Stone? All hop monster brew. Barley wine? Malt bomb. How can this be? Ying can't be Yang any more than...than...the Red Sox can make peace with Yankees. It's like the eternally sworn mortal enemies Casey and Finnegan making nice nice!!! The beer in question? Stone Old Guardian Spring Release 2007.
OK. We have to accept that, to a certain degree, style is to be defied or at least redefined in American brewing but I need to know that hops won't somehow be expected to define this barley wine as much as they seem to define everything else, to borrow from Shaggy, brewley bombastastic really fantastic down south. On the nose, the beer pours a stylistically correct deepish orange amber. On the nose there is the comforting guinea pig bedding mustiness that gives promise that this is not some sort of evil hopgastic revolt. Sadly, in the mouth, there is something of a disappointment what with the overwhelming celery-tea astringency with the twiggy hop finish burying any defining subtly from the malt. I could tell you there was some fruitiness to the grain - and there is plenty of round generic maltiness - but I really can't tell you whether it is raisin or pear or apple due to the 11.26% heat and the hops. If this be barley wine it be double imperial barley wine and that is a small shame. It could also be a triple ESB or a dunkle tripel or any number of other adjectives-meeting-nouns descriptors. That being the case, it is only itself. Maybe it's just a half-again regional district pale ale? Whatever it is, it's as much a barley wine as Gold Showers is.
There is, however, a ray of hope. It may be that the hop crisis will lead one-note brewers to use their hops prudently and to celebrate the other elements of fine beer as well. This may be a very fine strong beer - and it is - but it is something other than what it says it is.