Firestone Walker XVI
Blending a variety of beers to create one harmonious experience it nothing new in the brewing world. Lambic brewers and blenders in Belgium have been doing it for generations. But the scale on which Firestone Walker XVI is built is just about unheard of. Let’s start by taking a look at the eight different beers that went into making this celebratory release:
Velvet Merkin (8.7% ABV) – Traditional Oatmeal Stout (23% of final blend)
Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) – English Barley Wine (22.5% of final blend)
Double Double Barrel Ale (14.2% ABV) – Double strength English Pale Ale (20.3% of final blend)
Parabola (13% ABV) – Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout (10.8% of final blend)
PNC (13.0% ABV) – American Strong Buckwheat Stout (8.1% of final blend)
Helldorado (11.5% ABV) – Blonde Barley Wine (5.4% of final blend)
Bravo (13.4% ABV) – Imperial Brown Ale (5.4% of final blend)
Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV) – Black Rye India Pale Ale (4.5% of final blend)
Now, I’ve only had a couple of the original beers from the above list (Parabola and Wookey Jack) and I can figure out what they may bring to the blend, but as for the rest of them, until I actually opened up the bottle, I could only imagine how they affected the final product. Some of those original beers were aged in any one of the 226 barrels used in the making of them — bourbon, brandy and tequila barrels all bring a distinct character to the beer.
I knew going into buying this beer that it had the potential to either come out deliciously complex or a muddled mess. I mean, that is a wide variety of flavors that the brewers of Firestone Walker (and guest winemakers) brought together for XVI. Thankfully, this big 13% ABV American Strong Ale (not sure what else to classify it as) is not a mess. It does take a little while for it to come out of its shell, but once the beer as had a chance to warm a bit in the glass, a myriad of flavors washes over your tongue with a dynamic and layered presentation.
Firestone Walker XVI pours as I had expected based on the ingredients of the blend. A smallish, light tan head drops smoothly to a thin ring around the top of the dark brown liquid.
This beer certainly has one of the most complex noses I’ve encountered. Molasses, wood, figs, subtle roast, cocoa, booze, distant bourbon and a hint of vanilla intermingle nicely — the aroma is smooth and doesn’t bombard the senses with all elements on full blast.
The flavor follows the aroma only slightly as there are flavors here that don’t introduce themselves within the nose. There’s a spicy character within the beers depths as a latent bit of tequila arrives to join the molasses and cocoa. The boubron and woodiness linger softly in a drying finish that carries a hint of hop bitterness and a boozy warmth. XVI is a bit lighter bodied than I expected, but it doesn’t detract from its enjoyment.
I had kept this beer in my basement cooler at about 53° over the better part of the 6 months that I’ve had the beer so it wasn’t overly chilled when I finally cracked it open. I mention this because the first few sips really didn’t bring that much to the table. It wasn’t until the beer had had a chance to rest in the glass a bit and come up in temperature that it finally started to share it’s tasty depths with me. For as many styles and influences as there are in the final blend of Firestone Walker XVI, the beer doesn’t confuse the taste buds. Everything comes and goes as it pleases, but in a restrained degree, never trying to out do the other elements of the beer.