Firestone Walker Brewing Co. XV
What an amazing time of year. Every November, bustling crowds come together filling the shops with their cries for supplies, their baskets with provisions consumption. These people come together and give thanks for the amazing bounty that is, of course, Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Ale. Did you think I was going to say Thanksgiving? Meh. Turkey is great, but beer is better. This year’s version celebrates Firestone’s 15th anniversary, and is not so surprisingly dubbed, “XV”- XV, of course, being Spanish or Canadian or something for “15”.
What are the Firestone Anniversary beers, you ask? Well, first, thank you for helping me get to my next point. XV (as with every year’s release) is a blend of barrel aged beers. Firestone, growing from the Firestone family vineyards, and as homage to those roots, brings in local winemakers to their brewery in Paso Robles. These winemakers sit with a collection of beers that they are asked to blend together to create a single beer, using some or all of these components. Thus, every year is a new blend and a totally unique beer that will never be duplicated.
Collectors collect this beer, and for good reason. Aside from the fact that it looks cool, the flavors will meld and evolve over the next several years (who knows how long …) and, as such, is a wonderful journey into the world of beer cellaring. Plus, they fetch a pretty penny on eBay. Not that I’d ever sell beer (BOOOOOOOO!), but it’s nice to feel like you’re potentially rich, or at least better than your friends.
Full disclosure, I am a former employee of Firestone, having worked with them in Los Angeles for 2.5 years. Further full disclosure, I don’t work there anymore, and I don’t care who questions it, I can tell you this beer is amazing with no hyperbole and zero undue influence. In fact, I didn’t even get this beer from Firestone (but here’s hoping they’ll send me one. Hint, hint). Taste Terminal acquired this and allowed me to taste it with them at their world headquarters. Thank you, thank you.
Now to the tasting
Pouring into a Firestone brandy snifter, the nectar flows a dark mahogany color with little head to speak of. Being a blend of barrel aged beers and of a tremendous alcohol level (12.5%), this is not a beer that needs a ton of carbonation. This is a sipper to be sure. This is a beer to be enjoyed slowly and with great appreciation.
This is a beer to be enjoyed slowly and with great appreciation.- Jace Milstead
Speaking of the high alcohol by volume, as I waft the aromas to my waiting beak, I am greeted with a warming aroma of booze; alcohol warmth that draws me in. Not convinced this is the full peak of its olfactory goodness, I employ the international beer geek gesture: time to warm up the glass. I cup the bottom of the bowl with both hands and proceed to rub like I am trying to summon a genie. Hey, look at that, my wish comes true.
Now warmed to serving temperature (50-55F), XV explodes with aroma. The individual components each dance to the top of the fill and offer their own aromatic gift. Brandy, cocoa, dark fruits, and even a slight citrus note rush to the surface. Who needs to drink, when you can just sniff? Me. That’s who.
Drop one hits my tongue and I feel the alcohol warmth coming through, but this is only a flicker, and soon gives way to the cornucopia of flavors. See, cornucopia. I tied back in Thanksgiving. Take note, young writers. That’s how you do it.
XV offers up dark fruit, raisin and fig, along with a vinous note. Brown sugar rushes in behind it with ribbons of hops and a slight leather component. Not to be outdone, the finish crescendos with a brandy note and a lingering grace of oak. Wow, not just the spirits from the barrels they used, but it really manages to pull through some of the characteristics of the oak itself. Deft and impressive.
This is a malty, slightly chewy beer, but trouble abounds as it continues to warm. Oh no. Oh no. This is way too smooth. 12.5%? Seriously? I’m glad I shared the bottle. One could very easily drink a full bottle of this on their own. But, ‘twould be a shame, for the drunken haze the next day might obfuscate the layered goodness of the night before. Still, I may try it, if I can get my hands on one (hint, hint).
This is a beer that tastes amazing day one, but given that there is a 5% of the beer comprised of their Double IPA, Double Jack, in it, I can see a very quick and interesting evolution of XV. If you can, buy a few and taste one every year. Patience will be rewarded; you’re friends too.
Bring this to a turkey day celebration, instead of wine, and see the lights go on in the eyes of the imbibers as they recognize what a revelation and experience craft beer can be.- Jace Milstead
Bring this to a turkey day celebration, instead of wine, and see the lights go on in the eyes of the imbibers as they recognize what a revelation and experience craft beer can be. In the spirit of giving, and the spirit of thanking, and the spirit of community, I say Mazel Tov and thanks to Firestone. An achievement as always and one that should be every bit a part of beer fan’s traditions as Thanksgiving itself.