For this week’s pairing, we’re trying Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale - a classic, hearty, winter beer - alongside an old-school favorite indica strain, Mango. Together, the deeply sedative effects of the Mango and the high hop and alcohol content of the beer offer a heavy dose of intense relaxation, perfect for late night insomnia.
I’m not normally a fan of “hop-bomb” IPAs – hops often tastes extremely bitter to me. However, hops is a powerful herbal medicine, with relaxing, sedative properties of its own, entirely separate from those of alcohol. If you have anxiety or insomnia, hops is in itself worth looking into. Of course, if your taste buds are hyper-sensitive to the bitterness of hops the way mine are, you will likely have a hard time enjoying the hop-crazy double, triple, imperial IPAs that have flooded the American craft beer market - especially on the west coast.
This is where Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale comes in. This heavy brew uses massive quantities of whole-cone Pacific Northwest grown hops – and it is indeed bitter. However, instead of letting this bitterness stand on its own like so many IPAs, I find Bigfoot to offer a balanced, if heavy, taste profile that rounds out that bitterness. Bittersweet, hearty, and heavy malt flavors compete with citrusy hops for your attention. With 9.6 percent alcohol, the balancing power of the hops is on full display – taking the sharp edge off of the chemical alcohol taste. For me, this is the role hops is supposed to play in beer in the first place – part of the team, not necessarily the star player.
Barleywine is another historical style recently revived by American craft breweries. Called barleywine because of its higher alcohol content and strong flavors, it is meant to be sipped like wine - this style hails from Britain. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, brewers such as Bass & Co. Brewery still used a brewing process called the Parti-Gyle method, in which a single mash was used for a range of beers produced. The first ‘wort’ (liquid extracted from the mashing process) from the mash were used for the strongest beers, such as stouts, with the following worts used for increasingly light beers. Bass No. 1 used the first wort to make a strong beer that came to be advertised as barleywine, in part to win over wine drinkers to drink English beer instead of French wine.
Mango is an indica strain that is considerably older than most of the popular non-landrace strains today, having been popular in some form since the early 60s. It remained unchanged until 1991, when it was bred with the Dutch hybrid KC 33 to produce the most commonly found version today. A strong, deep, pure indica, Mango is widely prized for its sedative effects, as well as for its famously large buds, which can grow up to a foot and a half long with the width of a grapefruit. The plant also often develops a distinct reddish purple hue.
The long lasting effect is well-loved for its ability to relieve pain and insomnia, with patients reporting particular success in regards relieving back pain. For my own insomnia, few if any other strains have ever offered the kind of instant knockout relief that Mango does. With other sleep strains, I sometimes have to wait for the tail end of the effects before I start yawning and feeling tired – with Mango, I’m ready to lie down 10 to 15 minutes after I start smoking.
As such, alongside beer with almost ten percent alcohol and plentiful hops, this pairing is not really intended as an upbeat, social, party, sort of pairing. This for nothing short of absolute, pure, maximum relaxation at the very end of the day.
Unsurprisingly, Mango is also known for its sweet tropical fruit taste. In oil form, it also has earthy, hashy, soil notes on the exhale.
In terms of taste, this pairing commands attention with stark contrasts, in which the sweet earthiness of the Mango serves as a counterweight to the hearty flavors of the beer. In turn, the hop flavor balances the sweetness of the Mango, and the malty tastes work together with the earthy pungency of the smoke. With aromas and tastes ranging from sweet to bitter, and earthy to alcohol, with heavy alcohol, hops sedative, and heavy indica properties, this pairing is one for the veterans among us. It may not snow in most of California, but this cozy, warming pairing is still great for cool winter nights.