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Captain Badass Barleywine

Can you hear that? Off…. In the distance….

A trumpet calls: Triumphant. Exultant. Jubilant.

It heralds an arrival.

You see, our long, national nightmare is finally over.

Sawyer’s Swap, our American Barleywine, is back.

IMG_3785The last time we brewed and bottled Sawyer’s Swap was back in 2016.

“My first week here was when we bottled that last batch off,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “We have used it a bit since then, though: Sawyer’s Swap was the base beer for the first Boughs of Barley back in 2016, aged in ex-Bourbon barrels and then bottle-conditioned. Bringing it back was literally just a desire to bring back an awesome old brand for a little something special for our fans — and ourselves, of course!”

And, we hate to break this to you, but a canned version of Sawyer’s Swap fell victim to the government shutdown. We were this close to getting the labels approved — they’d been back and forth at the TTB a few times — when the government closed up shop and went on hiatus. Because of that, we decided to cut back on the amount we’d planned to bring to our fans, and, instead, we’re releasing just a small amount on draft.

So, what, exactly, is a barleywine? We’re sure you’ve heard of them. You may even have gotten the chance to try one here or there. If you were lucky, you picked up a 4-pack of Sawyer’s Swap bottles back in 2016.

“#BarleywineIsLife,” says Innovation Director Brian Hink.

Aside from that, barleywines get their name from their high, wine-like alcohol content — sometimes as high as 15%. But that’s where the similarities end.

“Originally from Britain, Barleywines have expanded all around the world now, but they’re most popular in the US these days,” Jimmy explains. Jimmy spent a few years in the UK at school and working and had only seen a few British barleywines.

“These are beers that are all about the malt,” he continues, “but instead of using a heap of darker malts for a big roasted and chocolate flavor — like stouts such as Last Hurrah or porters like Honey Porter — Barleywines use a bunch of English Crystal or German Caramel malts, colored specialty malts with notes of toffee, caramel, a hint of nuttiness, and some dark fruit character.”

These crystal and caramel malts have been kilned to varying degrees to caramelize the starches and create a range of sweeter flavors, depending on how long the variety was kilned and at what temperature. We used five different malts in Sawyer’s Swap.

“Using this much variety is where the complex flavor comes from,” Jimmy says, “from big toffee notes, to a touch of nuttiness, and even a slight hint of dark chocolate and fruits. Like the best Imperial Russian stouts, a good Barleywine requires a wide swath of malt varieties to get the elaborate flavor profile.”

Elaborate, but balanced.

“It’s not too sickly-sweet from the high finishing gravity or malty notes, not too bitter,” Brian says, “with gentle hop aromatics, and most importantly a clean fermentation character. This is a big beer and a lot of healthy yeasts are needed to see this thing to the finish line.”

It’s a lot of malt. This brew used the equivalent of 2,785 pounds of malt for a 30-barrel batch.

“It’s actually so much, we can’t brew a full 30-barrel batch like we normally do,” Jimmy says. “It won’t all fit in the mash tun, so instead we brew a slightly smaller 25 bbl batch with 2,320 pounds of malt.”


To put that in perspective, Coastal Evacuation uses 2,125 pounds of malt for a 30-barrel batch, whereas Last Hurrah uses 3,610 pounds for a 30-barrel batch. (And we could only brew 15 barrels of Last Hurrah because that’s an enormous amount of malt.)

With all of these sugars from the malts, barleywines end up with a very high alcohol content, which adds to the flavor profile.

“The higher alcohols, sometimes called fusel alcohols, are what give barleywines that boozy, warming flavor,” Jimmy says. “Once fermentation is finished, barleywines also benefit greatly with some extra aging time, allowing all of those flavors to meld together into something that is very complex, with various levels from the first sniff to well after swallowing a big gulp. It’s definitely a style that one is meant to take their time with, so no keg stands, please.”

Ours is an American Barleywine, while English versions have much less bitterness to them. But we Americans love our hops.

“American renditions go all out and add more hops for a bit more bitterness and a nice hoppy addition on the finish,” Jimmy says.

So, to balance out the malty sweetness with a firm bitterness, we added Bravo for bittering and a huge whirlpool hop charge of Zythos.

“We used Zythos because it has a great blend of citrus and fruity flavors that will complement the dark fruits of the beer,” Jimmy says, “as well as a pine character that goes great when added with this big malty beast.”

On the IBU scale, it scores rather high — it theoretically clocks in at 96, which is nearly maximum bitterness. However, with everything else that’s going on in this brew, it’s by no means a bitter hop-bomb. It simply gives it another layer of complexity.

Yet, this is a brew that’s meant for sharing. Brian’s going to make a stew with it — “then I’m gonna drink more Swap while eating said hearty stew” — but everyone else has plans to share.

“Barleywines always came in big bottles, like a Magnum (22oz) or the 750mL champagne-style bottles, so they were always meant to be something one shared with a group of friends,” Jimmy says. “That’s how I imagine enjoying this beer, sitting in the Tasting Room with the Crew here, mulling over a reasonably-sized glass of this sweet malty beast, taking my time, enjoying every sip, talking about stupid things.”

We never talk about stupid things, Jimmy. All of our discourse is high-browed and erudite. To wit:

Swap-e1456331291912-284x300Well before our brand redesign, the bottle for Sawyer’s Swap bore the haughty likeness of one Captain Henry Washington Sawyer, somehow looking like an impossible combination of Christian Bale and Napoleon.

Before the Civil War began, Henry Sawyer was happily living in Cape May with his wife and three children, working as a carpenter. However, when President Lincoln sent out a call for volunteers in the Civil War, Captain Sawyer high-tailed it from Cape May to Trenton, becoming one of the very first to sign up. Throughout the course of the war, Captain Sawyer was wounded in battle numerous times:

  1. His horse was shot out from under him, crushing his right leg. He was pinned under a dying horse.
  2. He was shot in the stomach and the bullet lodged near his spine.
  3. He was shot through the thigh at the Battle of Brandy Station.
  4. Later in that same battle, he was shot through the freakin’ face.
  5. In the same battle, someone shot his horse again — different horse, obviously — and, in the horse’s dying moments, he bucked Captain Sawyer free, knocking him unconscious. Bear in mind that he still had a hole in his leg and one in his face but was somehow still riding his horse.

So, Captain “Badass” Henry Sawyer lay dying facedown in the muck at the Battle of Brandy Station — though, considering that most of his face was missing, it was hard to tell. He was captured by two rebel soldiers, and his wounds were treated. These wounds should have killed Captain Sawyer, but, nonetheless, he lived.

The Confederacy decided to kill him, anyway.

You see, the Union side had recently executed two Confederate captains, and, you know, tit for tat. Because that’s how war goes.

The commandant of Libby Prison, where Captain Sawyer was imprisoned, was told to pick two Union captains to be killed in retaliation. They drew two names out of a gray, Confederate-looking hat: Captain Flinn and, because that’s the kind of luck this guy had, Captain Sawyer.

Thankfully, no execution date was set, so that gave Captain Sawyer’s wife enough time to write letters to anyone with a mailing address and the slightest bit of pull in the American government to let them know about Captain Sawyer’s plight.

Apparently, it worked.

IMG_3715At the same battle that Captain Sawyer was taken prisoner, the Union side snagged a relatively big fish: the son of General Robert E. Lee. As the son of one of the most important generals on their side, the Confederacy wanted him back.

But, like when you used to trade off your Chunky bars at Halloween at five for a Reese Cup, this wasn’t going to be a one-for-one trade. The Union side got back General Neal Dow — the highest-ranking Union soldier in Confederate hands –, Flinn, and our fearless Captain Henry Sawyer.

So, Captain Sawyer came back to Cape May to rest up a bit and then returned to battle.

Okay. So, to sum up: four wounds, two dead horses, nine months in captivity, eight months facing execution, a quick vacation in Cape May… and back to war. Where he was wounded two more times.

Bad. Ass.

When the war was finally over — the Union side was victorious, by the way — Captain “Badass” Henry Sawyer came back to Cape May to become a hotelier. As one does. He built the Chalfonte Hotel — probably by smelting down the bullets that were still lodged in his body and using them as nails — and lived out his days by the sea before dying “suddenly” of heart failure at the age of 64.

This is exactly the kind of guy for whom you’d want to name a badass barleywine. And we’re thrilled we can bring it back.

So, swing down to the Tasting Room and grab a growler fill to share with friends. Then, raise a glass in honor of Captain Henry Sawyer. He totally deserves it.