right at the end of the review. You really do start to see some connections for sure.

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