Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Bare Tree

Two Brothers Brewing Company
Warrenville, IL

Style: Barley Wine

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
By now you probably know that Nigel is a huge sports buff, and you may recall from my summer reviews that I live for baseball, particularly my beloved Chokers … er, uh Brewers. Well, as a beer-loving baseball fan, Nigel is making the following offer: anyone who can prove to me beyond a doubt that they had the Colorado Rockies in the World Series prior to the season will get a lifetime supply of the craft beer of his or her choice provided by yours truly. I’m serious here, but you can’t b.s. me, because I need PROOF. Wow—who’d of thunk it? I’ve really enjoyed watching the Rockies incredible run over the past month, and look forward to a World Series that doesn’t involve any team from New York or California.

My latest review is for Two Brothers Brewing Co.’s Bare Tree, an Artisan Series brew that comes out yearly and appears to be a hybrid barley wine/Belgian ale/wheat wine/weiss beer/whateveryouwannacallit. But before I begin, I’d like to rant for a bit about the Great American Beer Fest, which wrapped up its latest edition recently in Denver. After all, a Nigel review just isn’t complete without me blathering on for hours about random topics in order to bore my readers to death. It’s what I do.

While I understand the thinking behind the GABF, which is sponsored by the Brewers Association of America, I have issues with the execution. The point is to serve as a showcase for ALL American beer, be it the largest macro or the smallest micro, thus making it America’s largest brewfest. However, how seriously can I take an event that: 1) gladly allows the Big Three to compete, despite the fact that the goal of the B-M-C trifecta is to DESTROY good beer in this country (and, isn’t the idea of the Brewers Association to promote American CRAFT beer?); 2) creates categories to fit eighty billion styles, meaning that Miller Lite can win a gold medal by default, as it’s the only beer in the category of “American Lite Macro Beer-Type Beverage Brewed by the Second Largest Brewer in the Country Headquartered on State Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin”; and 3) awards gold medals to brews like Pabst (who hadn’t won anything since that damn blue ribbon in 1895), Miller High Life, and, dear lord … MILWAUKEE’S BEST?

Please, keep the shit beer and good beer separate. That’s right—Nigel is an activist for beer segregation. You want an American macro-brew festival to rival the many craft beer festivals held yearly around the country, then go for it—it’s only fair (or try the World Beer Cup). Just don’t pretend as though macro-brewed swill is as good, if not better than, the thousands of brews that are painstakingly crafted by the hundreds of quality craft brewers around the country. As much as I typically support the efforts of the Brewers Association, I’m very disappointed in this particular event.

As for Two Brothers Brewing Co. Bare Tree Barley Wine Style Weiss Beer, Vintage 2006 (whew, that’s a mouthful!), it’s a good example of why American macros can NEVER compete with the ingenuity and quality of fine American craft brewers. Officially labeled as a “wheat wine” (is that a category at the GABF?), this is another case of a finely crafted brew that for the most part defies any specific categorization. My thoughts are this: if it tastes equal parts Belgian ale, weiss beer, and barley wine, then it has no category—it’s just a quality brew, and we should leave it at that. To Hell with always having to categorize things—why can’t we just be? Why do we all have to be politicians and try to put everything into its pre-determined place in the universe?

Bare Tree is unique to say the least. The pour is a bit fizzy, revealing a dark orange/apricot colored brew with a fair amount of sedimentation and very little head retention. A mild lace dances at the very edge of the glass, but all in all, this isn’t overly lively. The distinctive, zippy fragrance is what first made me think “Belgian” more than “hefeweizen” or “barley wine”. It’s a typical Belgian aroma through and through, led by sweet banana, grapefruit, and orange zest, followed by that ever-familiar spiciness of cloves and coriander, along with a touch of yeast. A nice, sugary caramel maltiness serves as a backdrop, which would place it more in the “barley wine” spectrum.

The flavor is complex and quite good. The first taste leaves no doubt in your mind—this is a Belgian ale. However, with each sip other characteristics come through. The initial flavor is banana and zest, with the spicy citrus tones that typically characterize Belgians. However, a noticeable amount of sweet, caramel malt makes it a bit more syrupy than a Belgian, much more along the lines of a barley wine. Still, this is far too light in body for a BW. Is it a wheat beer along the lines of a hefewiezen? Not particularly, as it’s far too dark and powerful for that. It truly is unclassifiable. It appears Two Brothers used Belgian yeast to make this, but using Belgian yeast does not necessarily make this a Belgian ale. Medium bodied, Bare Tree goes down relatively smooth, though with a distinct zip of both spice and alcohol. I couldn’t find an official listing of ABV, but I’m assuming it’s in the 10-11 percent range. Since this comes in a 26-ounce bottle, I’d recommend sharing it with a friend, or sipping it over the course of an evening to prevent any unwanted drunkenness (or perhaps chug it to cause much-wanted drunkenness). A quality brew indeed, and one that crosses over into a number of genres.

Like many artisan-style “wines,” Bare Tree can be cellared for a number of years. As has often been the case with his “wines,” Nigel has the patience of a teenage boy about to set foot in a porn shop for the first time, so I opened my 2006 edition right away. With age, I’m guessing the alcoholic zip would temper a bit, and the sugary malt may become more of a player over the Belgian spiciness, but that’s just my theory. I’d suggest buying two bottles, one for now and one for later, to compare. My bottle was only $5.99, so it’s a reasonable price for a quality craft brew.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 25, 2007.
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