In winery circles, they often say “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine”—but the reverse is true when it comes to Firestone Walker’s annual Anniversary Ale.
Indeed, the latest Anniversary Ale—dubbed XXI, signifying the Firestone Walker’s 21st year on California’s Central Coast—was once again created with guiding input from friendly local winemakers.
The result is an inspired blend of five distinct beers aged in spirits barrels: Velvet Merkin (oatmeal stout, 42%), Parabola (Russian imperial oatmeal stout, 18%), Stickee Monkee (Central Coast quad, 17%), Bravo (imperial brown ale, 14%) and Helldorado (blonde barleywine, 9%).
XXI will be released to all Firestone Walker markets for a limited time starting next week.
The Anniversary Ale blending session has become an annual late-summer rite at the brewery, and the 2017 session took place on August 22 with 27 winemakers in attendance.
“We’ve been doing this for 12 years now,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “Winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending—I can’t think of a better way to create something synergistic from such a wide range of barrel-aged beers.”
As always, the winemakers broke into teams, and a spirited competition ensued to create the winning blend, which was voted on after a blind tasting by the entire group.
This time, the bragging rights and the coveted “cardboard crown” went to Jordan Fiorentini and Kyle Gingras of Epoch Estate Wines along with Anthony Yount of Denner Vineyards, whose three-person team conceived the blend that became XXI.
XXI represents the first time that Velvet Merkin has set the pace for the Anniversary Ale blend.
“There’s a soft, sexy, chocolatey character to XXI that reflects the predominance of Velvet Merkin in the final blend,” said Eric Ponce, Firestone Walker’s barrel program production manager.
Another twist is the inclusion of Helldorado aged in premium Jamaican rum barrels.
“The rum Helldorado imparts notes of island spice and molasses,” Ponce said. “It adds a subtle exotic touch to the beer.”
Fittingly, the label design of XXI echoes the distinct curved roofline of Firestone Walker’s new brewhouse extension that was completed last summer—the biggest milestone in the brewery’s 21st year.
“The XXI blending session was the very best yet, and the result is absolutely gorgeous,” Brynildson said. “I’m so proud of this beer, and I’m so proud of the people who helped us make it.”
Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels (42%) — Traditional Oatmeal Stout; OG=15P FG=4.0 IBU=32.5 Color=Black / 15% Oats / Hopped with 100% US grown Willamette
Parabola (13.1% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels (18%) — Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout; OG=30P FG=8.5P IBU=80 Color=Black / Hopped with Herkules, Styrian Golding and Hallertau Tradition
Stickee Monkee (12.5% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels (17%) — Central Coastal Quad; OG=27P FG=6.5P IBU=45 Color=Deep Brown / Brewed with Belgian Candi Sugar and Mexican Brown Sugar
Bravo (13.5% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels (14%) — Imperial Brown Ale; OG=26.5P FG=3.0 IBU=35 Color=Deep Brown / Hopped with Columbus and Tettnanger
Helldorado (13.5% ABV) Aged in Rum Barrels (9%) — Blonde Barley Wine; OG=15P FG=5.5 IBU=32.5 Color=Deep Gold / 15% Oats / Hopped with CTZ and East Kent Goldings
XXI is a magical blend of five components. Chocolatey, mild Velvet Merkin takes the lead setting the stage full of lush malt and barrel-driven texture, yet tempered alcohol strength. The rest of the components fall perfectly in line, backing Velvet Merkin up with luscious caramel complexity and a creamy malt symphony. The final component adds a new twist – the rum barrel-soaked and lean Helldorado makes its Anniversary debut, bringing a fresh splash of island spice to a ridiculously balanced barrel-aged brew. This is one of those times that the whole is truly more than the sum of its parts. This beer is unfiltered and unfined, so there will be a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. XXI 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.