Rock Art brewery has been producing a line of craft beers in Vermont since 1997. Rock Art got their name from petroglyph images that founders Matt and Renee noticed while hiking and mountain biking in Colorado. The beer is available in growlers at the brewery, on draft and cask, and in bottles distributed to most of the Northeastern US. Rock Art makes a variety of year-round beers as well as a line of extreme beers, which are notable for their bold flavors and high alcohol content. One of Rock Art’s flagship beers is Ridge Runner, described as a mild barleywine. The term mild barleywine seems like a bit of an oxymoron, barleywines are typically big, dark, and very high in alcohol. Ridge Runner weighs in at 7.2% ABV, on the high side for most styles but low for barleywines, which often reach 9-12% ABV. Ridge Runner could alternatively be categorized as an English-style strong ale (instead of a barleywine), but the definitions of beer styles aren’t set in stone. Style descriptors are really at the brewers discretion, thus Ridge Runner is a barleywine. Rock Art Ridge Runner uses a variety of malts including pale, Munich, dark crystal, flaked barley, chocolate and black malt to give a dark color and robust flavor. This is countered with Cascade, Crystal, Challenger and Perle hops to balance the beer with bitterness.
Rock Art Ridge Runner Barleywine pours a clear dark brown with a mild white head. The smell is mostly dark malt and brown sugar, followed by some dark fruits and then a touch of pine from the hops. The malts dominate the flavor, molasses, roasted barley, some dark chocolate, raisin and currant. The hops are present and contribute some earthiness, but this is a very malt forward beer. There is some bitterness in the backbone that keeps the malt from overwhelming your palate. The alcohol is also present, but very mild in the flavor. Ridge Runner is medium to full bodied and smooth, it works well as a slow sipper. The finish is a touch sweet, you get the malts in the aftertaste. I’m not sure that I would have named Rock Art Ridge Runner as a barleywine, it isn’t exactly what I expect from the style. That aside, it is a solid and full bodied beer, good to help warm you up on a cold and snowy winter night. Hoppy Boston score: 3.75/5.