Thursday, January 30, 2014

Firestone Walker Brewing Company - Firestone 17-Anniversary Ale

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you probably think I'm a cat person. If you post a cat related picture, chances are I'm gonna "like" it. If you mention the word "cat" in your status, I'm all over it. If you post a cat video and it's any good, I'm watching it a minimum of 18 times. I even had a useless cat iPhone case that I kept solely because it had a cat on it. (Needless to say, that case was retired shortly after it failed to keep my phone from shattering after an 8" drop.) AND my girlfriend and I sort of have adopted a cute black nomad cat in our neighborhood and we post pictures of it more often than most people post pictures of their actual offspring. Yes, if you brought me to trial and I was forced to defend myself against charges of being a "cat person," it would be hard to prove otherwise. But here's the thing- I'm not a cat person. I freaking love dogs, too. If someone were to offer me the choice of owning a cat or a dog right now, I'd choose the dog in a heartbeat (barring certain breeds). And here's the other thing- I think it's ok to be both a cat person AND a dog person.

The same goes for beer and wine. In this matchup, I'm obviously siding with beer, but I don't think it's right to force someone to choose between the two. You'd be surprised at the amount of brewers out there who have extensive wine cellars. And the more this craft beer scene expands, the closer I see it getting to the wine scene. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Paso Robles, California.

Firestone Walker didn't start as a brewery, they started by making wine. Eventually, they experimented with beer and liked the results so much that they decided to give it a shot. But they've never forgotten their roots, or their location (for those of you unfamiliar with the area, Paso Robles is a Central California town well known for its winemaking). So for their anniversary beers, Firestone does something a little outside the box- they bring in the wine guys. Winemakers from a variety of wineries are selected to come into the brewery, get into teams and put together a blend of Firestone's beers. The winning blend is then put into a larger scale and bottled, becoming the next in the line of Firestone's highly rated Anniversary series. This year, the winner was a team from Tablas Creek Vineyard and was a blend of 7 different Firestone beers. Let's see how it turned out. At #134, Firestone 17.

Firestone 17 pours a deep cola color with a one-finger tan head. The head fades fairly quickly, but leaves behind a swirling tan film on the surface and some spotty lace down the glass with each sip. The smell gives off a big blast of bourbon barrel off the pour, but settles down pretty quickly, wandering through notes of toasted coconut, milk chocolate, vanilla, spicy oak, toffee, some toasted brown sugar and just a touch of booze.

The taste begins with a smooth rush of bourbon over the tongue. Caramel, roasted malt and lots of spicy oak mingle with just a touch of heat. But this beer's just getting started. The middle shows some toffee, cola and vanilla before a finish of charred barrel, burnt brown sugar and the slightest trace of hop resin. The flavors remind me most of an English Barleywine, which was awesome because I love English Barleywines. The mouthfeel was just a touch lacking, but it's hardly noticed with all the other great stuff going on in here. I've had some blends (AKA the Mission St. Anniversary beers at Trader Joes, which is ironic because they're made by Firestone) in which the individual beers stood out too much for the beer to work. Everything fights for dominance and no one really wins. It's like watching a New York Knicks game. But every beer in this one works together seamlessly. It's a fantastic beer. Just further proof that there is common ground to be found between the worlds of wine and beer. After all, can't we all just agree that alcohol fermentation is awesome?

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

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