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Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine 2011

Libations / Spokane /

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We've said it before, and we'll keep saying it, because that's what we do: Stone is probably the greatest purveyor of sub-$10 beer out there. Yet, this time I will admit to feeling just a tad disappointed. Maybe I've just become jaded, who knows, but this year's Old Guardian doesn't quite live up to last year's vintage. Feel free to disagree -- it just means you're wrong or that you're reading this a year or two after it was written.

Because yes, I suspect a year or two in the cellar would take care of my main complaint, but more about that later.

It certainly pours nicely -- a hazy amber with a delicate head. The whole thing kinda glows from the glass. Very nice looking.

The nose, too, is quite excellent. Fruits and hops marry citric hints in a ballet of scents. At hefty 12% ABV it should be advised that this is a Black Swan type of ballet, however. Don't be fooled by the deep delicate nose. There's a fist waiting for you in here, and you might start growing feathers if you drink it too quickly. (I'm pretty sure that's what that movie was about -- Natalie Portman drinking strong ales and paying the price for it.)

And it does hit you. When you take the first sip, all the greatness from the nose carries over, and there's an almost IPA-like hopiness to the experience. For being a barley wine, the amount of hopiness really comes as a surprise here, albeit not an unwelcome surprise. Sadly, here is also where the ABV kicks in.

Other great barley wines, be it Nøgne Ø's #100 or Deschutes' Mirror Mirror, have similar amounts of alcohol in them, yet they never seem downright boozy, even when not aged. Old Guardian, meanwhile, has a borderline unpleasant aftertaste of alcohol to it. 

"But Mr. Salmon," you cry, "shouldn't you cut them some slack and age the beer for a while?!" Granted, aging would likely mellow the flavors, but this could likely also affect the hopiness.

Let's just say that most of us will crack open a bottle at time of purchase, and I'm issuing a fair warning here: This is all very good until the booze hits you.

Pick up a few bottles for cellaring, then see what happens this time next year. The potential is here, definitely, but I can't ignore the fact that last year's vintage was better at time of purchase.