Stone Old Guardian Barleywine Oak-Smoked: 11.4% abv
Background: Old Guardian, as we have established in the past, is a Cali microbrewery that has just celebrated their 16th anniversary. Apparently, a tradition they have set up in recent years is to release a special edition beer on every odd year. This one has German oak-smoked barley thrown into the mix, in a “healthy dose” as Stone phrases it. They do this in parallel with the regular release of Old Guardian, so you can feel free to get both and see how the difference in ingredients changes the flavor. Since we’ve already tried Old Guardian, we were compelled to do just that. Look what we found!
Nose: The nose comes across as being aggressively malty, with interesting mellow notes of woody character. There are some subtle nutmeg flavors to the nose, with mild vanilla as well. As far as fruitiness goes, there is a mild cantaloupe and strawberry presence there with some baked apples and cinnamon complimenting the flavor. The nose is not very prominent, and does not depict any brutality that is so common-place with bitter Stone beers. There is a savory, maple character in the nose as well.
Arrival: The arrival starts out with a blast of bitterness and sweetness, battling to get the center of attention. The arrival starts off with a big fruity, malty flavor. There are contributions of vanilla, berries, and light citrus notes of lemon as well. The arrival is the most mild part of the beer, contributing a vast range of sweetness and a foreboding, yet minuscule bitterness as a precursor to the intensity to come.
Body: The body is composed of ripe fruits like bananas and ripe berries, and Moscato grapes. The body contains some notes of sweet agave, but is counteracted by some dry black pepper notes. There is a dry grain, and something reminiscent to Belgian Trippel ale. The body starts a developed yeastiness which resembles sourdough. There is some raison-like quality to the body, almost close to a Fino Sherry character.
Finish: The oak-smoked barley plays a big part here, showing the oak in center stage as a large flavor contributor. Raw oak, bitter oak, with a long woody aftertaste. There is still a large contribution of malt to the finish as well, trying to impose a failing sweetness to the fading flavor. There is a definite hops and grapefruit bitterness in the finish as well. There is a slightly underplayed strawberry note that gets buried by the bitterness of the finish, not unlike the complexities we found in the regular Old Guardian. There is also a hint of the smoked flavor that comes through in the finish, although not nearly as dominant as you might expect.
Final Comments: The nose might seem underwhelming, not presenting a large foreshadowing to the beer. The taste, on the other hand, has a dynamic, malty, flavor. This transforms, rather rapidly, into a West Coast, bitter dominant finish which stays with you for quite some time. This is an influential beer, but what makes it the most impressive is when it’s compared to the regular Old Guardian Barleywine. The biggest similarity is the signature bitterness in the finish, but in other ways, this Old Guardian is much different than the original. Surprisingly, we can’t say it’s just “more smokey”, because this oak-smoking of the barley has really brought about some unique and sweet flavors that you wouldn’t really call akin to a campfire. This is no peat-smoking equivalent. It is a different animal, and we like it.
Why you’d buy it: This is a very interesting experiment from the regular Old Guardian.
Why you wouldn’t: You don’t like bitterness or intensity.