March 25 2013 06:14 PM

These brews bring big (if not too big) flavor

beer (1)

The beer reviews you are about to read are true. The names of the beers have not been changed to protect the innocent.

Stone Old Guardian Oak-Smoked Barley Wine (11.6-percent ABV): Stone Brewing has made a fun tradition of accompanying odd-year releases of the Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine with an odd reformulation of the potent brew. In 2011, we got a Belgian-tinged variant that I rather enjoyed, so I was definitely primed for this year. Imagine my joy when I heard they were doing an "oak-smoked" version that would combine my mutual love of beer and burning things.

The nose definitely has a smokiness to it, but it's more of a sizzling pork chop than a campfire. However, the subtle smokiness in the aroma escalates into a full-blown structure fire in the first taste. It's a bit jarring for a barley wine, even taking into consideration that the Old Guardian has never been a shrinking violet with regard to flavor.

The oak-smoked Old Guardian retains its predecessor's syrupy texture and considerable cherry and toffee sweetness, but the lingering smoky flavor, in conjunction with the boozy alcohol warmth, is where I hit the wall. It's likely one of those big, defining flavors that will draw a thick indelible line between its super-fans and detractors, and, unfortunately, I fall in the second camp.

Aleman / Stone / Two Brothers Dayman Coffee IPA (8.7-percent ABV): There are a few simple tried-and-true beer-writer standbys. One of the surest has been that when faced with a dark beer, you can probably trot out "coffee" somewhere in the description and pretty much be golden. But now, because of one damned collaboration beer, I'm forced to be cognizant of coffee even cropping up in IPAs. Stupid innovation.

Worse still, I'm completely unable to hate it as much as I reflexively desire to. Its deliciousness is just pummeling the respect right into me. This ruddy amber brew has a nose punctuated by orange rinds with the aroma of someone brewing coffee in an adjacent room. The coffee is similarly an undercurrent of the first sip,  allowing bright citrus flavors to initially dominate until the coffee bitterness comes to a crescendo. It's like the perfect breakfast hybrid of OJ and coffee without the heavy roasted flavors. It's certainly unique and most definitely extraordinary. 

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