This week I’m starting a new series for the new calendar year: English Beers. For my New Year’s Eve party I picked up three barleywines, two sessions and an IPA, which I will write about in turn over the next month and a half. The first victim is Stone’s Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale.
Stone Brewing Co. was founded in 1996 by Steve Wagner and Greg Koch. The pair initially met in 1989 and — while attending a beer-tasting class at the University of California, Davis — discovered they had similar tastes in beer. Wagner was already an experienced brewer at this point and Koch was an accomplished businessman, so they decided to open a brewery together a few years later. The brewery has since moved from its original site in San Marcos, Calif., to a larger facility in Escondido, Calif., where they now operate a larger brewing system with a capacity of 70,000 barrels per year and room to expand.
The beer poured a hazy red gold; the first six ounces or so were pretty clear, but the rest was hazy. If undisturbed for a few months, it will probably drop clear, but this example certainly did not have the time. This beer formed virtually no head, only a fine white ring around the top of the glass with a moderately calm pour. The aroma was slightly sweet with some piney hops, but the presence of some sharp fusel alcohols was also noted. It has a moderately heavy body with a pretty decent carbonation, giving a fairly balanced mouthfeel. The taste was a clash of the titans, consisting of a death match between the piney hops, sweet malt and the hot fusel alcohols; this is basically a big, malty IPA at this point.
This beer is actually recommended as a commercial example by the Beer Judge Certificate Program, and I tend to agree with them. The catch is that with this beer style, it really needs to be aged before being consumed, and this bottle is too new to be really enjoyed the way it should be. After a few years in the cellar, the flavors should blend beautifully. I recommend pairing this beer with strong, creamy and buttery cheeses; this is actually one of my favorite things about the beer. Its flavor profile is so strong that it overpowers a lot of things, but a nice, buttery double creme brie is just perfect; two of my friends and I killed an entire pound of brie while drinking barleywines on New Year’s Eve, rounded out with a couple of baguettes, some cheddar and some Gouda. This beer should be served in a snifter, and you really do need to be careful how much you consume because it’s potent enough to easily indulge.
I highly recommend trying this beer, and if you have the cash, grabbing a couple of bottles to age in the cellar. I currently have a 2008 vintage Old Guardian waiting for me, which I am looking forward to cracking open next year.
Size: 22 ounces
ABV: 11.0 percent