Blue Collar Brew Review – Sam Adams Griffin’s Bow Barleywine Style Ale

Limited time made for a short Friday beer run. A quick trip to Four Seasons netted me a four-pack of DFH 90 Minute IPA for the quiet time after work. Saturday’s selection for review would have to be done the next day.

I decided to visit again, for the second time, the new kid in town. A new liquor store had their grand opening about three months ago and they were building awareness in the area. Westside Liquors positioned themselves in a duplex building shared with Arby’s just the other side of the common wall. The easy-access road to the front of the building was still under construction making access to the establishment a bit out of the way via the rear entrance.

Inside, the place looked modern. Hip, even. The flatblack ceiling had the ventilation exposed and painted accordingly, with duck decoys and miscellaneous decorations surrounding the shelves above the coolers and perimeter.

Their inventory of beer, wine and spirits filled the shelves which were situated at oblique angles to the main entrance. Perfect for browsing. Plenty of room between the shelves meant that you didn’t have to get out of the way of passing patrons.

Their craft beer section had some selections not available at the other Morris beer stores. The Chicago Beer Company had two representatives on the shelf, one of which was Windy City Wheat, a white ale that grabbed my interest. The young lady behind the counter used her phone to call up the ABV of this beer by request (5.0%.) I thanked the young lady and continued perusing. 5% was not in my repertoire for this Saturday night. Where else does one get Internet searches done by request? Especially at a beer store.

I happened across a small Sam Adams section mixed in with the bombers on the top shelf. Griffin’s Bow caught my eye, a barleywine. The lady said that these beers were quite popular since they’ve opened and that a lot of people liked the taste.

After another scan of the shelf and the cooler, I decided that Griffin’s Bow would be an excellent choice for a Saturday review, based on the style and the ABV. Something different for the readers and for me.

A good preparatory supper had me in the mood for some some strong beer and some two-fingered computer typing. With the requisite snifter in hand, I proceeded to the Manly Garage and set up shop in a 75° environment. Nice.

I grabbed the first bomber and uncapped it. The pour gave me a lot of optimism. It looked great. I hoped it would taste as good as it looked.

The beer had a very amber color. Not yellow-amber, but orange-amber if you follow that logic at all. The head was majestic, coming up to about two inches in the warm glass. Carbonation was an 80/20 mixture of micro and medium bubbles. The aroma had a nice malty scent, almost sweet to the nostrils.

The body of this beer was on the thick side. Not like a stout but more like a… well, like a barleywine. These first sips came up short in the taste department but the alcohol manifested early on with a slight heat trace that ran down the gullet. We’ll have to give this one some time.

A few weeks ago, I had Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine and I remember how bold the hops were in that beer. In this Griffin’s Bow, however, the hop flavor is at a minimum. As a matter of fact, halfway into this first glassful, the malt flavors are at a minimum as well.

Now this Griffin beer was Batch #2, rated at 10.0% alcohol. Batch #1, I assume was the higher 11.45% ABV. Should I feel disappointed in the alcohol zone? We’ll have to see.

I had expected a beer, a barleywine no less, to come out of the gate bold and in my face with malty flavors and a bit of sweetness. It’s a bit disappointing that with all the viscous mouthfeel that this beer has, there’s hardly anything else to back it up. I’m wondering if the BBC (Boston Beer Co.) was trying to pull a Dogfish Head exotic beer experiment with this one. Two big things

Smudge pots

I’ll remember about this beer are the viscosity of the liquid in the mouth and the alcohol smudge pot in my gut. On the label, in a small script font, were the descriptions of all the parts:

Malts: Two-row Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland pale malts and Paul’s caramalt. Aged in toasted oak.
Hops: Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and Zeus hops.

Sounds exotic, eh? But what the hell are all those parts? And who is Paul that has a malt named after him? Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland sounds like a law firm. I had never heard of any of those ingredients with the exception of Zeus hops. IBUs on this beer have to be in the low range or else concealed by the insipid but big malt body.

Back to the taste. Into the second glassful and it was more of the same. Some hop flavors tried to surface but were suffocated by the tasteless malt body. There was absolutely no hint of oak in any sip that this beer drinker had. Sorry Jim, no coconut, no lichee nuts or grapefruit. Some tartness was experienced later on, but that was unidentifiable whether it be from the malts, the hops or the alcohol.

I wanted the beer to be so much better than this.

Alas, the one big brewery that I usually counted on to deliver in the taste category was Sam Adams. Witness Utopias, their Imperial White Ale and Double Bock. And the always welcomed Christmastime sample pack which includes Old Fezziwig and Chocolate Bock.








Griffin’s Bow perhaps qualifies in the BJCP style guideline for a barleywine style ale in either Category 19B or 19C. The big malt body and the high alcohol are certainly characteristics of the style and were tasted in this beer. But this guy, yours truly, wanted more flavor that could have been so easily added in the brewing process. Perhaps some orange or nectarine or maybe a bolder hop profile. Of course, your mileage may vary. Palates are different among humans on this planet and some guys (all three of them) may rave about the “quintessential taste” of this beer. Not this guy. There’s just something sadly lacking.

8 bucks a bomber for Sam Adams Griffin’s Bow is really nothing to complain about and neither is the 10% alcohol it delivers. It delivers in quantity and style. It lacks a bit in taste. I’m thinking that maybe, next year, Sam comes out with Batch #3 in their single batch series. Perhaps weighing in at 9.2% but with a decidedly more romantic taste cross-section. One that you could fall in love with.

The SixPackTech ratings for Sam Adams Griffin’s Bow Barleywine Style Ale are:

Taste: A steak with no potato, no vegetable and no A1.
Smoothness: Nondescript. A little alcohol heat going down but that’s about it.
Drinkability: When you’re done, you’re done.
Bang for the buck: Can’t beat 8 bucks.
ABV: 10.0%
Paid price: $7.99 per bottle.
Brewer’s website: Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Kinda clear. (sniff) It smells like… beer, nothing specific. (sip) Hmm. It’s not bad… (sip) It’s a little tangy. Kinda like nectarine orangey but not too much. (sip) A little sweet even. Better than I would have expected. (Maybe this is a chick beer… Whoa! The implications!)

BeerAdvocate rates.
RateBeer rates.

Jim Koch describes Griffin’s Bow

Forrest Griffin

Babe with bow






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5 Responses to Blue Collar Brew Review – Sam Adams Griffin’s Bow Barleywine Style Ale

  1. fretwalker says:

    Frank, you would’ve liked this one a lot more a few years ago, before you became such a hophead! (LOL)
    As barleywines go, Griffin’s Bow is surely more English than American, might even be closer to a Scottish Ale/Wee Heavy, to my palate.
    Like you, I’d hoped for more.

  2. fcgrabo says:

    Hophead? Me? You are the one that introduced me to IPAs a few years ago, urging me to try DFH’s 90 Minute IPA.

    You sir, I blame/thank you.

  3. fretwalker says:

    Mea culpa/you’re welcome!

  4. Bols says:

    Finally, a review that tells me to ignore a beer! Usually after reading your review, I can’t get the money out of my pocket quick enough. Thanks for biting the bullet on this one.

  5. fcgrabo says:

    I drink this stuff so that you don’t have to.

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