Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. - Velvet Merkin

No matter how hard I try, I can't help but to associate certain words with certain things. For example: "Cantillon" would be associated with a word like "drool," and "Bruce Jenner" would be associated with words like "freaky," "plastic" and "Woman?" As for "Firestone Walker," no matter how hard I try, I can't think of them without thinking of the best beer they make (and one of the greatest beers in existence), "Parabola." So when they announced that they would be bottling a new (sort of) barrel aged stout, Velvet Merkin, I really couldn't help but wonder if it would be anywhere near the level of Parabola.

Velvet Merkin in bottles has been a long time in the making. It was actually the working name for Firestone's winter Oatmeal Stout, Velvet Merlin, but they couldn't get label approval for it, so the name was changed. They continued to use the Velvet Merkin name at the brewery as the name for the bourbon barrel-aged version of Velvet Merlin. It used to be a brewery exclusive beer, but luckily Firestone finally decided to change that. Let's check it out.

Velvet Merkin pours a deep brown color with a thin light brown head, leaving some light spots of lace down the glass with each sip. The aroma was solid, with some roasted malt and freshly ground medium roast coffee leading the way. There were some milk chocolate and vanilla notes in there as well, and everything about the smell had a light lacing of whiskey to it. It was almost like Parabola, but only if you put Parabola in a straightjacket first. Everything smelled good, but very, very restrained.

The taste opens with a nice wave of milk chocolate sweetness. Chocolate cake, roasted malt and some chocolate milkshake all follow behind. The finish brings a light touch of whiskey, vanilla and charred oak. Flavor-wise, this beer is money. But at "only" 8.5%, the mouthfeel just didn't cut it for me, and I found the flavors dropping off into a watery mess a lot. I did pick up some similarities to Parabola flavor-wise, but this beer is way tame. It's Parabola with it's nuts snipped. Overall, I did like this beer from a flavor standpoint, and if you're looking to start getting into trying barrel-aged beers, this is a great starting point. But once you've had a beer like Parabola, it's a little hard to go back to a beer like Velvet Merkin. Though it's still a good beer, I'd probably put Velvet Merkin at the bottom of the barrel-aged beers that I've had from Firestone. That's not saying a whole lot though, because every one of those beers is world class.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

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