We anticipate each one of Stone Brewery’s seasonal releases like a high schooler with a joint in their pocket anticipates the final minutes of Algebra II. Just when we’re getting over the bummer of the end the previous special release (we miss you already, Double Bastard), a new conception of an old favorite hits the shelves. This review is late in coming, as the official release date for Stone’s 2007 Old Guardian Barley Wine was Jan. 22, but you’ll be able to swill this beauty for another month … hopefully.
What makes Stone’s seasonals so radical is that each year they make the same seasonal special releases, but they never taste the same. Yes, Stone does make insane brews that deviate from the preordained pageant of beauty like oak-aged or dry-hopped versions of their usual gang of five; but you won’t see this brewery crank out some silly concept beer they’ll never make again and call it a special release. No “special” raspberry cappuccino porters, and certainly no “imperial” lagers or pilsners.
Old Guardian is a beer you can really hang out with on your porch. This year’s model, weighing in at 11.26 percent alcohol by volume, requires some attentive time and a small glass. The flavor this year is much more pronounced than ’06, and the finish is long and joyous. The gargantuan malt and hop aromas meet in your mouth like some kind of epic battle between beer brute squads. The finish is surprisingly soft, considering the initial intensity of the mash melee—strong notes of alcohol give way to vivid strawberry and mulling spice flavors.
We could drink this all year. We wish we could.