East End Gratitude is one of those storied, old-school, American-style barleywines that throws new money tickers for a bit of a loop. The original vintage in 2005, the now infamous paper-wrapped crow label with a red waxed cap, was certainly well received and those of you old enough to remember stuff like Beer Advocate Top 100 lists and the vaunted White Wale list know what’s up, but the new guard will question the liberal use of hops (what is this, a malty IPA?), the low-ish ABV (only 11%?), and the conspicuous absence of barrel-aging.
Oh sure, Pittsburg’s East End Brewing eventually broke down and started releasing barrel aged versions, but the mystique of those original paper-wrapped, non-BA vintages lives on, even to this day. I’ve managed a few tastes of the stuff over the years (including a decade old taster of the 2009 that had held up remarkably well), and I’ve always enjoyed it. When I finally got a bottle to myself, I was surprised at how well that throwback character suited me. Don’t get me wrong, a BBA English-style Barleywine is a thing of beauty, but there’s a place for this sort of thing too, even if (or perhaps because) we don’t see it’s kind very often anymore.
I didn’t get one of them swanky paper-wrapped versions – as far as I know, this pandemic-infused batch didn’t get that treatment – but it’s still got the violet wax and purple birdie on the label. They’re different every year, though this looks to be a repeat of the 2013 vintage look.
This is just your basic, no nonsense American style barleywine. First made in 2005, I’m guessing liberal use of old-school new-world hops like Cascade and Chinook. This is one of the few hoppy beers that actually manages to age well, but it drinks with a nice bitter kick when fresh. I suspect the 10 year old Gratitude I had a taste of a while back was a bit over the hill, but the faded hop character actually suits this beer (my instinct is that it drinks great, maybe even better than fresh at 3-4 years). Let’s look at a fresh one:
East End Gratitude – Pours a medium brown color with amber highlights and half a finger of very light tan color head that sticks around for a bit. Smells sweet, with a heaping helping of piney, resinous hops, a hint of citrus, candied raisins. Taste starts off with waves of rich caramel and toffee, raisins and figs popping in for a fine hello in the middle, with those hops only making themselves known towards the finish, with that same piney, resinous character and balancing bitterness. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated but tight and appropriate for the style, not exactly dry, but the bitter hop finish does a good job balancing things. Overall, the best non-barrel-aged barleywine I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 11.2% ABV bottled (22 ounce, violet wax). Drank out of a snifter on 9/26/21. Vintage 2020 (but they date vintages from brew day, it was released on June 26, 2021).
You’d think that I’d have made the trip out to Pittsburg for Gratitude Day at some point and gotten ahold of them vintage paper wrapped birdies, but I’ve never managed it. One of these days I’ll snag a vintage bottle and review it for you. In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with this cellar full of barrel-aged English-style garbage.