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The Beer Circle » American Pale Ale, American Strong Ale, American Wild Ale, Beer Week, Black IPA, English Pale Ale, Firestone Walker, Imperial IPA, Oak, Oatmeal Stout, Pappy Van Winkle, Porter » SAVOR: Firestone Walker Beer Dinner at Churchkey

SAVOR: Firestone Walker Beer Dinner at Churchkey

I was very excited when I saw that Churchkey was kicking off SAVOR Beer Week with a dinner featuring beers from Firestone Walker Brewing Company. We’ve already taken a stab at a few of their beers on this site (Paige with Union Jack and Greg with 14th and 15th Anniversary) and I personally haven’t found a beer brewed by them that I didn’t like. All I knew going into the event was what beers would be served and that food was involved, so I was in the dark, but trusting of Churchkey and Birch & Barley’s expertise in beer pairing. Here’s what was on the list:

Agrestic Ale, Velvet Merkin, 15th Anniversary Ale, Parabola 2012, Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA, Pale 31, Double Barrel Ale, Double Jack Imperial IPA, and Walker’s Reserve Porter

My drinking buddy Chase and I arrived early, so we headed upstairs for a quick pregame beer. I was shocked to see that only a scant few taps were Sierra Nevada. With 55 taps going live by 4pm the next day, they must have a busy schedule for the morning! As I did with the Bell’s Beer Dinner review, I will be replacing the Value category with Pairing, as all the beers came as part of the $73 price tag for the meal.

The Scorecard

David Walker gave a nice introduction to the evening. He shared a story about his first keg of Firestone Walker, and how he had to beg the barkeep to take the Fosters tap handle off the tap. Needless to say they’ve come a long way. David came down from Philly Beer Week to be here. As they’re not doing SAVOR this year, this is their only SAVOR beer week presence.

We started off light with the Pale 31. Named for California as the 31st state, David called this the “New World Pale Ale,” as it’s similar to the style of beer that made the “craft beer revolution” take off.

Pale 31
Pale 31 pours a crystal clear yellow color with about a finger or two of white head. The retention and lacing are both top notch.
The aroma is wheaty with some complimenting pine and citrus hops. It seems to have a maltiness underneath, and is pretty light overall.
The taste continues the wheat, slight hops and malts theme. The hops do seem to take a larger part in the taste than they did in the aroma. The malt base is also more prevalent. It seems to be a pilsner pale ale mix.
Extremely light and crisp with a medium to low carbonation. This beer is damn drinkable. I put down my serving very quickly.
This was the introduction beer, so it wasn't paired with anything but a speech, which was very well done.
Really nice offering, but nothing special. I probably wouldn't pick it up again.

Beer Stats
Style: American Pale Ale
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 4.80%
BA Score: 87
RB Score: 92

Next up is Double Barrel Ale. This beer is really interesting because they take a pale ale and throw it through 60 gallon oak barrels to ferment–and are the only American brewery to do so. It’s an English Pale Ale, or the Old World Pale to Pale 31’s New World.

I asked about the difference in fermenting this in oak barrels and aging big beers in Bourbon. This process is so delicate it takes a lot of science to vet the barrels, it’s a very intensive process because of the low ABV. When you’re talking about big beers, like Parabola, there’s much less of a process because the high ABV kills any possible pathogens. They get the barrels from Coopers in Missouri, and retire them after 4 months.

Double Barrel Ale
The beer looks a lot like Pale 31, but it's more brown. Head, lacing, and retention are very similar.
Very malty aroma. The oak is present, but not dominant. Light hop qualities.
Really nice malty beer with definite hop quality. It's piney, but oaky. The taste is so clean it's very impressive. Overall, however, there's not a lot going on, but what is happening is great.
Low carbonation, which is right along with the English style. Very drinkable.
This was paired with buckwheat cavatelli, saffron-braised chicken with English peas. The buttery, salty food paired wonderfully with the subtle, malty beer. It really was like a deconstructed chicken pot pie with a really drinkable pale ale.
I much preferred this to the Pale 31. It was very drinkable and the amount of attention they pay to the beer shows. It's wonderful.

Beer Stats
Style: English Pale Ale
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 5.00%
BA Score: 83
RB Score: 86

Now to Walker’s Reserve Porter, which sees 60% of the beer ferment in those same oak barrels from Double Barrel Ale.

Walker’s Reserve Porter
The beer is black with a finger of light brown head. Wonderful lacing and retention.
Walker's Reserve's aroma is very roasty with a nice chocolate character. Some dark fruits coming out as well.
The taste is balanced perfectly. It starts off with some really dark chocolate and is overtaken by some roast. The dark fruits hang out in the back, and some coffee like roast come out at the very end. Oaky throughout, but only slightly so.
Medium to heavy body with a medium amount of carbonation. Very dry finish. The balance makes this beer so drinkable. Sweet and roasty.
This was paired with sea bass, which was my substitute for the prawn (because of my food allergies) and it was delicious. The more delicate fish and veggies played well with the powerful porter. It was the opposite of before where the strong food was complimented by the light beer. The beer was the focus here.
This is one of my favorite porters and this yet again lived up to the hype. I had no idea it spent time in oak barrels before tonight, but I really like it (which typically is not the case for me, I dislike oak).

Beer Stats
Style: American Porter
Serving: Bottle
Size: 4oz
ABV: 5.80%
BA Score: 86
RB Score: 97

Time for the only sour ale of the evening.

Agrestic Ale
The color of Agrestic Ale is hazy red brown with only a thin ring of head and no bubbles.
The aroma is sour brown ale all the way. Tart acidity, caramel malts, and some cherries? It smells tart and sweet.
It tastes like New Belgium's La Folie, but not quite as strong or good, sadly. It's good, but not on that level. Brown ale underneath is showing its maltiness, but the acidity takes over quickly. Sour, tart, and vinegar. It's built on DBA, which I can see because it's malty and crisp overall.
Medium body with a low carbonation. It's very drinkable, with a dry lingering aftertaste.
This was paired with braised lamb belly, which was phenomenal. The salty lamb and purée paired perfectly with the tart sour beer. This was the first time tonight that the food enhanced the beer
This was a nice little sour beer, but it wasn't spectacular. I'd like to see a bigger flavor profile underneath. I really like how they used DBA instead of making a new base beer though.

Beer Stats
Style: American Wild Ale
Serving: Bottle
Size: 4oz
ABV: 7.00%
BA Score: N/A (4 Reviews)
RB Score: N/A

It was at this point that they brought out three pretty interesting beers, all paired with cheese. Here is where the night started to get fun as we pondered over three distinctly different beers.

Double Jack
Double Jack has a clear yellow-brown pour with a finger of white head. As I've been noticing with all these beers, the head and retention are great.
Resinous hops with a big citrus character. The bitter hops are just dominated by fruit; it's amazing and sometimes overwhelming.
The pine is more noticeable on the taste, but the citrus is huge. It's like I'm eating an orange. Resinous hops come up again at the finish. The sheer size of the beer hides the alcohol nicely. Apparently this is triple dry hopped, which I can absolutely taste.
Light body, but carbonated really well. The dry hop finish coats the mouth completely. Very drinkable of you're a hop head. It's very aggressive on your palate.
This was paired with cheese, which if you know me...I hate. But amazingly I quite enjoyed this pairing. The less aggressive cheese and the aggressive hops worked--even for me.
This is one of my favorite imperial IPAs. It's fruity, which I wouldn't expect from the west coast. Give this a try.

Double Jack, Wookey Jack, Parabola

Beer Stats
Style: Imperial IPA
Serving: Bottle
Size: 4oz
ABV: 9.50%
BA Score: 94
RB Score: 100

Next on the list was Wookey Jack, which David compared to “the milkman” showing up to the Union and Double Jack family (to many a laugh I might add).

Wookey Jack
Stout black pour with about a ring of brown head. Hardly any retention or lacing.
The hops on Wookey Jack are impressive, much more so than a typical Black IPA. Very citrusy and lemony, without that roastiness from the style that I've come to expect. It really smells like an IPA, which I like.
The taste continues this theme. It tastes like an IPA, but it's black. Very slight roast character at the back end. It's very fruity and slightly piney. First time I've had a Black IPA that is mostly IPA and I like it.
Medium body with a medium carbonation and really drinkable. The roast and hop combination is very nice.
Again, cheese. The cheese here is basically non existent. As my friend said it's basically just texture. The pickled strawberry was wonderful.
My favorite black IPA I've had so far. Really impressed. FW IPAs seem to be top notch in every way.

Beer Stats
Style: Black IPA
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 8.30%
BA Score: 92
RB Score: 99

Now it’s time for the big boy: Parabola. I learned this was aged in 22 to 24 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels and that it’s a blend of an Imperial Stout that has been in the barrels ranging from 6 months to 6 years.

Parabola 2012
Black pour with a finger of dark brown head. The retention is great, lacing could be better.
Big hit of bourbon with equally large dark fruits, molasses with an impressive chocolate body. Just a huge smell that is unlike any we've had so far.
My word I forgot how good Parabola was. Beautifully integrated bourbon, chocolate, roast, and molasses. The bourbon and chocolate is just outstanding. This is one of the best bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts on the market. I believe that using such a top notch Bourbon is apparent with this beer. I can't say there are many with such perfectly integrated barrel aging.
Thick, heavy body with a low carbonation. Hits of alcohol throughout. The drinkability is high because it's so delicious.
This smokey cheese was actually quite good. It paired perfectly with the bourbon in the beer. Sweet, smokey cheese with wheat bread and this stout is very good.
The highlight of the night. Delicious in every way. Balanced, delicious, and paired well.

Beer Stats
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Serving: Bottle
Size: 4oz
ABV: 12.50%
BA Score: 99
RB Score: 100

Velvet Merkin is an oatmeal stout aged in the same Pappy Van Winkle barrels as Parabola. At Firestone Walker, they’ve dubbed this the best beer they brewed in 2012.

Velvet Merkin (Pappy Barrels)
Black pour with a thin ring of dark brown head. I can see some bubbles forcing their way up.
The same barrels really have a different aroma for this beer. Vanilla, and not quite as aggressive bourbon are noted, but the oatmeal stout is still there. It's very sweet.
The vanilla is very pervasive on the taste, which I was not expecting at all. The beer goes from vanilla to chocolate to bourbon to roast, back to vanilla and some booze on the backend. A very nicely developing beer with coffee tones at the very end. Not quite as good as Parabola, but a really nice surprise.
Not as heavy a body as Parabola, but similar carbonation. Very drinkable, but the sweetness will wear on you.
Again, my allergies came into play here. I got a passion fruit cheesecake with pineapples and sorbet with coconut shavings. It was phenomenal, but the vanilla on vanilla wore on me. The cheesecake was one of the best cheesecakes I've ever had and the sorbet melted in your mouth. Sadly I forgot to take a picture. I will not let this happen again!
The biggest surprise of the night. I very much enjoyed it. This beer is part of so many of their blends I was very happy to finally try it. It's very sweet, but very good. If you can find it, drink it.

Beer Stats
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 8.70%
BA Score: N/A (4 Reviews)
RB Score: 99

Now take a deep breath. You’ve almost made it! Onto the final beer, the famed 15th Anniversary. It’s fitting that this beer finishes off the night, as it’s a blend of so many different beers by this wonderful brewery. Here is the list of blended beers:

18% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine.
17% Sticky Monkey (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine.
17% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale.
13% Double Double Barrel Ale (11.5% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale.
11% Good Foot (14.3 ABV) American Barley Wine.
10% Velvet Merkin (8.6% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout.
9% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout.
5% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale.

Velvet Merkin (Pappy Barrels)
Semi-clear deep red brown pour devoid of head.
The smell is amazingly malty. A ton of vanilla with slight bourbon. It's oaky, but the amount of barrel aging makes it hard to determine what's going on. Boozy, but blended and mellowed very well.
The taste is pretty boozy, but the bourbon and oak take over towards the backend. The vanilla and sweet maltiness are pervasive, but the barrel aging balances it out. This beer is becoming exceedingly difficult to describe. It's all barrel and sweetness. The finish is slightly hoppy. It's not bad, but I think Parabola and Velvet Merkin were better.
Heavy body with a low carbonation. Pretty drinkable, but the alcohol and sweetness gets to me a bit.
This was the finishing beer. The nail in the coffin if you will. I wanted something to snack on, but I'm pretty sure I've run the gamut with delicious food.
This is a great beer, but probably not worth the price tag for a bottle. It's good, but didn't blow me away. I will humbly admit that my palate is most likely destroyed at this point...and my note taking ability has diminished.

Beer Stats
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged American Strong Ale
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 12.50%
BA Score: 93
RB Score: 100

To sum it all up, this is a night I won’t soon forget (after I remember it all, that is). Birch & Barley and Firestone Walker knocked it out of the park, and got SAVOR Beer Week off to an amazing start.

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Written by Russ Beck

Russ can trace his beginnings in craft beer to sitting in Zeno’s Pub in State College drinking various craft beer options from across Pennsylvania. Since then, he has never faltered in finding new brews, whether they’re rare, delicious, or hopefully both. Russ will be writing on a large variety of subjects, including but not limited to: reviews, homebrewing, and how to take labels off of beer bottles. He’ll drink just about anything, but prefers a nice Stout, IPA, or Weizenbock. Find Russ Beck on Google Plus

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