Stone Old Guardian 2011 Classic Release vs. BELGO Version

Categories: Hophead
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While not everyone thinks it's a tremendously creative idea, Stone Brewing Co. this year has introduced a program called "Odd Beers For Odd Years," in which the recipes for Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine and Stone Imperial Russian Stout are tweaked.

This year, the brewery is adding the Belgian yeast that it used for Stone Cali-Belgique IPA to both beers and, in the case of the Imperial Russian Stout, adding "a hint of star anise." The decision to replace the two beers with alternate versions, as you can read in the comments on Stone's initial blog entry, was not met with universal acclaim. Fans of the classic version of Stone Imperial Russian Stout weren't happy to hear that the familiar version of their beloved beer would not be available until 2012.

Personally, while I'm curious how Belgian yeast and the black-licorice flavor of star anise will modify the flavor, I can understand their frustration (and fear that it could result in a train wreck of flavors). Making both available probably would have been the more sensible route, but a brewery whose flagship beer is called "Arrogant Bastard" and has the slogan "You're not worthy" can't be afraid to ruffle a few feathers every now and then.

However, Stone ultimately relented and decided to make both available.

Until Stone BELGO Imperial Russian Stout is available (expected on shelves in late April), we can only speculate on whether it was a wise decision to fool with the formula. As for Old Guardian? In my opinion, the Stone Old Guardian BELGO Barley Wine Style Ale experiment is a success. After the jump, tasting notes on both versions, samples of which Stone sent to Hophead HQ, as well as some possible good news for all American small brewers.

Central Market beer specialist Ben Motley said the store currently carries only the Classic Release (for $6.49) and that none of the higher-ups at distributor Ben E. Keith seemed to know anything about the BELGO version. Not to worry, says Stone Brewing Co. Central Regional Sales Manager Jason Armstrong -- the BELGO version ran into a slight delay from the TABC but has been approved and is eventually coming to the area in both keg and bottle formats.

The Classic is, as you'd expect from Stone, very hop-centric for a barleywine. Pouring a hazy copper-orange with a pillowy white head, it still has the caramel and toffee malty sweetness with dark-fruit raisin and prune notes typical of the barleywine style, but with citrus and floral hop notes and a dryer, more bitter finish than most American barleywines, and a body that's not quite as rich as expected. It could probably benefit from a year or two in the cellar to smooth it out, but I like the jagged, assertive hoppiness and the moderate alcohol warmth from the 12 percent ABV.

The BELGO version has a similar appearance and body, but a brighter, fruitier, spicier nose thanks to the Belgian yeast. While I didn't drink the two side-by-side as I probably should have, the BELGO version seemed less sweet to me, and the hops even more noticeable. Personally, I'd call it a definite success and probably the superior of the two.

While I'm considerably more skeptical about the prospect of Belgian yeast (not to mention star anise, a spice I generally dislike) in a stout, I will gladly give Stone BELGO Imperial Russian Stout a try.

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Yesterday, Massachusetts Democrat Senator John Kerry and Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo introduced the Brewers Employment and Excise Relief Act, which would reduce excise tax from $7 to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels produced by a brewery. After 60,000 barrels, the tax rate would be lowered from $18 per barrel to $16 per barrel for breweries producing 2 million barrels or less annually. Needless to say, the Beer Institute and Brewers Association approve.

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