(Paso Robles, CA) – Firestone Walker Brewing will release XIII Anniversary Ale this Saturday. When researching the series, I realized that the beer has undergone a startling price shift in the past few years. X was retailing for $10 (according to Appellation Beer) and XIII will carry a price tag of $22 when it is available at the brewery. That is not to say that the brewery is gouging. Far from it. After becoming immersed in the geekiness below, it becomes clear that the beer was once a steal at $10 and is now priced fairly for the market. Enough about dollars though . . . this is all about the blend.
This is the fourth annual barrel-aged blend, one that appears to be largely similar to last year’s version but much different from the first two editions. What they all share in common is that a variety of oak barrels are used; some are bourbon barrels, some might be brandy, some rye, etc.
The first blend showcased Abacus, a Strong English Style Barley Wine hopped with Amarillo and East Kent Goldings. Despite being the largest component of the first batch, the beer hasn’t made an appearance since that time. Bravo, an Imperial Brown Ale, was the main beer for the second batch, XI. At 82% Bravo and 18% other parts, XI was easily the blend that most heavily weighed in one direction; the centerpiece has made up 39-46% of the blend in the other years. Bravo was omitted from XII but is making a comeback in this year’s edition, making up about a quarter of the finished product.
Brewmaster, Matt Brynildson, and his team appear to be hitting their stride over these past two years, getting closer to the perfect mix. They have, for the first time, decided that the leading component of the beer will be the same as it was in the prior year: Parabola, a 13% ABV Bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout heavily hopped with a mix of Simcoe, Bravo, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding. Outside of the Anniversary releases, Parabola is Firestone Walker’s most highly acclaimed brew, sporting a 3.9 average at RateBeer, high enough to place it in the 99th percentile. It is the only beer present in all four editions.
The brewery has also slipped in a second Bourbon barrel-aged Oatmeal Stout called Velvet Merkin. While the two batches of Parabola used were both brewed within the past several months, the batch of Velvet Merkin used has been aging for about a year. This beer is more lightly hopped than its counterpart; like Bravo, 100% U.S. grown Fuggles is the only hop used here. Despite Parabola’s success in beer review circles, it is Velvet Merkin that has taken the reigns on the national stage. The stout won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival and a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, both in 2008. It is also easily the lightest beer present at only 6% ABV.
The remainder of this year’s blend are blasts from the past. Opal, a rye-aged Wheat Wine, was a much bigger player in last year’s edition when it made its debut in the series. Double Double Barrel Ale is an amped-up version of one of the brewery’s flagships, Double Barrel Ale. Rufus is a rye-aged “Continental” Imperial Amber Ale. Last but not least, there is Sean Z. Paxton’s Saucerful of Secrets, a Bourbon-aged Belgian Strong Ale. Both Rufus and SoS have been stored away for 2+ years.
Brynildson summarizes XIII’s flavor profile in this year’s notes: “As a finished beer, 13 is more sublime then last year’s blend. It is all about the subtleties and quiet tones. It has deep dark chocolate notes and is accented with dried fruit and licorice. There are hints of molasses and even a little cherry in the middle complimenting the vanilla and coconut notes brought in by the oak. These barrel qualities are very well integrated and meld well with the roast malt and caramel undertones.”