Firestone Walker Gets Un-Hoppy With Their XIX Anniversary Ale

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Firestone Walker Brewing Company has been releasing an Anniversary Ale each year, starting with their 10th Anniversary Ale a decade ago.  I’ve tried most of them, though I never did manage to get my hands on a X, XI or XII.  I have, however, been fortunate to taste every vintage since XIII (released in late 2009).  They’ve all been different, and I’ve enjoyed every single one.  Each year’s offering is a rich and complex ale, thanks to skilled barrel aging and blending.  This year’s version is a blend of four different barrel aged Firestone Walker beers, each one a distinctive and enticing ale in its own right.

Over the past few years of Anniversary releases, Firestone’s head brewer, Matt Brynildson, felt that hoppier beers (such as Double Jack and Wookey Jack) were starting to make the Anniversary blend a bit too hop-centric.  He wanted to reverse that trend this year, so XIX doesn’t have much of a hoppy component, by design.

This year, Firestone invited a bunch of their wine making friends to help them with the final blend for this year’s offering.

Here is the full press release from Firestone Walker Brewing Company:

Paso Robles, CA: An annual rite came with a twist this year when local winemakers once again joined Firestone Walker’s brewing team for the blending of the next Anniversary Ale—only to discover that hoppy component beers had been taken off the table.

“We went back to the basics this year,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “We offered the winemakers a smaller number of barrel-aged beers to work with, and we eliminated the option of blending in our hoppy stainless steel finished beers. They were surprised at first, but it resulted in a rich and complex beer that is centered on barrel-aged flavors.”

In the past, as many as nine component beers were incorporated into the final Anniversary Ale blend. However, this year’s Anniversary Ale—called XIX—is comprised of four beers: Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Bravo, and Velvet Merkin.

Un-Hoppy

In recent years, Brynildson found that hop-driven component beers such as Double Jack and Wookey Jack were becoming increasingly influential in the final blend. “In a blending session, the palate can easily gravitate to hops, because they are assertive and seductive,” Brynildson said. “I was concerned that hoppiness might begin to encroach on the intended style of the Anniversary Ale, so I eliminated the temptation.”

He added, “In many ways, this latest beer reflects more of what a typical wine blend would be in terms of the number of components and how those components can work together. I believe it truly embodies what this project is all about.”

Grapes to Grains

“Our winemaker friends are practicing experts in the art of blending,” Brynildson said. “Their input is invaluable when it comes to blending a seamless beer from widely varied components.”

As always, the XIX blending session was both friendly and fiercely competitive. A total of 13 winemakers participated. The winemakers were paired off and presented with the component beers. The pairs were tasked with creating their own preferred blends from among the components. The preferred blends were then presented to the entire group and blind tasted. Individual votes were cast, and the blend with the most votes became the basis for XIX.

Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery are credited with creating the winning blend that became XIX, granting them possession of the coveted cardboard crown that is awarded to the winning team each year.

THE FINAL BLEND

“We blended together 235 oak barrels and four different beers creating something truly complex and exceptional.” Brewmaster Matt Brynildson                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Parabola / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 33.33% of Final Blend

-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout

Stickee Monkee / Aged in Bourbon and Whiskey Barrels / 33.33% of Final Blend

-Central Coast Quad Brewed with Belgian Candi and Mexican Turbinado (brown) Sugar

Bravo / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 16.6% of Final Blend

-Imperial Brown Ale

Velvet Merkin / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 16.6% of Final Blend

-Traditional Oatmeal Stout

                                             

XIX ABV: 13.8%

ORIGINS & AVAILABILITY

XIX is the 10th release in Firestone Walker’s anniversary series, dating back to the release of the inaugural anniversary release called “Ten” in 2006. Over the ensuing years, Firestone Walker has developed one of the craft beer industry’s most extensive barrel aging programs, spanning upwards of 1,500 barrels. Brewing beer with oak barrels has been a pioneering focal point for the brewery since its founding in 1996.

XIX will be available in select markets across the United States starting in November. The suggested retail price is $23.99 for an individually boxed 22-ounce bottle.

BREWMASTER’S NOTES

“As a finished beer, XIX is a rich, chocolaty, chewy brew with brandy-soaked raisin and holiday fruitcake flavors. The blend is anchored by equal parts Stickee Monkee and Parabola, which combine to create a dense chocolate truffle-like base. Velvet Merkin and Bravo lend their spicy oak, leather and fruity accents to complete the brew. The beer is unfiltered and unfined so there will be a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. XIX is best enjoyed poured carefully into a half-filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Allow it to warm to 55F to fully enjoy the pleasing and complex aromas. As the beer sits and breathes in the glass the true complexity of this blend is revealed, so take your time. If you wait to open your bottle later, store it in a cool dark place. I suspect, like our other Anniversary offerings, that this beer will age well and change favorably for years to come.”

 

PARTICIPATING WINEMAKERS

“These are my friends and brothers in fermentation science, and practicing experts in the art of blending.” Brewmaster Matt Brynildson

·         Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan – Thacher Winery (Winning Blend)

·         Matt Trevisan – Linne Calodo

·         Stephan Asseo – L’Aventure

·         Steve Martell – Kaleidos

·         Eric Jensen and Connor McMahon  – Booker

·         Terry Hoage – TH Estate Wines

·         Russell From and Cameron Stoffel – Herman Story

·         Kevin Sass and Molly Lonborg – Halter Ranch

·         Scott Hawley –Torrin Vineyard

 

Also thanks to friends Arie Litman, Pete Slosberg and Bobby Fox for lending their expertise to the blending session.

Firestone Walker has been blending complex ales for a decade now, and it all started in late 2005 when Brynildson and his crew started thinking about what they wanted to do for their 10th Anniversary.  They wanted something special.  They wanted something complex yet refined.  They got it, and I’m glad they keep offering us something new and amazing each year.  How did it all start, though?

Here are a few words about how the concept for Firestone’s Anniversary beers started, from Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson:

“I started researching and talking to friends in the wine industry, experts at the art of aging in oak.  I kept running into the concept of blending to refine flavor and create complexity.  I learned that every barrel becomes something on its own and must be considered a separate component.  Based on this finding, we decided to brew a number of high gravity beers, being careful to formulate and create beers that would stand up to time in a barrel.” (Read more HERE.)

Firestone Walker’s XIX Anniversary Ale should be arriving in Washington in early to mid November.  I’ll keep an eye out for it.  Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll post to let you know when it starts arriving in local bottle shops.  I’m looking forward to trying this year’s blend.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

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