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September Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and general revelry. This time, we stopped in at a local Pizza place for some deep fried dough, strombolis, and yes, pizza. It's not a big place and the pizza isn't as spectacular as the last beer club gathering, but we always manage to make due. Good attendance tonight too, and plenty of beer.

September Beer Club Selections
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some half-addled thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, this was a social gathering, so I wasn't paying too close of attention to what I was drinking and you should totes ignore what I'm writing and make up your own mind because I'm totally the worst and this post is definitely an ill-advised idea that I'm only doing out of tradition because I've done it for all previous iterations of beer club and are you even reading this? Why? The beer notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured (and some later attendees brought some stuff that is not pictured):

  • Platform Speed Merchant White IPA - Not expecting much out of this Ohio beer brought back by a visitor, fantastic citrusy nose, more typical IPA-like taste. Quite solid though, and worth a look on its own. B+
  • Pizza Boy Hop Test #1 (Cascade Single Hop) - Yep, it's a pale ale. The very definition of cromulence, this does nothing particularly special, but it's an enjoyable little pale ale. B
  • New Belgium Pumpkick - Whoa there, this is quite perfumey, moar ginger than anything else, but that perfumey character really overpowers everything else with this beer. Not horrendous, but not a particularly good pumpkin beer either. C+
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack - Back in the early days of this blog, this would have been an A worthy beer, but grade inflation is a bitch. It's still an accomplished and emminently accomplished IPA, well worth checking out. Delicious citrus/pine/malt balance. B+
  • Weyerbacher Tarte Nouveau - Very nice little tart beer, tart, crisp, refreshing, very light bodied and easy going, sorta beginner sour stuff but quite nice on its own. B+
  • Overshores Tripel Brun - Bottle a bit of a gusher, and thus carbonation levels a bit off, but this is basically a very raisiny Belgian strong dark. B
  • Brasserie De Blaugies / Hill Farmstead La Vermontoise - I know I've had this before, but apparently I never reviewed it. It's not quite up to speed with the best of Hill Farmstead, but it's a rock solid saison, earthy and spicy, quite delicious. B+
  • Fantôme Coffee Ruby - One of my contributions, this came off as surprisingly muted. There's some coffee character that is definitely present, but it's not overpowering at all, despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be a ton of other stuff going on with this beer. It's got a very, very mild funk to it, and the combination of the base with coffee doesn't entirely blesh, but it's certainly an interesting beer. A little weird, but could more interesting with more funk. Keeping in mind my legendary indifference to coffee, I'll give it a B
  • Cascade Figaro - This is typical Cascade sour here, which is to say, it's a fantastic little sour. I don't get a lot of fig or lemon peel out of it, but it's got that trademark Cascade lactic sour and oak character that just work so damn well. Generally agreed to be one of the best of the night. A-
  • White Birch Indulgence Ale (2014) - Not sure which version of this beer I tried (I think it's this retired 2014 version), but it was labeled as a Belgian Imperial Stout, and it definitely had a sorta brighter take on the imperial stout style that worked really well. Lots of rich malt, light roast, some hints of Belgian character, but with the style's inherent dark malt sweetness (i.e. not a dry or highly carbonated beer). Actually quite nice and among the better of the night. B+
  • Brewmaster Jack Barrel Aged Prinsipia Quad - Sounds great, but came out kinda limp, very boozy, a little raisiny Belgian character, but not at all balanced. Not terrible, but not quite getting the job done either. B-

And that just about covers it. We just got this one in under the wire, last day of the month. Will need to try and plan the next beer club soon. Great time, as always.

Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale

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Alrighty folks, you know the drill: Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. I'm trying to be concise here because if you've been paying attention, you'd know that I've written about this whole process in wonky, exhaustive detail before, not to mention delving into individual component beers with some regularity. Needless to say, I'm a fan.

The results can be quite different from year to year. XV was more barleywineish (and it was spectacular), XVI was a little more evenly matched between barleywines and darker stouts and the like (and alas, it was a far cry from XV). Last year's XVII returned to the realm of barleywine pretty successfully (and did better than XVI, but never quite reached the heights of XV). This year, Firestone goes to the dark side:

  • 38% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 16% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 16% Bravo (12.9% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 14% Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 5% Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 4% Hydra Cuveè (10.5% ABV) Blend of Flying Dog Gonzo and FW Wookey Jack (both stainless), Double DBA and Bravo (both aged in Bourbon barrels).
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV) Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Stainless Steel
  • 2% Ol' Leghorn (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine, Collaboration with Three Floyds. Aged in New American Oak.
  • 2% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale. Aged in Stainless Steel.

Lots of unusual things (at least, when compared to the last few vintages). First up, 38% of Parabola is the single highest component I've seen yet, and when you add up stout-like components, you get about 59% (perhaps 66%, depending on how you consider Wookey Jack or Hydra Cuveè), with about a third of the blend hitting barleywine territory. Perhaps making up for the disproportionate amount of Parabola is that this features 5 components with 5% or less of the final blend. Heck, that Hydra Cuveè is only 4% and it's already a blend of 4 beers. This blend has the most components of any previous vintage I've tried and it's also the darkest and most stout-like version since XIII (which I have, sadly, never tried). The good news here is that all this weirdness basically translates to the best vintage since XV.

Firestone Walker XVIII- Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVIII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a black color with almost no head, just a very small ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, caramel, oak, vanilla, bourbon, a hint of roast, and some dark fruit. The taste is Parabola up front, caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla with a bit of roast, followed by a more bourbon barrel barleywine-like dark fruit and toffee in the finish. Really delicious, lots of complexity that keeps emerging as it warms up. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, just a little sticky, with a bit of boozy heat. Well balanced though, and as it warms, it gets even better. Overall, spectacular and delicious, best vintage since XV and maybe even better. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 1/23/15. 2014 vintage.

I really can't get enough of Firestone's barrel aging program. Really looking forward to snagging some Sucaba and Parabola this year, and whatever other specialties make their way around (apparently Helldorado is coming to bottles this year, replacing DDBA).

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

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Firestone Walker's excellent barrel aging program essentially grew out of their Anniversary beers. For their first entry in that series, they brewed 4 different beers and aged them in 6 different barrels (yielding 10 lots to blend, as it was their 10th anniversary). Some of these have gone on to become standard annual offerings on their own, like §ucaba or Parabola, but some have only been released in minute quantities at the brewery itself (or perhaps the occasional beer week surprise). For the past few years, Firestone Walker has been releasing larger doses of individual components in one-off bottles, and Stickee Monkey was 2014's entry.

They describe the base of this beer as a Central Coast Quad, and unlike many of their other beers, the ingredients are mostly "undisclosed". What we do know is that it "formulated to sit on the sweeter and malty side so that we could utilize it for blending" (bottle sez 22 IBU, which is indeed pretty low for such a big beer) and that it incorporates Turbinado brown sugar from Mexico in place of the traditional Belgian candi sugar. The result is decidedly more barleywine-ish or perhaps old-ale-ish than Quad-like, but I'm not complaining about this barrel of monkeys, it's delicious:

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee - Pours a striking clear chestnut brown color with a cap of tan, fizzy head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramelized fruits, plums and the like, maybe some molasses, with huge barrel character, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. Taste follows the nose with a large, rich caramel presence, very sweet (but not cloying), a hint of fruit in the background, molasses, and that huge barrel presence brings the vanilla, oak, and bourbon, big time. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with ample carbonation to offset the sweetness, though it does finish with a bit of a sticky presence. Pleasant booze makes itself known with a little heat and warming in the belly. Overall, what we have here is a superb, complex, and intense barrel aged brew. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/14. 2014 Vintage. Bottled 04/18/14.

I will never tire of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers, despite being somewhat difficult to procure using standard methods. Even their sours and wilds are starting to come along. Up next: Firestone XVIII (14% of which is actually Stickee Monkey, heh). After that, well, Firestone has said that Double DBA will no longer be bottled, setting the stage for some sort of replacement. To my knowledge, this has not been chosen yet, but I'm guessing Parabajava (a coffee infused version of Parabola, relatively new) or Bravo (BA imperial brown ale, been around since the beginning). In any case, I'll still be hunting down bottles of §ucaba and Parabola, because they're so reliably great.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

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Beer has a reputation. It's the drink of the working class, and as such, many of the craft beers out there play up subversive or lewd aspects in their marketing. Indeed, this is part of the appeal of craft beers, an indicator of non-snobbery. Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible names or sexist labels, but Firestone Walker managed to walk a fine line with this one.

As the story goes, Firestone Walker had frequently released a tap-only oatmeal stout called Velvet Merkin back in the day. They changed up the recipe frequently and once they settled on something they really wanted, they had trouble getting the label approved (for the uninitiated, a "Merkin" is a pubic wig!) So in 2010 they pivoted and released the beer, a svelt 5.5% ABV Oatmeal Stout, as Velvet Merlin. However, they continued to try and get the Velvet Merkin name approved, this time applying it to an amped up, barrel aged version of Velvet Merlin. What we end up with is the current incarnation of Velvet Merkin, an 8.5% ABV oatmeal stout aged in a variety of barrels (the 2014 vintage used Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels as well as some Rittenhouse Rye barrels). So yes, a little crude, but Firestune's packaging is it's usual classy self, and the inclusion of a little grey triangle is actually quite brilliant - this is my kinda lewd and subversive.

This has long been on my list of beers to catch up with, ever since I missed out on it back in 2012 (and had to settle for, gasp, Parabola), so I was most excited to secure a bottle. In truth, this might be the lowest ABV bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had. Does that work? Only one way to find out:

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. The nose definitely goes light on the barrel character, lots of roast and coffee aromas, maybe some chocolate and hints of caramel and vanilla. The taste hits a little harder on the barrel character, faint bourbon, a nice amount of vanilla, a little roast in the middle yielding to a bit of caramel, some milk chocolate, and coffee in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy, not as heavy or rich as your typical bourbon barrel aged beer, a little drier too. This makes it less of a sipper, though it's not really something you want to chug either. The barrel character really is rather light. Overall, this is an expertly crafted, well balanced barrel aged beer. There are some who would prefer this sort of thing to Parabola, but alas, those people are not me. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/14. Vintage 2014.

I can't say as though I'm disappointed by this beer, but it's definitely not quite the amazing I was hoping for and expecting. That being said, Firestone Walker's barrel program is still held in high esteem here at Kaedrin, and you'll be seeing a couple more barrel aged wonders form these folks in the near future. Stay tuned!

Belated BBQ Beer Club Recap


Last week was Beer Club, and in a heinous act of negligence, I'm only getting to the recap now. I know, I'm the worst. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which part is not optional). This month we hit up a local BBQ joint, loaded up on smoked meats, and cracked open quite a few beers:

October Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we had are below. The usual disclaimers apply, and you'll want to amplify your skepticism even further due to the fact that I'm writing this about 5 days later than normal. Great, so now that we've established that the proceeding descriptions are completely devoid of merit, we can begin. In order of drinking, not necessarily the order in the picture, and in fact, there are several beers not pictured (and we didn't get to some of the ones that were):

  • Neshaminy Creek County Line IPA - I know "East Coast IPA" isn't a real thing, but I think it kinda describes stuff like this. A local IPA with plenty of hop character that's balanced out by plenty of crystal malts (much more than you get in typical West Coast IPAs). Its enjoyable, but it won't blow minds. The very definition of a B, though sometimes I want to bump that up to a B+, which I guess means it's not the very definition of a B, but give me a break, I'm not under oath here.
  • Anchorage Whiteout Wit Bier - Belgian Wit beer aged in Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces? Sign me up. Nice funk to it, with plenty of typical wheat beer character. Worth checking out. B+
  • Upstate I.P.W. - A friend brought a bunch of beers that he grabbed whilst in New York, and this India Pale Wheat ale was quite nice. One of those things I could see myself reaching for, were I a local. Great citrus/pine hop character, light wheat, crisp, and refreshing. B+
  • Ken's Homebrewed Pecan Brown - Wow, that pecan character really comes through on the nose and in the taste. A little lighter in color than your typical brown ale, but that pecan character really sets this apart, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • Sly Fox Incubus - A beer I've reviewed before (a looong time ago), but I'll just say that this bottle had a more distinct raisiny note than I remember. On the other hand, it is a bit high on the booze and stickiness factor, something I'm not huge on when it comes to Tripels. Still a solid B in my book.
  • The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale - Another New York beer, my friend apparently stumbled on it by asking his phone to point out breweries near his location. This one turned out to be a guy brewing out of his house on a farm or something like that. This particular beer was a pretty standard brown ale, nutty and toasty, if a bit stronger than normal. B
  • Cascade Apricot - One of my contributions, and a beer we've reviewed relatively recently, so I don't have much to add to that. A-
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack - A beer I've had many times at this point, and as Black IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) go, it's probably the best regularly available option out there. Big citrus and pine hop component along with the typical roast of a stout, without letting either character overwhelm (or making you wish you had a straight IPA or stout). B+
  • Founders Dark Penance - This is a relatively recent addition to Founders lineup, and like everything Founders makes, it's a solid take on the style. However, having it in close proximity to Wookey Jack made me feel like this was lacking. It was fine, to be sure, and it'd probably be worth trying in a less chaotic environment. B
  • Two Roads Conntucky Lightnin' Bourbon Ale - Well, I didn't get a ton of Bourbon out of this, and it seemed a bit thin for what it proclaims on the label. Not really bad, or anything, but a bit of a disappointment. B-
  • Breckenridge Agave Wheat - Seemed pretty bland, though that sweet agave does come through in the taste. Probably should have opened this much earlier in the night, but here we are. C+
  • Pizza Boy Bean Dream - It's supposed to be a milk stout with vanilla beans, but I don't get a ton of vanilla. On the other hand, it is a pretty solid milk stout, smooth with a nice chocolatey roast character. I really need to get out to Pizza Boy one of these days... B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Bourbon Porter - This was a pretty solid take on the style, and the bourbon oak character comes through well enough, actually much better than that Conntucky Bourbon stuff from earlier. Go Ken!
  • Bonus Beer: Otter Creek Brewing / Lawson's Double Dose IPA - Whilst at beer club, someone found out that a local drinkery tapped some Lawson's Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, so after beer club, a small cadre of attendees made a slight detour. Now, both of the beers we had were actually collaborations that are more widely available than the typical entries from those breweries (HF sometimes sends kegs down here, but Lawson's never does), but I'm not complaining, because these were both great beers. This DIPA is fabulous. Huge hop character, citrus and pine and something almost zesty. Not quite Double Sunshine great, but definitely something I want more of. B+
  • Bonus Beer: Grassroots Convivial Suaréz - A sorta funky saison made with hibiscus, I really enjoyed this, though I didn't take any real detailed notes. Nice funky character, and the hibiscus actually does come through. B+
And another successful beer club, fun and smoked meat had by all. Already looking forward to our next meeting...

Philly Beer Week Recap

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As per usual, I did not have my act together for this year's Philly Beer Week, and thus only went to a few events. For whatever reason, this week always seems to sneak up on me and I'm always caught unprepared. I'm the worst. That being said, I did manage to snag a few pretty interesting beers, so here's a quick recap. First stop was the venerable Philly institution Monk's Cafe:

Monks Cafe

The event was all about collaborations, most of which involved Monk's very own Tom Peters... First up was the next entry in the whole PNC collaboration series (last year's collaboration yielded Firestone Walker PNC, a most spectacular beer). This release comes to us from Maine's Allagash brewing, and this beer actually began its journey over four years ago ("Brewed in April 2010 & racked into oak barrels on May 25, 2010"). In a nice touch, the little beer menu actually included details of each barrel (including a couple that were marked as "DO NOT USE", heh). Click for a larger version:

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator Barrel Details

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator

Allagash PNC Broken Elevator - Dark pour, fluffy tan head... darker than I was expecting, but when you look at the barrel details, that makes sense. Smells oaky, almost chocolaty and very sour, I can almost feel the sourness in my jaw (and I haven't even tasted it yet). Taste is bracingly sour, tart puckering fruit with some dark, chocolaty notes, almost a chocolate covered cherry feel. Mouthfeel is surprisingly full, not like a chewy stout but very big for a sour, which is an interesting feel. Extremely acidic, biting, but still nice... Overall, this is a really interesting, complex, unique, and very sour beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

So after that, I sampled a few other brews, including another small glass of Firestone's PNC stout (still exceptional, no change from my initial review):

Dock Street Trappiste Style Pale Ale - Inspired by Orval, this is obviously not a clone or anything, but it's nice. It's got a very dry feel, lots of peppery yeast notes, and some earthy funk in the finish. It's a fine beer, but not quite lighting the world on fire. I heard that this beer was actually made for last year's PBW, so perhaps it was better fresh? Not that it's terrible now or anything... B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Dilewyns Philly Tripel - This is the official Philly Beer Week Collaboration orchestrated by Tom Peters, where one local brewer travels to Belgium to collaborate with a brewery there. This year it was Justin Low from Dock Street who went and collaborated with Anne Catherine Dilewyns from the relatively young Dilewyns brewery (they make Vicaris labeled beers) in Belgium. The result is a relatively straightforward tripel, with some small twists. Pale colored, sticky sweet, lots of honey flavor and fruity esters, less in the way of Belgian yeast spice. This is perhaps not my preferred take on the style, but it's nice. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

De Molen Rook and Leer

De Molen Rook & Leer - The weirdest, most unique beer of the night, I've never had anything like this before. So get this, we've got an Imperial Smoked Porter base that was aged in whiskey barrels with brettanomyces and Rodenbach yeast. Oh, and it clocks in at 11.5% ABV. Um, yeah, ok. The more amazing thing: It actually works. Neither the smoke nor the sourness dominates, leading to an extremely complex beer. Usually high ABV sours don't work so well for me, but this one is just very well balanced. It's certainly odd, and I think the fact that this was originally brewed in 2011 has helped the flavors mesh together (and perhaps even mellow out some). It's a weird beer to rate, but I'll give it a A-, but maybe I was a bit far gone at this point.

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

By this time, I was doing pretty well, so I slowed down a bit, got a table with some friends and ate some dinner. I did have a glass of Pliny the Elder, which was great as always, though I'm starting to see where the contrarians are coming. Naturally, I had some mussels, and as usual, they were fantastic. We also got a plate of Frog's Legs, which were basically a lot like chicken wings (I've had Frog's Legs before, but never like this).

At this point, we took our leave of Monk's and headed over to the Good Dog Bar & Restaurant, which is a great little place about a block over from Monk's. Well worth a visit if you're ever in Philly, and they also have great food (I'm pretty sure they've been featured on one of them Food Network shows at some point). They were having a Firestone Walker event and included this rarity, which I assumed would never make its way out East:

Firestone Walker Helldorado

Firestone Walker Helldorado - So you know how Firestone does that Anniversary blend where they invite a bunch of local winemakers to their brewery and set them loose on a bunch of barrel aged beers? Many of the component brews are available in bottled form, but most seem to be relative rarities, and Helldorado is one of those. I was shocked to see it at this event and immediately got myself a glass of the stuff. Alas, this is perhaps not my favorite style. It's described as Blonde Barleywine brewed with Honey, and boy can you really tell. It's extremely sticky sweet, with that honey coming through strong. It's supposed to be brewed with El Dorado hops, but I get almost no hop character out of this, so I'm guessing it was a light touch (or just used to balance out that intense sweetness). It's definitely a big, boozy bomb of a beer, and it's got a full body. However, something about the way light colored beers react in bourbon barrels is just not as exciting to me as when you get a darker base beer (the picture above makes Helldorado look darker than it was, though it wasn't super pale either). I mean, it's good, I'm really happy I got to try it, and everyone else who had it seemed to love it, so maybe this is just me, but I'll leave it at a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Lil' Opal - Now this, on the other hand, was way better than I was expecting. It's a toned down ("lil'") saison that's been aged in barrels with Brett and blended with various vintages, and it's fantastic. Granted, this is right up my alley, but I really loved this beer, a great funky saison, fruity, earthy, spicy, almost quaffable (even at this point in the night). It was a refreshing beer to have right after Helldorado, and it totally stood up to those intense flavors as well. Obviously, I was a little far gone at this point, so I'll conservatively rate it an A-, but I need to find me some more of this someday.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Firestone Walker Agrestic Ale - Firestone has always been known for barrel fermenting and barrel aging, but they always stuck to non-wild styles, and they apparently greatly feared infections and the like. But when they opened up a completely separate facility, that allowed them to play with all sorts of sour bugs, and we're starting to get the fruits of that labor now (Lil' Opal also came out of that program). This was a really nice, light bodied sour, it reminded me a little of brighter Crooked Stave Origins. Again, I was a little far gone at this point in the night, but I really enjoyed this. I'll give it a B+, but I'd really like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a wine glass on 6/7/14.

Phew, it's a very good thing I was taking the train home, and while the above does seem like a lot of beer, it was spread out over quite a long time. Again, I need to better prepare for Philly Beer Week next year, so we'll see what happens. That's all for now. Stay tuned for Beer Club tomorrow! (No post on Thursday though, as I didn't really drink much else this past weekend, for obvious reasons!)

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

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Every year, Firestone Walker invites their neighboring Winemakers to the brewery to tie one on and blend a series of barrel aged component beers for their Anniversary Ale. The Winemakers (no strangers to blending) are divided up into teams and compete to make the best blend. It's apparently quite cutthroat, though fortunately, no murders this year. I'm trying to be concise here, because this is a subject I've already described in wonky, exhaustive detail before. Suffice to say, for barrel aged fanatics like myself, this is one of the most interesting releases each year, and they can vary dramatically too.

The XV blend heavily favored barleywines, and most of the component beers were aged in bourbon and/or brandy barrels (and oh yeah, it was spectacular). The XVI blend was more equitable, a much darker brew though barleywines still had a slight edge overall. The other big change in XVI was the inclusion of Tequila barrels into the blend. This year, things swing back towards the barleywine a bit, though not as much as XV. Here's the component beers:

  • 30% Bravo (13.6% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 25% Stickee Monkee (15.3% ABV) English Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
  • 15% Velvet Merkin (8.7% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon barrels.
  • 15% Parabola (12.8% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Aged in Bourbon Barrels.
  • 8% Double Double Barrel Ale (12% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale. Aged 100% in Firestone Union Barrels.
  • 4% Helldorado (11.5% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine. Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels.
  • 3% Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV)- Black Rye India Pale Ale. 100% Fresh, Dank & Hoppy 100% Stainless Steel

So we've got around 67% barleywines, 30% stout, and 3% Black Rye IPA (which sorta splits the difference between the two). Also notable is that this year's blend "only" utilizes 7 component beers (while the previous two used 8), and that PNC with Tequila barrels is nowhere to be seen. So this comes in somewhere between XV and XVI in terms of the components, and I will say that it does taste more like a barleywine than anything else, though I don't quite think it reached the heights of XV:

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker XVII - Anniversary Ale - Pours a brown amber color, garnet tones, a finger of light tan head that sticks around a bit. Smells of various spirits, boozy but not hot, some caramel-like notes and bready malt too. Taste starts off sweet, quickly moving into a rich caramel note, maybe a hint of fruity malt character, then comes various spirits and the one-two punch of oak and vanilla. The spirits here seem much less Bourbon focused than in years past, and looking at the component beers, perhaps that Brandy is asserting itself more than in previous years, though not in a dominant way. Call it the power of suggestion if you like, but this taste is very complex and evolves as it warms up, with the various flavors emerging or mellowing as I drink. The taste profile is more akin to a barleywine than anything else, closer to XV (which was clearly barleywine) than XVI (which was much more muddled, though still very nice). Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, but velvety smooth. Some pleasant booziness, a bit of heat, but given the cold weather of late, this is a welcome feature, not a bug. Overall, yep, it's fantastic. Better than XVI, but not quite at XV levels. But when you're playing at this level, these distinctions are really splitting hairs. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.3% ABV bottled (22 oz. boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 2/14/14.

Of course, all of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers are spectacular and worth seeking out. It's seeming like I've missed out on last year's release of Velvet Merkin (local beermonger sez that government shutdown last year delayed and maybe even limited distro in this area, which could be total BS, but I still hope to track down a bottle somehow, someway). Rumor has it that Stickee Monkee will be coming to bottles and seeing distribution for the first time this year as well, and then there's their first wild ale, The Feral One. So what I'm saying is that I'm going to be hunting for lots of Firestone beer in 2014 (because don't forget about world class bottles like Sucaba and Parabola)

Firestone Walker PNC

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Once upon a time, there were these wonderous drinking establishments called "Public Houses" or, as they're more commonly known "pubs". The proprietors of said establishments were known as "publicans". I'm sure that any British readers would scoff at the notion of American "pubs", but there are a few of them worth their salt here in the US. Indeed, they're a growing concern these days. However, it wasn't that long ago that such establishments were a rarity. True publicans of the day were isolated and lonely. But when American beer bar pioneers like David Keene (of SF's Toronado) or Tom Peters and Fergus Carey (of Philly's beloved Monk's Cafe) found out about each other back in the day, they decided to form a group of publicans (I'm leaving a bunch of them out here, there were several other founding members) that would get together for some libations and maybe even collaborate with breweries to make "outrageous" beers. Thus was born the Publican National Committee, or PNC for short.

This beer is one such collaboration. Apparently "concocted over a copious amount of Orval" one night, this is an Imperial Buckwheat Stout aged in Tequila barrels for 13 months. It was one of the components for Firestone Walker's XVI Anniversary blend, but has since been bottled all on its own. It didn't quite get the release of their other component brews and it wasn't really distributed, but since the aforementioned Tom Peters and Fergus Carey are publicans over at Philadelphia's own Monk's Cafe and founding members of the PNC, they got a few bottles, which I manged to snap up (along with some other tasty treats). Let's see what's up, shall we:

Firestone Walker PNC

Firestone Walker PNC Imperial Buckwheat Stout - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of rich caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, and booze (presumably that tequila coming through, though it's not a dominant aroma at all, well rounded). Taste follows the nose, rich caramel, toffee, and lots of oak and vanilla. Faint hints of roast show up as it warms. The booze is there too, but it's not nearly as dominant as I thought it would be (this is a good thing though), and the tequila matches up well with the stout base. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this involved some other barrels too, like retired Firestone Union barrels or even Bourbon barrels. All of Firestone Walker's barrel aged brews share a certain profile, and this one is no exception, despite the use of Tequila barrels that give it a unique spin. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and this is where that booze really shows itself (again, in a good way). Faint hint of hot booze in the finish and that warming sensation in my belly. Overall, maybe not quite the revelation of Parabola, but still superb in its own right. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/13. 2013 Vintage. Cases: 450.

Another delicious barrel aged treat from Firestone Walker. Still waiting for Velvet Merkin to show itself in the area. The hunt is on. Stay tuned.


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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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