The name brings to mind other beers of the like—Old Bawdy (Pike Brewing), Old Knucklhead (BridgePort Brewing)—but Old Scoundrel Barelywine Style Ale from Sound Brewery in Poulsbo, Washington, offers plenty to set it apart from other craft barleywines. Strong and sticky sweet, Old Scoundrel lives up to its namesake’s penchant for mischief and delivers a particular beer experience for both the seasoned and fledgling beer drinker alike.
Barleywine is a venerated beer style out of England, and English versions of the brew are often sweeter, less hoppy, and less boozy than their modern American counterparts. This is where Old Scoundrel walks the line between the old and the new—true to Sound’s motto included on their bottle, “Tradition Liberated”—as it certainly is a barleywine on the sweeter side and has relatively low IBUs but boasts a whopping 10.4 percent alcohol by volume.
On first pour, Old Scoundrel is not particularly active, tumbling into the glass with a minimal amount of white head sitting on top of a perfect orange amber. There’s plenty of activity below the surface, however. If you give Old Scoundrel some light you can easily appreciate swirling clouds against a mild amount of lucidity at the edges of the glass. The impression is of some mystic stone—appropriate, perhaps, for a beer style hailing from Albion.
Old Scoundrel’s nose is where the first whiff of the beer’s true character comes out. The sugar content is apparent before the first sip, and there is the faint heat of alcohol detectable in the nostrils. This said, there are other inviting aroma characteristics as well: The nose is malt forward, with healthy doses of caramel and toffee, often characteristic of English barleywines. There is also an essence of molasses and a vague fruitiness, which reports a bit more distinctly later. Overall, Old Scoundrel’s nose is quite enticing, even if you don’t know quite yet what you’re excited for.
The first sip is were Old Scoundrel truly earns its name—deceptively subtle until the finish, when the mouth is left to decipher what it has just experienced. The aftertaste of the first sip, however, immediately lays the building blocks of Old Scoundrel’s major characteristics: the sweetness in the nose, for example, was not a bluff; there is soon an apparent stickiness with notes of brown sugar coating the mouth and tongue—you may find yourself gob-smacking right off the bat.
A more surprising characteristic of Old Scoundrel, which comes out after the first sip, is a distinct hoppiness. With IBUs advertised at 40, it is surprising to find the flavor of hops on the finish so explicit. This could be due to the use of Cascade hops, as advertised on the bottle. But while the obviousness of the hops is surprising, this is well balanced against the malt and sweetness. And now Old Scoundrel’s full profile is unshrouded: an inviting and reserved demeanor gives way to a big-mouthed beer with plenty to say and leaving you with plenty to think about.
As Old Scoundrel continues, we learn more details: The alcohol content takes hold quickly and leaves a background mouthfeel similar to good vodka. The fruitiness detectable earlier in the nose now sidles in around the cheeks and edges of the mouth in the reminiscence of dried apricots. The promise of caramel and toffee in the nose is also made good on. A faint nuttiness slowly appears, complimenting the malt, possibly due to the build up of the beer’s sugar content. And the hoppiness remains consistent, settling at the back of the tongue, providing a base flavor to return to if one gets lost in the myriad of other flavors present.
In the end, Sound Brewery’s Old Scoundrel stands on its own, a defiant individual combining what we love about the old and the new. Enjoy this beer on a crisp spring evening around a fire with friends, or recline in your favorite chair with your favorite book and portion it into a brandy glass until you reach that warm, contented feeling of comfort and satisfaction. However, you enjoy Old Scoundrel Barleywine Style Ale from Sound Brewery, enjoy it honestly.