San Diego Brewed is sponsored by Bottlecraft.

Bottlecraft is a retail shop and tasting room in Little Italy showcasing local, domestic and international craft beers. They offer hundreds of beers for your enjoyment in their onsite tasting room or to-go, as well as daily beer flights, events, glassware, merchandise, and gifts. Open Noon-10pm seven days a week. 2161 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101.

Stone Brewing Co. Old GuardianI’m not a huge Barleywine fan, but enjoy them enough and try to have one from time to time. Stone Brewing Co.’s Old Guardian is probably one of the first I ever had (it was either Old Guardian or Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot). I was a bit fan of the Belgo Old Guardian last year, so much so that I don’t think I had the regular version at all.

From what I can recall Stone tweaks the recipe of Old Guardian from time to time, this year is no exception. “For 2012, we made a deliberate effort to move away from the English hop influence of the past few years,” Brewmaster Mitch Steele said in a press release. “We took out the East Kent Golding hops and used a blend of American Chinook, Calypso and Cascade, which gave strong hints of grapefruit and pine to the aroma and flavor.”

First off, this is a beer that needs to warm up. Take the bottle out of the refrigerator and let it sit out longer than you think is necessary. Don’t guzzle it down while it’s too cold or you’ll miss much of the flavor.

At 11% ABV it’s boozy, and at 85 IBUs it’s hoppy, but there’s so much rich flavor from the malts that, while I wouldn’t call it balanced, it all comes together pretty well.

I often don’t think much about food pairings, but a beer like this I knew needed something that could compliment it well. I picked up some Stilton Blue Cheese (which just so happened to be on the recommended pairing list, thank you Dr Bill). The Stilton complimented the beer perfectly, the rich, creamy cheese coats your mouth and starts to prepare your taste buds for the intense flavor to come. The beer washes the cheese away as you drink, perfectly transitioning from rich creamy cheese to big hoppy, malty beer.

I don’t remember it well enough from year’s past, but I have to say I think the aggressive American hops might be a bit much for me. Though surely many fans of super aggressive West Coast IPAs will enjoy it.

Note: Stone provided this bottle free of charge as a press sample, but 22oz bottles are on the shelves at better beer shops where Stone is distributed (including Bottlecraft)