Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Experience At The 10th Annual Hard Liver Festival

Yesterday, I attended the 10th Annual Hard Liver Festival at Brouwer's Cafe.  It's the biggest two-day annual barleywine event in Seattle.  There were 57 different barleywines all on tap, as well as a few special menu items to enjoy.

The doors opened just a bit late this year, at 11:15AM, and Brouwer's filled up quickly with barleywine fans eager to sample this year's offerings.  As with every year at this event, there was quite a line.

I was fortunate to participate as a judge at this year's Hard Liver, and sampled about 11 different barleywines during the first-round of judging.  The winners at this year's Hard Liver Festival were:

#1 - Lost Abbey Brandy Angel's Share '11
#2 - Firestone Walker Abacus '11
#3 - Black Raven - Old Birdbrain '10
Honorable Mention - Lost Abbey Bourbon Angel's Share '11

Matt Bonney Announcing The Winners

I managed to try all of the winning barleywines, whose winning places were quite well deserved.  You may notice that all the winners this year were barrel-aged barleywines, which are some of my favorites.  The wood and bourbon (or Brandy in the case of the winner) notes wonderfully compliment the malty, dark-fruit, chocolaty, spicy and other flavors and present barleywines of unparralleled complexity.  When done right, as these winners definitely were, barrel-aged barleywines approach what I would consider beer nirvana.  They are simply a joy to drink.  Beyond the winners, the other standouts for me included:

Maui Brewing Heaven and Hell Bourbon Barrel '10:
This one had a pleasing caramel/crystal malt character with some cognac notes, a medium body and a deep orange/copper hue.  I actually ordered a larger, 6oz pour of Heaven and Hell as my last barleywine of the day.

Speakeasy Old Godfather '09:
Old Godfather had a nice citrus hop nose and flavor, with a complex malt character and a clean, citrusy finish.

Port Townsend Barleywine '10:
Port Townsend's offering had a wonderful citrusy/piney hop aroma and slightly spicy character, with a solid but not overpowering malt sweetness to back it up and a clean, slightly citrusy finish. 

Emilisse Jack Daniels Aged Barleywine '11:
I enjoyed this one at the Barleywine Bacchanal as well, but the version Brouwer's had on tap for Hard Liver was Jack Daniels barrel-aged.  It still had the light and slightly citrusy aroma and pilsner malt type character I remembered from Bev. Place, but this time was complimented by the Jack Daniels barrel-aging.  Delicious. 

Barleywines & Some Hard Liver Frites

All in all, I managed to sample over 20 of the 57 barleywines offered at this year's Hard Liver Festival.  Thankfully, I started things off with a big breakfast at Beth's Cafe and paced myself carefully.  During the festival, I had a choice of most of Brouwer's regular menu, with a few special additions for Hard Liver including:

Hard Liver Frites:
Medium pommes frites dusted in dry malt, herbs and sea salt with a side of barleywine-bacon mayo.

Hard Liver Charcuterie Plate:
"Hard liver pate" barleywine and cherry infused pork liver pate, house-cured salami, crackers, stone ground mustard, cornichons. 

Hard Liver Mussels:
Steamed mussels with chorizo, shallots, smoked paprika and tomatoes in a spiced barleywine-cream sauce. 

Chef's Cut:
Kobe beef, barley, and barleywine stew, roasted baby carrots and red potatoes, puff pastry.

Barleywine Cheesecake:
With Chambord-cherry sauce.

I opted for the charcuterie plate.  The pork liver pate and house-cured salami were both delicious.  I didn't need a whole lot after my big Beth's breakfast, but it helped break things up a bit and refresh my palate between different barleywines. 

This Year's Winner: Lost Abbey Brandy Angel's Share '11

This year's Hard Liver Festival may be over now, but barleywine season is still going strong.  Local bars and taverns have been putting more barleywines on tap, so get out there and see what you can find.  If you can make it to Brouwer's Cafe in the next day or two, they may still have a few left on tap as well before they run out.  I will definitely be back at Brouwer's again next year, as I have ever year, for Hard Liver 2013!   

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.


  1. First, thanks for writing this informative post about the annual Hard Liver Fest.

    You say you ordered a larger 6oz pour for your final beer. is this to say the regular barleywine pours @ Brouwer's were less than 6oz or are you commenting on the size you ordered vs. the size of your tastes as a judge?

    I ask because Brouwer's is the only Seattle establishment to consistently astound me with less beer and higher prices every year.

  2. At each Hard Liver fest, you can order your barleywines in 3oz, 6oz and 12oz sizes. I order most in the 3oz size, so I can try as many different ones as possible.

    So when I said I got the 'larger' 6oz size, that wast just my choice as a bigger one than 3oz as my last one of the day.

    I'm not sure what you mean about Brouwer's having "less beer". Their selection is actually quite large and always changing up.

    As for higher prices, most 'higher octane' beers always carry a higher price (for a smaller pour), as do beers that are more 'rare', which Brouwer's seems to get many of.