One of the more sought after beers for the last 3 years, King Henry was a special release for Goose Island when it debuted in 2011. This English style barleywine was aged in the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23yr Bourbon barrels that previously held Bourbon County Rare. By the time this beer was ready for aging, the barrels were already 25 years old. Gallons upon gallons wound up on the brewery floor as some barrels leaked and ultimately failed. The barrels that held true crafted a wonderful creation that became one of the best barrel aged barleywines to date.

There has been a lot of chatter about the age of this beer, when or if it reached its peak, or how long you should really be holding on to it. The label states the beer will develop over the course of five years in the bottle. The brewers responsible for making it say it was best and ready when it came out of the barrel. Others will say that it is dropping off and you're a fool if you still have unopened bottles. There is no real, true answer. You didn't have to open it immediately, but you also shouldn't wait a decade to open your last one either.

After three full years in the bottle, bottled in October of 2011, King Henry still has a great aroma to it, but it has indeed changed. The smell is sweet with a lot of caramelized sugars, sweet malt, and a decent amount of toffee. A big portion of the aroma is taken up by lighter fruits and candied figs. The smell is more straight forward and doesn't seem as complex as it was before.

The flavor is still wonderful, but not nearly as dimensional as it has been prior. The remnants of the Bourbon County Rare are diminishing and the true English barleywine base is coming through more. There is less cocoa and roasted grains present, and the toffee and caramel are more prominent. The barrel character is still recognizable and the alcohol is starting to show. The candied fig and fruits from the nose are fairly dominant in the flavor.

While this beer still drinks very well, the harmonious balance of flavors that previously existed is beginning to muddle. Much like lasagna tastes great right out of the oven, there is something to be said about enjoying it the next day after allowing the ingredients to settle and blend. The metamorphic change of King Henry has been a delicious one to experience. Is it "falling off" like some say? Not at all. Is the beer developing as stated it would by the brewer? Quite so.


Our CELLARED series aims to explore the world of aging beer and sharing the effects of time in the bottle. Bottles have been kept away from light and at temperatures between 44-60 degrees. Individual experiences may vary depending on storage environments.

Posted on October 24, 2014 .