I was looking in my beer cellar this afternoon and noticed a bottle of Old Guardian sitting down there, slightly dusty from not having been moved in over a year and a half. One of the nifty things that I just found out about Old Guardian is that Stone tweaks the recipe for each batch, ensuring that each batch is unique (one of the nifty things which I suspected but learned the truth of in the Stone Brewery book). So, if you miss one you will not achieve the same sensory sensation from a bottle of the next release. Personally, I find that pretty awesome. Unique flavor components from year to year reflects the unique alpha acid levels are found in different hops from year to year, and nicely mirrors the variance found on a yearly basis in California’s other main alcohol export, wine.
So, this bottle is two years old which led me to wonder how it aged. Having watched Hop Cast Episode 165: ADiscussion With Pete Crowley On Cellaring, I started to worry that maybe a few of my beers were starting to expire. So, I decided to drink this two year old bottle and find out if it lived up to the legendary 2010 Barley Wine that I remember having a the brewery. As most people reading this know, some beers like a great wine tend to mature with age. Some flavors mellow, others come to the forefront, and a great aged beer often has something in common with the un-aged beer, but at times there can an extraordinary shift in the flavor profile. So, after two years I was curious.
Over at ratebeer this was given a 99 overall and a 98 for style, while at Beeradvocate it was given a 92 and an 81. I noticed an interesting thing tonight, BA tends to have individual year listings while ratebeer has date ranges. For a Barley Wine like this, that changed on an almost yearly basis, it seems as though individual year reviews are more accurate.
Unfortunately the standard description from Stone isn’t too elaborate, because they tend to have rants on their bottles, but they say:
A beautiful bold barley wine. Massive malt and hop notes. Silver Medal winner at the 2000 Great American Beer Festival in the Barley Wine category. Gold Medal winner at the 2002 World Beer Championships in the Barley Wine Category. Look for it in the first quarter of each new year. Can be cellared or enjoyed upon its release.
Old Guardian poured a wonderful golden color, with an excellent creamy white head with excellent lacing. It has a strong malty aroma, with a pleasant bready, yeasty undertones, and just a hint of floral hops. Aging the 2010 has resulted in a smooth, almost jam-like flavor with a very slight alcohol bite. It certainly does not have the feel of its 11.1% ABV. This is an extremely dangerous bottle, the first glass went down easy, and was surprisingly sweet. Then came dinner, and part way through dinner, the alcohol bit back and I was definitely feeling it. The remainder of the bottle had, by this time, a change to warm up closer to room temperature. The increased temperature brought with it more hop bitterness and a stronger alcohol bite, although the jammy sweetness remained to balance out the increased hop perception.
This is definitely an excellent Barley Wine, and it stood up to 2 years worth of aging. I don’t know if the concerns raised by the guys at Hop Cast were relevant for this particular bottle, but I would much rather drink through my cellar than have another beer turn on me. After all, I like to enjoy a good beer while it still resembles a good beer.
That’s all for tonight, good night and happy drinking!