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WW I did no favours to Barley Wine. No-one could brew one in the years 1918-1919 because of government restrictions on gravity. But when the dust had settled its production did start up again. Albeit in pretty small quantities.

The war had affected gravities, but not quite as drastically as some other styles. Bass No. 1, for example, had an OG of 1115º before WW I. After the war it was weaker, but just by a few degrees.

Barley Wines remained powerful beers, as the average of the samples in the table shows. Average OG in the interwar period was in the low-1040ºs – less than half that of the Barley Wines.

As a pretty niche product, Barley Wine wasn’t produced by anything like every brewery. Two of the two biggest brands – Bass and Truman – were both brewed in Burton, where there was a long tradition of brewing very strong Ales. As far as I’ve been able to discover, Mann and Watney were the only breweries in London producing one.

At first sight, some examples have a surprisingly high degree of attenuation. The highest, Mann’s Barley Wine, is over 90%. Which is a lot for a beer of its strength. But remember some beers in this style still underwent a long secondary fermentation. Which might well have included Brettanomyces. Taking that into consideration, the attenuation doesn’t seem that unreasonable.

Barley Wine before WW II
Year Brewer Beer Price per pint (d) OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1921 Bass No. 1 1094 1032 8.06 65.96%
1923 Younger, Geo Malt Wine 1078 1016 8.12 79.49%
1923 Younger, Geo. Malt Wine 1083.4 1023.9 7.76 71.34% 69
1927 Bass No. 1 Barley Wine 1105 1035 9.13 66.67% 70
1929 Younger, Geo Sparkling Malt Wine 1076 1013 8.27 82.89%
1932 Mann Barley Wine 22 1096 1011.9 11.15 87.60%
1932 Truman No.1 Burton Barley Wine 24 1097.3 1017.8 10.49 81.71%
1933 Mann Barley Wine 22 1094.8 1006.9 11.71 92.72%
1934 Bass Prince's Ale (brewed 23/7/1929) 1112.8 1029.2 11.00 74.11%
1935 Bass Barley Wine 1109 1023.3 11.32 78.62%
1938 Mann Barley Wine 21 1092.9 1026 8.74 72.01% 100
Average 1094.5 1021.4 9.61 77.56%
Thomas Usher Gravity Book document TU/6/11 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive.
Younger, Wm. & Co Gravity Book document WY/6/1/1/19 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.