Anniversary Ale Library
no longer available
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 individual lots were aged in oak barrels, most 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. Tom continues to hand deliver some real treats to us, including some 20+ year old Rip Van Winkle Barrels!
Barrels freshly dumped from the distilleries and hand delivered by Tom Griffin:
Rip Van Winkle Bourbon
Old Fitzgerald Bourbon / Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey
Heaven Hill Bourbon / Heaven Hill Brandy / Heaven Hill Rye
Barrels purchased directly from American Coopers toasted to Firestone Walker’s specifications:
New American Oak produced by World Cooperage / medium and medium plus toast
Retired Firestone Union Oak produced by World Cooperage, and Barrel Associates (water bent staves)
The Aging Cellar – The Components
Following are descriptions of key components with their original code names:
Parabola (13% ABV) - (44%) of final blend
Aged in New American oak, bourbon and rye barrels
-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout (brewed02-09-06 and 01-18-08)
OG=28P FG=7.5P IBU=80 Color=Black / Hopped with Simcoe, Bravo, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding
Opal (11% ABV) – (28%) of final blend
Aged in rye barrels
-Wheat Wine (brewed 2-25-08)
OG=22.4P FG=6.2P IBU=45 Color=17 / Brewed with torrified and malted wheat, lightly hopped with Saaz
Rufus (11% ABV) – (18%) of final blend
Aged in rye and bourbon barrels
-Continental Imperial Amber Ale (brewed 8-17-07)
OG=22.5 FG=4.5 IBU=40 Color=15 / Brewed with Belgian Dark Candi Syrup / Hopped with Styrian Goldings and Saaz
Saucerful of Secrets (9% ABV) – (9%) of final blend
Aged in Brandy Barrels
-Belgian Strong Ale (brewed 10-30-07)
OG=23.4 FG=6.1 IBU 25 Color=39 / Brewed with Belgian Dark Candi sugar and everything else but the kitchen sink
Union Jack IPA (7% ABV) - (1%) of final blend
Aged in stainless steel
-American Style IPA (brewed 10-28-08)
OG=17 FG=3.5 IBU=75 Color=12 / Brewed with massive amounts of hops and a very kind attitude
A Note from Brewmaster Matt Brynildson
Our 12th Year!
It is hard to believe that our little brewery, which started fermenting beer in barrels on the back 40 of the Firestone Vineyard in 1996, has grown up so fast. Time truly flies when you are having fun. Things have changed a great deal from those first days which seem so long ago. For one thing, there were originally eight oak barrels in the Firestone Union. Today there are 42 barrels firing away seven days a week producing our beloved Double Barrel Ale. We still remain the only brewery in the United States and one of two in the world that continues the nearly extinct Union fermentation program. The other brewery who practices this art is Marston’s in Burton on Trent in England, makers of Pedigree. They started brewing in 1843… so they are the masters and we are still an infant in the world of barrel fermentation. I had the amazing honor of traveling to Burton on Trent this year and brewing at the Marston’s brewery. Seeing their Burton Union in person was nothing short of amazing!
We once again celebrate the year’s accomplishments and the talented group of people who make it all possible with this barrel-aged beer. As the brewery grows and our beers reach further out, our core brewing team and their passion for producing great beer remains solidly intact. Our staff continues to pull down award after award in competition, but more importantly, they continue to produce better and better – world class beer! The one key foundational piece of this team and its unsung hero, who has been a constant since the very beginning, is Miguel Ibarra. Back in the early days, Miguel would run the brewhouse on Mondays, cellar beer on Tuesdays, filter beer on Wednesdays, bottle beer in Thursdays, load trucks on Friday and work the tasting rooms on the weekends. Miguel is still the hardest working man in the beer business and he put each and every bottle of this beer in the box which you now hold. Miguel has seen it all develop and grow here at Firestone Walker. If ever you want to hear the story from the man who lived it, come visit the tasting room in Paso Robles some weekend.
The Barrels and the Beer
XII is once again a blend of beers produced by our brewing staff and blended by our winemaking friends. We maintain between 80-100 barrels in the program. Many of these were left to rest after the previous years’ blends were produced. We have yet to fully realize how long a beer might last and improve over time - we only know that we are very happy with how thing are progressing. We now have beers that have been with us for more than three years.
This year’s blend resulted from harvesting 32 barrels, leaving a nice amount for subsequent years and the opportunity to watch things develop. But please remember- this isn’t a Belgian freak show - this project is about clean fermented beers, produced with water, malt, hops, cultured brewing yeast and oak barrels. No Critters, No Fruit. It’s not that we have anything against such things. We hold no prejudices when it comes to beer. We simply wanted to explore a piece of the brewing world that concentrates on what we know best and what our brewery is all about.
The foundational beer for this year’s blend is our bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout Parabola. This beer was originally formulated three years ago for this project, and some of that original beer is in this blend. The beer was brewed again in January of 2008 by James Cibak, my very good friend, with whom I learned how to brew back in Chicago at Goose Island Brewing. He went on to become the Head Brewer at Three Floyds and then came to work at Firestone Walker for a short stint… long enough to lend his expertise to this fine brew. James now is back in the Mid-West heading up the Crown Brewing Company in Crown Point, IN. Parabola is massive yet refined, and is responsible for all of the roasty, chocolate, and assertive dark malt character in the blend.
This year we did take things a little out of our comfort zone and added some twists to the beers that we produced for this project. Sean Paxton (a.k.a. the Homebrew Chef) came to the brewery and brewed his Saucerful of Secrets, a tribute to the late Syd Barrett. This is this first time that we have brewed a full scale beer utilizing Belgian yeast (not wild, mind you.) The recipe is far removed from anything we have ever produced and definitely showcases what happens when a chef steps into the brewhouse. This beer just keeps getting better and better as it ages. The beer was awarded the 1st place gold medal at the California State Fair - quite an honor for a homebrewer and his recipe. It was amplified and brewed on our 50bbl kettles, producing a winner on the first try! It’s a homebrewer’s dream, I would guess.
Another first was Opal (or Big Opal), a Wheat Wine formulated to be a big malty beer for blending down aggressive oak astringency and other rough edges. By itself, it never really worked for me, but as a blending piece it is a perfect beer. It became the big jammy Zin for our blend. As we formulated this beer, we realized that a substantial amount of the second runnings would be lost to make this massive first runnings beer. We chose to save these tailings and fermented them with Saison yeast creating Lil’ Opal, which became a favorite summer session beer around the brewery… a Central Coastal twist to partigyle brewing.
Rufuswas the final big beer to be added to the fold. This Imperial Amber Ale (is there really such a thing?) had been in rye whiskey and bourbon barrels for a year and a half, which pushed the mature barrel character of this beer to a beautiful place.
In a short three years, our barrel program has drawn some of the best winemakers from the Paso Robles region. This year, we had six very accomplished wine artisans helping us. Justin Smith(www.saxumvineyards.com) is one of the most talked about wine makers in the area. His family’s vineyards, Bone Rock and James Berry, consistently produce the most sought after fruit in the county. I have been wanting to have him on board since the beginning of all of this. He does a lot of consulting for the local scene. Scott Hawley (www.torrinwine.com) joined us this year as well. He is another exceptional wine maker who makes some incredible wines and does a good deal of vineyard and winemaking consultation. He was one of Steve Martell’s mentors. Chris Cherry (www.villacreek.com) is a long time local chef and, more recently, wine maker who draws a lot of his fruit from the James Berry vineyard mentioned above. He loves our IPAs and has been pouring our beer in his restaurant, in Riedel Beer Stems, for years... presentation is everything. Chris is the one who made Union Jack a part of the blend. Matt Trevison (www.linnecalodo.com) briefly joined us again this year to give his blessing on the final blend. Matt's winery is enjoying wide success. He continues to push the envelope with non-traditional blends and continues to have my attention as an outstanding local producer. Steve Martell (www.kaleidoswine.com) also joined us for the third year in a row. He is a lover of beer as well as wine. His Kaleidos Wines are scoring well and are always in my cellar. Last, but in no way least, Neil Collins (www.lonemadrone.com & www.tablascreek.com) came by to once again participate in our adventure. Neil is a busy guy who heads the winemaking of two awesome wineries and produces a wonderful hard cider as well. We learned together, after a Friday afternoon of drinking, that Big Opal and hard cider makes the ultimate snake bite! Along with the wine makers, Rick Sellers from Draft Magazine (www.draftmag.com), Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef (www.hombrewchef.com) and Jessica Jones the Thirsty Hopster (www.thethirstyhopster.wordpress.com) assisted with the final blending session. It was wonderful to have them along for the ride!
As we have found in the past, winemakers speak another language when it comes to describing what they taste. This creation is a testament to these artisans and their abilities to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I owe them a great deal for their help… and as they say, “It takes a lot of beer to make a great wine.” I’m guessing I will be paying them back in beer.
The Finished Piece
As a finished beer, XII is in some ways more aggressive than any previous blend, but it maintains a great deal of depth and complexity. Everyone seems to get something different when they taste this beer- mocha, tobacco, toasted almonds, olallieberries… I leave the interpretation to you. It is best enjoyed in a half filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Allow it to warm to 55F to fully enjoy the pleasing and complex aromas. If left in a cool dark place, I suspect that this beer will age well. Only time will tell. If you find something you like- please contact us and let us know your thoughts.
I truly hope you enjoy our third oak-aged blend. This crazy beer journey continues!
Dedicated to Bryan Pulido. May your next brew be your very best.
Barrel - aged Blend
No longer available - Original Release: November 2008