To all the microbreweries out there: OK, I get it. You can put Cascade hops into any beer style you want.
Not content to fill the shelves with thousands of American pale ale and American India pale ale beers that taste like pine and grapefruit, you are now making every style in the world taste like that. These beers should have a label on them that reads, "Rated PG."
But know this: You are not breaking new ground. You are not being hip. Three thousand breweries before you have made PG-tasting porters, barleywines, weissbiers, imperial stouts, Belgian ales, etc.
I would much rather see brewmasters strive to the pinnacle of their craft and make a weizenbock as good as Aventinus. A barleywine as good as Old Nick. A Flanders red as good as Duchesse de Bourgogne.
The one-note appeal of PG hops wore off on me 15 years ago. The pervasive use of them today is turning the term "craft beer" into a generic reference such as "mass-produced American lagers."
What brought on this tirade was the purchase of yet another "barleywine-style ale" that fails to deliver on every aspect of the style in favor of bitterness and the PG hop flavor.
If there is anything a barleywine is not, it is bitter and hoppy. It is a style highlighting the complex aroma and flavor characteristics that develop when brewing with a large amount of malt. It is marked by strong notes of caramel, toffee, vanilla and sometimes a bit of butterscotch. Some light fruit notes might poke through.
It is a delightful style that few North American brewers make. Oh, they make what they call barleywines, but their results are so off the mark they should just call the beer a strong or old ale and get it over with.
The head on Solstice d'hiver is wonderful - not rocky, but an inviting creaminess that leaves dots of lacing on the glass. The aroma of the 10.2-percent ABV beer is mostly pine and grapefruit. How original.
The malt flavor is generic - very little caramel or toffee flavor - and that is quickly annihilated by grapefruit hops and a bitter chalkiness that lingers in the mouth for a long time. Anyone who loves American hops will probably enjoy it.
What is frustrating is that Solstice d'hiver is a well-made beer; it's just not a barleywine. I take offense at the word even appearing on the label.
Dieu du Ciel beers are imported by Shelton Brothers; state distributors can be found on its website at www.sheltonbrothers.com.