Since founding our brewery in 1996, we have specialized in the rare art of brewing beer in oak barrels. In the fall of 2006, we released a limited-edition oak-aged strong ale called 10 to commemorate our 10thanniversary. The experience was greater than any one of us could have ever imagined. We now present XXII, our thirteenth release in what has become an annual autumn rite at our brewery.
About The Blending
Every August, right before the wine harvest gets rolling, our local winemaker friends come to the brewery to help blend our annual Anniversary Ale. Winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending, and we realized early on that they could provide invaluable input for creating a seamless beer out of numerous barrel-aged component ales. The winemakers come for both the challenge and the camaraderie. They split up into small teams and create their own preferred blends from the provided components. Each of the resulting trials is then blind tasted by the entire group, and votes are cast for the winning blend. The victorious team walks away with bragging rights—and with a set of coveted cardboard crowns.
Distinguished Winemakers and friends who came together for the 2019 blend
A Note from Brewmaster Matt Brynildson
Having our good friends from the Central Coastal wine community back to the brewery to blend this beer reminds me of the long strange trip it’s been to this point. When Adam Firestone and David Walker first conceived this brewery, they were determined to incorporate barrels into the process to create our flagship Double Barrel Ale (DBA). The notion of barrel-fermented ales seemed natural for a 3rd generation winegrower like Adam. Their idea was to repurpose the used Chardonnay barrels from Firestone Vineyard and use these vessels to ferment beer. What they soon realized was that these barrels contained yeast and other microflora from the winemaking process, which created wild and, at that time, unwanted flavors in their beers. They were forced to scrap the used wine barrel idea and instead turned to new oak barrels to ferment DBA. For 23 years, week-in and week-out, we have stayed true to that process and as a result, oak barrels have been at the core of our beer making program. Ten years after this all began, we introduced the world to our first spirits barrel-aged beer, 10 (or X)—the first generation of the beer you are now holding, which sent us on another amazing journey exploring what wood barrels can bring to the flavor development of beer. These early experiments in barrel aging and beer blending connected us with distillers, coopers and the barrel merchants who support their art. It opened up a whole new universe of beer-making possibilities and created an avenue for us to create big, bold beers outside of our core range where we didn’t need to worry about expense or time. Our mantra: If it is possible to be achieved - then we should go for it. Knowing that we needed a number of components to present to the winemakers each year gave us the space to create beers that might not need to stand alone and allowed us to take greater risks. After getting more comfortable with leaving beer in barrels for extended periods of time, we were naturally led toward secondary fermentation techniques, being inspired by the Belgian traditions of Lambic production, which includes the use of fruit, wild yeasts and bottle conditioning. Seven years after the first Firestone Walker barrel-aged beer was released, our Barrelworks wild ale facility was born and our next barrel aging and blending program was introduced to the world. Since this program is based on utilizing used wine barrels to incorporate the terroir of our region through the expression of naturally occurring microflora housed in those barrels, we had in fact come full circle to the original notion Adam and David had back in 1996. More recently, we have taken this connection to our local winemaking region even further through the incorporation of wine grapes in the brewing process, creating hybrid, co-fermented beers culminating in what we call the Terroir Project, which is an international brewers collective encouraging other brewers to explore and share their local connection with the surrounding winegrowing community. It’s been an incredible 23-year journey and in some ways I feel like it has only just begun, and there is still so much to learn. For me, carefully putting a well-constructed beer into a barrel and allowing the beer to mature and develop is beer making in its purest form. Developing the intuition to know when the beer needs attention, a change of temperature, a topping up or knowing simply that it needs to be left alone requires patience and experience. We are 23 years in and still fascinated and obsessed with this art form. I hope you enjoy this chapter of the story as much as we do.
In 2019 we continued with the format of asking the winemakers to combine forces and work in collaborative groups. In the end, Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery and Phil LaMontagne and Will Freeman of TH Estate Wines, along with our good friends Arie Litman, Pete Slosberg and Steve Donohue, put together the winning blend. This is the second year in a row this team has taken the top blend, and the third time Thacher Winery has been crowned as the top blend creator.
This year the winemakers created a blend that is elegant and seamless. In fact, I don’t recall a year when a blend stood so apart from the others in terms of texture. Whether it is the crème brûlée of Helldorado connecting with the smooth milk chocolate of Velvet Merkin; or the mortar-like quality of our tried and true Bravo keeping the Bourbon-soaked cherry notes of Parabola and the vanilla-caramel bricks of Stickee Monkee tuckpointed and aligned—these beers just flow together into an incredible way which no single beer could have accomplished. I will let you pour and discover the rest. This beer is unfiltered and unfined, so there can be a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. XXIII is best enjoyed when poured carefully into a half-filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Swirl and 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 want to wait to open your bottle later, store it in a cool dark place. Like our other Anniversary offerings, this beer will age well and change favorably for years to come. I truly hope you enjoy our 14th oak-aged blend!
This beer is dedicated to the Firestone Walker Technical Leadership Group, making brewing sabbaticals possible.