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The Beer Circle » American Strong Ale, Beer, Bourbon, Brandy, Firestone Walker, Wine » Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale

Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale

Each year, Firestone Walker releases an anniversary beer that celebrates both their brewing techniques as well as their wine and barrel-aging programs. Their 14th Anniversary Ale marries six different beers that are each aged in varying types of barrels, ranging from wine to brandy to bourbon. Here’s what Firestone Walker has to say about this beer and the specific proportions:

The Goal: To create complexity centering on oak, in a multitude of forms, by brewing high gravity beers in complementary styles, aging them in different barrel formats and then blending them together to achieve harmonious new flavors.

The Puzzle: To blend these various components (or lots) to create a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is done with the help of a few of our neighboring Paso Robles winemakers who are practicing experts in the art of blending.

The Inspiration: Firestone Walker’s oak brewing tradition and our connection with winemaking. Of course until the advent of stainless steel, brewing was intimately linked to wood barrels and vessels. Brewing has a deeply rooted history in the alchemy of blending.

The Barrels:

The individual lots were aged in oak barrels, many of which were hand selected from premium Kentucky spirits producers by Tom Griffin, who is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about bourbon barrels and beer. Each barrel lends its own unique influence to the final blend.

Double Double Barrel Ale (10.9% ABV) – (31%) of final blend
Aged 100% in retired Firestone Union Barrels
-Double strength English Pale Ale

Sticky Monkey (12% ABV) – (29%) of final blend
Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels
-English Barley Wine

Parabola (13% ABV) – (27%) of final blend
Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout

Velvet Merkin (6% ABV) – (7%) of final blend
100% Aged in Bourbon barrels
-Traditional Oatmeal Stout

Good Foot (13% ABV) – (3%) of final blend
Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-American Barley Wine

Black Xantus(11% ABV) – (3%) of final blend
-Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Coffee Infused Imperial Stout

Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale
Pours a cola-colored brown, a smidge muddy, but unless you are looking at the thinnest points of the glass, it's tough to see through this anyway. A wispy, tan head slowly bubbles up, eclipsing a finger's height before gradually receding. Lots of smooth lacing gradually breaks apart, with some parts falling back into the beer and the rest settling around the edges.
The nose initially brings an intense burst of bourbon, chocolate, and vanilla, giving the beer a very rich and sweet component right from the start. As it settles, the complexity starts to develop, as the oats, hops, and individual components of the blend come into play. Coffee, leather, and toffee are strong players, as well as a surprising citrus contribution from the hops.
My first sip brings a bit of heat and, again, a lot of the bourbon barrel. It's easy to get overwhelmed with this beer, since a wide range of styles, ingredients, and barrel-aging is present here. Right away it's easy to distinguish the Parabola portion of the blend as the roasted malts and anise are a constant presence in the background, which when mixed with Velvet Merlin/Merkin, give the initial flavor a smoothness that helps accentuate each aspect of the beer. I'm also getting a smattering of brandy as well, with an alcoholic grape and cherry flavor. In the finish, the hops seems to shine, as a citrus hop flavor takes over, adding a somewhat bitter cut to the overall flavors.
Mouthfeel is medium-bodied with good carbonation. This is actually much thinner than I was expecting; rather than being a heavy, syrupy behemoth, this is surprisingly lighter-bodied and very easy to drink. That coupled with nice carbonation aids this in drinkability, and a rush of varied flavors keeps the palate busy guessing as to what will come next.
Drinkability is high. I have to admit that this is much different that I was expecting. After hearing and listening to reviews of this beer, I was anticipating something that would blow me away from the start. Honestly, that wasn't the case, and the initial taste left a little to be desired for. However, as it warmed and the individual beers developed within the blend, I found myself enjoying this more and more. This is the quintessential sipping beer, as when it is near-fridge temperature, the more harsh and bold flavors dominate, but with each temperature change brings more and more subtlety and depth as the rest of the blend develops. This is a year old at this point, and I will definitely say that I am looking to get more of this to drink in the future as this has a ton of potential still.
Ranging anywhere from $15-$25, this beer has as value proportional to how much you enjoy barrel-aged beers. This has everything from wine to bourbon, so if you are anticipating the resulting flavor, this is worth every penny. But given that there are so many variables here, it's tough to zero in on individual notes.
Overall, I enjoyed this beer a lot, but that's coming from someone who absolutely adores barrel-aged beers. As mentioned earlier, the biggest negative for this beer is that it is tough, if not impossible, to discern any particular flavor as there is just so much going on here. I appreciate the ambitiousness that Firestone Walker brings to the table here, but 14th Anniversary isn't the most coherent example of the style.

Beer Stats
Style: American Strong Ale
Serving: Bottle
Size: 22oz
ABV: 12.50%
BA Score: 95
RB Score: 100

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Written by Greg Bruce

While studying at Penn State, Greg learned that beer could serve a much better purpose than a means to an end for a good party. Delicately brewed Belgians acted as a stark contrast to the almost watery beer that had been so popular and began the journey towards craft beer. From that launch point he always seems to land on something new. Greg approaches each beer, whether it is an aggressively-hopped West Coast IPA or an English bitter (and everything between), with a clear mind and open opinion, ready to analyze, compare, and ultimately, enjoy. While always fond of stouts (especially barrel-aged) and IPAs, Greg is slowly but surely drifting towards various soured beers. Find Greg Bruce on Google Plus

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