Beer Review 0373: Stone 2013 Old Guardian Oak-Smoked Barleywine

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Yesterday, we reviewed Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) Old Guardian Barleywine, the 2013 edition, and awarded it 94 points. Bold and aggressive, the hops were powerful but matched by just enough malt body, and the heavy-handed alcohol made it a nice representation of an American Barleywine.

Today, we’re looking at a variant of Old Guardian, made for Stone’s “Odd Beers For Odd Years” series — this program comes around each odd-numbered year, and sees a different take on one of Stone’s beers. In 2013, it’s Oak-Smoked Old Guardian, which is the regular version brewed with a substantial amount of German-smoked malt.

Coming in at 11.4% ABV (alcohol by volume; 2013 Old Guardian classic version was 11.6%) and 70 IBUs (International Bitterness Units; ten units less than regular edition), this beer was intended to provide a gentle smokiness that doesn’t diminish the hop flavors or bitterness.

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The Oak-Smoked variant of Old Guardian pours a large collar of creamy, off-white head, which was built to last atop a nice orange-amber colored beer. The brew had some ruby red highlights when held to light, and was hazy in body, but featured no particles or sediment. Lacing was most excellent; appearance wise, this was very much like regular Old Guardian, but perhaps a bit redder and more hazy.

The noticeable difference grabs you by the nose and pulls hard — immediately, there’s woodsy and meaty smoke. To put it bluntly, this beer smells like raw hot dogs and a grill full of smoldering oak chips. There is a light sweetness that comes through with some caramel, and a soft, citrus, orange hop presence. As it warms, the smoke becomes more prominent and takes on notes of toasted, almost burnt bread. Let it warm further, and you get fresh-cut oak tree. Interesting, especially when compared to the original version.

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Up front, the flavors are gentle and soft, with oak smoke combining with grapefruit and pine hops. This easiness continues into the middle of the palate, which is creamy caramel, knocking on the door of coffee beans; then, the finish starts, and your taste buds are smacked around by a burning oak plank, and heavy alcohol. Combined, the finish is very bitter with ample piney hop; the smokiness reaches its peak and joins forces with the big alcohol in an unpleasant, solvent-like way. This Old Guardian is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy texture.

The smoke dominates in a good way on the aroma and presents itself nicely in flavor until the finish. There’s just too much alcohol here, and the smoked malt makes it worse. I think age might do this some good, and don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a horrible beer, but you might want to have a couple of people around to help you finish this one. If you purchased a bottle of 2013 Old Guardian regular edition, I think it is worth your while to pick this one up just to examine the differences. But Stone named this one appropriately: odd year, indeed.

Stone 2013 Old Guardian Oak-Smoked Barleywine, 83 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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