Stone Brewing Company says:
“Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine Ale is a stunning representation of all that is big and bold in beer. This beautiful, bold barley wine has a massive malt character and near-critical level of hop notes.”
Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale
American Barleywine, 11.30% ABV
The first beer in the vertical tasting was Stone’s Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale 2008. It clocks in at 11.26% ABV.
Karl: Being somewhat new to the concept of the vertical tasting, initially I wondered if we weren’t better off diving into the 2010 first to see what the beer is like when it’s fresh out of the brewery, but thankfully we did just the opposite, which it turns out works much better.
The thing about vertical tastings is that as beer ages, the flavors mature and mellow and the crazy huge tastes you get when a beer is new tend to disappear. This means that the older beers work better up front so that your palate isn’t completely blown out by tons of hops (and all that alcohol hasn’t affected your brain yet, so that bomber you’ve put away for the past 2 years isn’t wasted on your mind being…well, wasted).
So! Onto the 2008 Old Guardian. Lighter in body than I would have expected, and less of a nose as well. Very mellow flavor with nothing terribly standing out – a nice balance. I should add that at one point I thought that I could actually taste the water itself that went into brewing this beer – including the minerals and the terroir, as it were. And, I should also add, I was almost completely sober at this point as well. So I don’t think I’m completely crazy in this “I can taste the water!” distinction.
Andrew: What a perfect start to our beer tasting extravaganza. I’m always intrigued to find out how a beer changes while it ages, and we definitely were not disappointed with this brew. The 2008 Old Guardian was similar in color to the 2009 and 2010, a reddish-burnt orange, and poured with significantly less head.
Immediately upon shoving my nose into the glass, I was overtaken by booze, booze and more booze. When I took my first sip, I was gratified to know that my nose was spot on – this was a very boozy beer. The booze on the front end of the tasting was not overpowering though, and I detected a slight fruitiness on the back-end.
I also noticed that the booziness smell and flavor faded as the beer warmed.
Ryan: Gorgeous looking beer! As Andrew said, reddish burnt-orange in color, I might even say close to shades of ruby-red. I did catch some booze in the nose of this beer but also a bit of fruit say, maybe, plum. Also caught that in the taste of this beer.
It was much lighter in body than I expected and the finish was a little dry – similar to a red wine or sherry.
This beer, it seemed, was starting to transition to more of an English barley wine. The malts had taken over some but there was still a lingering hop presence. We’ll have to try this one again with another year or two on it.
Stone’s Old Guardian 2009 was next up. This one came in a wee bit boozier at 11.30% ABV.
Andrew: The 2009 had the same color as the 2008, a reddish-burnt orange appearance.
The smell and taste of booze was significantly less than the 2008 and I was able to pick up a lime or citrus flavor on the back-end that became more pronounced as the beer warmed. This beer also had a piney or hoppy taste that I didn’t pick up on in the 2008.
Karl: I loved the 2009. On the first drink I got a huge rush of what I initially thought was something along the lines of a cream soda flavor, that I eventually identified as more vanilla than anything else, which was completely unexpected in comparison to the 2008. That lime/citrus flavor came out as well, just a little bit at first and more as the beer opened up, which was nice.
Again, light in body but richer than the ’08. The flavor lingered a lot longer on the palate, and that piney taste that Andrew mentioned above was very pronounced, more so in the ’09 than anything else, I think.
Maybe it was the perfect balance of aging this style of beer mixed with the retention of the very last bit of freshness, but I really loved this beer. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here, but I think the ’09 was my favorite of this particular vertical.
Ryan: Wow. This one was a bit more complex than the 2008. They are about the same in appearance, with that burgundy to ruby-red coloring. Nice lacing and head on this one too.
I stuck my nose down as close to the beer as I could and the smell was still hard to pin down. Definitely some booze and maybe a little fruit juice as it warmed up. The taste is easy; a wonderfully, piney hoppy flavor. Mmmmm, love those hops.
It was interesting to see how much of a role the hops played in the ‘09 compared to the ‘08.
And finally, on to the fresh and spanking’ new 2010 Old Guardian.
Karl: Here’s what I wrote down when this year’s Old Guardian was poured. “Wow.” “Holy shit.” “Oh, wow.” Get the idea? It’s intense, no doubt. Grapefruit, grapefruit and more grapefruit. This is one tart and tangy beer, hugely hopped and almost syrup-y. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was drinking a DIPA along the lines of a Double Crooked Tree or the like. That said – it was definitely quality. Anyways, my notes should about sum it up:
Forgive the handwriting, but you get the idea.
Andrew: My favorite of the three beers we tasted in this vertical was the 2010.
The beer poured with more head than the 2008 and the 2009, and had a hoppier taste and smell than the other two as well. The lime or citrus flavor I noted in the 2009 was more of a tangy and tart flavor in this beer and I also picked up on some vanilla undertones
Ryan: H-O-P-S. It’s in the nose & it is most definitely in the taste.
This is hoppier than some double and triple IPA’s out there; just a punch of grapefruit on the palate. What’s interesting, though, is it’s not a puckering, bitter grapefruit flavor but rather sweet. It lingers on the back of your tongue in only the best way possible.
In my opinion, either drink this one fresh or give it three-plus years in the cellar.