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It’s All In The Blend | Tasting Eleven Years of Firestone Walker Anniversary Ales

It’s All In The Blend | Tasting Eleven Years of Firestone Walker Anniversary Ales
Robert French

The coming together of brewers and winemakers mixed with the art of blending and barrels is the genesis of Firestone Walker Brewing Company Anniversary Ale.

That collection of expertise and outstanding beers has worked beautifully for the last 17 years.

To commemorate its 10th anniversary, Firestone Walker set out to create a truly one-of-a-kind beer. They released a limited edition blended oak-aged Strong Ale called “10”. They had a history of brewing beers and aging them in oak barrels, so it only seemed natural that they would use this knowledge to create a beer derived from their various barreled beers. Since Firestone Walker’s backstory is steeped in wine, along with being located in Paso Robles, the heart of the central California wine region, they invited their winemaking friends to come together to taste and blend the final beer. A celebration of another year is business.

Fast forward to 2022, Firestone Walker released XXVI, the 17th version of this anniversary beer. The final blend is always different. The “blending teams” have changed throughout the years, but have remained winemaker driven. Along the winemakers, teams have included friends of the brewery, beer media and most recently members of the “Brewmaster Collective Club”.

Over these 11 vintages, the ABV has been as high as 13.8% for XIX, and as low as 11% for XXVI. Parabola was the highest percentage of blending components in 5 of the years. Velvet Merkin came in second, being the highest percentage blending component in 3 of the years. In XVIII, 9 different beers were used in the blend and in XIX, only 4 beers were used in the blend. The average for these 11 years came in just about 6 different beers in each. See below for the full listing of each year.

 

The Grand Tasting

An eleven-year vertical, a grand tasting indeed. Beginning with 2012, XVI, and continuing through 2022, XXVI. While the beers maintain a general theme, they are wildly different over these eleven vintages. It should be noted that each of these beers was stored in a cool, dark and mostly undisturbed spot. Additionally, these beers all held up remarkably well which is a testament to the overall quality of Firestone Walker in both their brewing and aging processes.

Tasting Notes

The tasting went on for more than a few hours. We sampled oldest to newest first, then back and forth through some of the standout years. There were a total of 4 tasters, with ample amounts of water to hydrate. These notes could have gone on much longer, so they have been condensed to include some of the tasting comments that really stood out.

XVI 16 Contained only a little over 8% of PNC, an American Stong Buckwheat Stout aged in Tequilla barrels, but Tequilla flavor was still very present. The most common tasting notes were oatmeal, chocolate and a noticeable presence of alcohol. No oxidation or any sign of age.

XVII 17 A touch higher in alcohol than XVI 16, but this definitely came off a touch lighter. Bourbon, dark sweet bread and nutty flavors. This was a favorite of the tasters.

XVIII 18 A combination of XVI 16 and XVII 17. Lighter in body and refreshing, but still a touch boozy. It seems this one was a bit of a quandary for the tasters. This one had a more prominent aroma than the previous two. Check out the blend breakdown below, this is a true outlier

XIX 19 Chocolate, Rum and sweet. The sweetness was dark fruit and molasses. Enjoyed by all, but not a big standout.

XX 20 Oatmeal flavors come back into the tasting notes. Add in salted caramel and oak. The carbonation level was noticeably more present in this one from the previous years.

XXI 21 Is unanimously a lighter and thinner beer. Raisin and wine notes were the common thread in the comments. Generally liked and more approachable.

XXII 22 Another one where the aroma really stood out. Caramel, coffee and botanicals. It was very interesting how the aroma and flavors worked with this one.

XXIII 23 Boozy whole wheat bread in the aroma. Lighter in taste and had more carbonation which really added to the lighter feel.

XXIV 24 A more fizzy level of carbonation, but the head was not excessive. The flavors were milder and a little more harmonious. Coffee, bittersweet chocolate with a good aroma.

XV 25 Tequila oatmeal with hints of smoke. Solid beer where the combination of flavors works really well.

XVI 26 Bubbly, fruity, milk chocolate and coffee. This one is a different take from the past versions. Coming in at 11% ABV, this was the lowest ABV of the bunch and one of the most approachable versions.

 

The Breakdown

XVI Sixteen 13% ABV
23% Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.7% ABV)
22.5% Stickee Monkee, English Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.5% ABV)
20.3% Double Double Barrel Ale, Double strength English Pale Ale aged in retired Firestone Walker Union Barrels (14.2% ABV)
10.8% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (13% ABV)
8.1% PNC, American Strong Buckwheat Stout aged in Tequilla Barrels (13% ABV)
5.4% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (11.5% ABV)
5.4% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale, aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (13.4% ABV)
4.5% Wookey Jack, Black Rye IPA (8.3% ABV)

XVII Seventeen 13.3% ABV
30% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (13.6% ABV)
25% Stickee Monkee, English Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Whiskey Barrels (15.3% ABV)
15% Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.7% ABV)
8% Double Double Barrel Ale, Double strength English Pale Ale, aged in retired Firestone Walker Union Barrels (12% ABV)
4% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (11.5% ABV)
3% Wookey Jack, Black Rye IPA (8.3% ABV)

XVIII Eighteen 13% ABV
38% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (13% ABV)
16% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (11.7% ABV)
16% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.9%)
14% Stickee Monkee, English Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.3% ABV)
5% Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.5% ABV)
4% Hydra Cuvee, A collaboration brewed with Flying Dog for the SAVOR 2014, Blended hybrid ½ hoppy dark beer (Gonzo & Wookey) and ½ blended barrel aged (DDBA and Bravo, aged in bourbon barrels) (10.5% ABV)
3% Wookey Jack, Black IPA (8.5% ABV)
2% Ol’ Leghorn, English Barley Wine (Three Floyds Collaboration) aged in new Amerian Oak (12.5% ABV)
2% Double Jack, Double IPA (9.5% ABV)

XIX Nineteen 13.8% ABV
33.33% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (13% ABV)
33.33% Stickee Monkee, Central Coast Quad aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.3% ABV)
16.66% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.9% ABV)
16.66% Velvet Merkin, Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.5% ABV)

XX Twenty 13% ABV
40% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in new Oak and Bourbon Barrels (13% ABV)
20% Stickee Monkee, English Barley Wine aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (12.3% ABV)
17.5% Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.5% ABV)
12.5% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels (12.9% ABV)
10% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Bourbon Barrels (13.5% ABV)

XXI Twenty-One 11.8% ABV
42% Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (8.5% ABV)
18% Parabola, Russin Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (13.1% ABV)
17% Stickee Monkee, Central Coastal Quad aged in Bourbon Barrels (12.5% ABV)
14% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels (14% ABV)
9% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Rum Barrels (13.5% ABV)

XXII Twenty-Two 12.7% ABV
44% Stickee Monkee, Central Coastal Quad aged in Bourbon Barrels (12.9% ABV)
22% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (13.7% ABV)
22% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels (13.6% ABV)
7% Rum Barrel Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Rum Barrels (14.5% ABV)
5% Gin Barrel Aged Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Gin Barrels (11.4% ABV)

XXIII Twenty-Three 11.5% ABV
28% Stickee Monkee, Central Coastal Quad aged in Bourbon Barrels (10.4% ABV)
28% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels (14.4% ABV)
20% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels (11.5% ABA)
15% Bourbon Barrel Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Bourbon Barrels (11.5% ABV)
5% Velvet Merkin, Milk Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (9% ABV)
4% Tequila Barrel Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Tequila Barrels (11.9% ABV)

XXIV Twenty-Four 11.3% ABV
27% Velvet Merkin, Milk Stout aged in bourbon barrels (8.5% ABV)
26% Stickee Monkee, Central Coastal Quad aged in bourbon barrels (12.2% ABV)
16% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels (13.1% ABV)
16% Smoked Imperial Walkers Reserve, Robust Porter brewed with beechwood smoke aged in bourbon barrels (11.8% ABV)
11% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels (12.5% ABV)
4% Tequila Barrel Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in Tequilla Barrels (11.5% ABV)

XXV Twenty-Five 11.5% ABV
41% Parabola, Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels (14% ABV)
10% Stickee Monkee, Central Coastal Quad aged in bourbon barrels (12.3% ABV)
28% Tequila Barrel Merkin, Milk Stout aged in tequila barrels (7% ABV)
13% Brandy Barrel Barley Wine, Blonde Barley Wine aged in brandy barrels (13.8% ABV)
8% Whiskey Barrel Wheat Wine, Strong Golden Wheat Wine aged in bourbon barrels (11.7% ABV)

XVI Twenty-Six 11% ABV
32% Parabola, Russin Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels (13% ABV)
32% Velvet Merkin, Milk Stout aged in bourbon barrels (8.5% ABV)
24% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels (11.2% ABV)
6% Heavy Things, Barley Wine aged in brandy barrels (16.5% ABV)
4% Helldorado, Blonde Barley Wine aged in bourbon barrels (13.8% ABV)
2% Wheat Wine, Strong Golden Barley Wine co-fermented with white wine grape juice aged in bourbon barrels (11.7% ABV)

The Wrap-Up

This tasting was so much fun. The four tasters each came in with a different perspective which really helped to analyze each beer with an open mind. Collectively, the 3 oldest beers were bigger, bolder beers than the rest. The younger versions all seemed more approachable with little to no additional aging required. Not one off-flavor. Every beer was enjoyable, but over the eleven years, there were definitely some favorites.

Feature image courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company.


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