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Kegs & Legs Seasonal Beers of the Week: John Barleycorn Barley Wine & Oak-Aged Imperial Cream Stout from Mad River Brewing (Humboldt County, CA)

I love beer. After now having visited over 335 different breweries, it’s fair to say I have sampled a lot of beer (follow me on Untappd). From post-race pints and run club meeting locations, to beer miles and relays, running and the kegged nectar seem to go hand-in-hand in Oregon. Our Kegs and Legs feature is where beer drinking runners like me can go to find some new favorite beverages.

Check out previous posts here!

For those of you who didn’t see November’s Kegs and Legs feature, Mad River Brewing, based out of Humboldt County, CA, sent us a couple of their flagship beers – an extra pale ale and a red ale. They have been around for 30 years and are starting to show up more and more in NorCal and Southern Oregon taphouses and bottle shops. They recently sent along some seasonal offerings – their John Barleycorn Barley Wine and Oak-Aged Imperial Cream Stout.

If you can believe it, this will be the 26th year that Mad River has brewed their John Barleycorn Barley Wine. The recipe is adapted each year (after it has been fermented, it is sent to the cellar for a year) and the label is modified to showcase John Barleycorn’s legacy. Us here in PNW may have heard of John Barleycorn already due to his presence at the Tigard McMenamin’s locations, but here’s a little snippet from Wikipedia if you don’t know much more than that:

John Barleycorn is a British folksong. The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

This beer has won two gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival (for Barley Wine-sytle and Aged Beer) and it’s easy to see why. I’m a relative novice to Barley Wine ales, but this one looks and tastes really great. It pours a light red with a nice foam head, and has some really solid tasting notes – ones that I feel non-Barley Wine drinkers can get behind (heck, I did). I noticed some citrus flavoring (and was rewarded by confirming with the brewery that there are aromas of nectarine and stone fruit), as well as some caramel and mildly spicy richness that has paired amazing with a relaxation session in front of the fire.

The Oak-Aged Imperial Cream Stout is another seasonal offering from Mad River. I am coming around more and more with darker beers (primarily stouts and porters), and I am finding that they shouldn’t be feared. For the cold holiday season, this beer really captures the essence of the year. When I opened this out, I immediately smelled a concoction of chocolate and maybe some vanilla and coffee as well. It’s like an aphrodisiac in a bottle. It pours a thick and chocolately brown with a head reminiscent of a coffee shop mochaccino. This isn’t a crushable beer, but it’s so much fun to sip and savor it over a span of time.

After checking out a few more of Mad River’s beers, I still feel like a Northern California road trip to their brewery and taphouse may be in order. But for now, all us Oregonians have to do is head south a bit and search out some at our Southern Oregon bottle shops!


  • John Barleycorn Barley Wine
    • ABV: 9.8%
  • Oak-Aged Imperial Cream Stout
    • ABV: 8%


About Matt Rasmussen (1271 Articles)
Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching the Olympics, sampling craft beers, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010. Matt joined the Run Oregon team in October 2011, and since then he has spearheaded the blog’s efforts to cover product reviews, news about businesses related to running, and running events in the Willamette Valley.

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