Firestone Walker Brewing Company Double Jack, 12 oz., 9.5% ABV, 85 IBUs. I didn’t drink this within the recommended 120 days of bottling, but sometimes you can’t get a brewery’s beers in your state and options are limited and then life gets in the way. Still good, though.
Double DBA is a limited-release English Barleywine aged in spent bourbon oak barrels. Firestone have deemed this to be an “imperial special bitter,” a non-existent style. The base of beer consists of a doubled up batch of Double Barrel Ale. This was actually just recently retired to make way for a new, as yet undisclosed beer. This review will be based on a 2013 vintage.
Aromas are driven by thick malts that carry sweet impressions of caramel nougat, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Fruity notes resemble fig preserves and cherry. The barrel gives a huge presence of bourbon, vanilla, and a touch of coconut. Alcohol notes come across like amaretto and port wine. Hops add a weak imprint of earth and herb.
The palate is very much like the nose, beginning with caramel and molasses. Fruits fill in the middle-register with notes of figs, dates, and raisins. Bourbon soon becomes the focal point, exposing flavors of vanilla and coconut. English hops add a subtle earthy quality that blends very nicely with woody tannins, followed by a complementary hint of spice. Finishing flavors are reminiscent of root beer (or whiskey and coke). The malt roast develops into subtle suggestions of chocolate. Some fusel notes envelop the aftertaste, but the bourbon flavor is incredibly effective at disguising the alcohol. Mouthfeel remains smooth over a medium-full body that grows sticky just before drying slightly at the end. Carbonation is weak, which when combined with the solvent properties of the alcohol, create an almost thin viscosity. Considering the high ABV, this is dangerously drinkable.
This is a beer for malt lovers, because sweetness dominates the palate. Bourbon has loads of influence, but not enough to dominate by any means. The English hops are quite complementary to the flavor of the malts, so everything ends up tasting very agreeable and whole. Complexity is nice and subtle. Considering Firestone still have their famous bourbon-aged English Barleywine, Sucaba, I’m sure they saw the obvious overlap. July 2014 marked the final release date, so I suggest you hoard any remaining bottles you’re lucky enough to find sitting around. I highly recommend it!
Malts: Premium Two-Row, Maris Otter Pale, Munich, Crystal, Chocolate
Many moons ago (well, 2013) a craft brewery in leafy Berkshire, England, named Siren Craft Brew came up with the idea of brewing a series of beers loosely related to the colours of the rainbow, and invited six of their favourite UK breweries to join in. People enjoyed this Rainbow Project. And so, the following year they paired each of the UK breweries with a European counterpart for the collaborative triumph that was the European Rainbow Project 2014.
This year saw the experiment reach across the pond, and the Transatlantic Rainbow Project 2015 was born. A killer list of breweries got involved, some old friends, others new to each others company, colours were drawn, and the brainstorming began. The team-ups went exactly like this;
Red - Magic Rock Brewing / Cigar City Brewing
Orange - Buxton Brewery / Arizona Wilderness
Yellow - Partizan Brewing / Prairie Artisan Ales
Green - Hawkshead Brewery / Crooked Stave
blue - Siren Craft Brew / Surly Brewing Co
Indigo - Beavertown / Dogfish Head
Violet - Wild Beer Co / Firestone Walker
With a brewery line up like that and creative juices given pretty much free rein, the brewers can interpret the colours as literally or abstractly as they like, we were always gonna be in for a wild ride. The public agreed, four hugely successful launch events down the length of England, and a crazy, bloody, massacre for the few boxes released online followed. Above are the contents of one of those wondrous boxes (and don’t worry, I escaped with nowt but bite marks and scratches). Seven beers, fourteen breweries, all the awesome.
I’ll be covering the individual beers in more depth over the next three posts, two or three at a time. Super fun times await, y’all. Don’t go anywhere!
Opal is a dry-hopped Saison/Farmhouse Ale, which is available year-round in 22 oz. bombers. Aromas are indicative of Belgian yeast, featuring peppery spice, pear, and faint banana. Hops give a fresh display of cucumber, lemon, honeydew melon, and grass.
The palate begins in moderate sweetness as malts unravel earthy hints of wheat bread and raw grain husk. Fruity flavors suggest unripened stone fruit, pear, and white grape. Vinous characters reach their peak in a character similar to white wine (Firestone suggests sauvignon blanc). Hops infuse floral notes before being eclipsed by a sour burst of lemon. Immediately following the wave of citrus, grassy flavors wash onto the back-end, leaving behind a dull bitterness with a salty finish. The mouthfeel starts semi-smooth over a thin body that quickly escalates toward sharp carbonation, then levels off into a more satisfying body weight. The resolution is clean, dry, and incredibly refreshing.
Though the ABV is actually 7.5%, it drinks and tastes more like 5%. Hops really stand at the forefront of the palate, leaving an indelible signature of the West Coast approach. I do think it’s a pretty good American Saison, but I’m not at all impressed. I was disappointed to find the yeast so drowned out by hops. When it comes to this style, I prefer less hops, so this isn’t exactly to my desired specifications. They didn’t capture the proper mouthfeel either. Opal doesn’t quite reach Belgian IPA territory, but it certainly comes close! There are sufficient connections to the source, but if you’re looking for a true Saison, look elsewhere. Buy at your own discretion.
Stickee Monkee is a limited-release Quadrupel brewed with an addition of Turbinado brown sugar and Belgian candi sugar, then aged for up to fourteen months in fine bourbon oak barrels. Its name is a nod to Belgian monks, but also references the Sticky Monkey flower that grows along the California coast. This was originally created in 2010 to fill in the sweet gap in the brewery’s barrel-aged Anniversary Ale blending program, but was just recently bottled for first time in May 2014. Firestone prefers the term “Central Coast Quad.”
On the nose, sweet aromas abound with brown sugar, butterscotch, and toffee. A big barrel presence gives hints of coconut, vanilla, tobacco, and leather. Malts smell like banana bread and graham crackers. Fruity notes of fig merge with orange zest and cinnamon.
The palate begins in sweet layer of toffee as a creme brulee flavor comes to mind. Malts accumulate into a sticky pool of molasses that stops just shy of cloying. Fruity hints emerge in a character like dried figs, raisins, dates, and plums. The bourbon barrel brings out vanilla, coconut, leather, and musty tobacco. Pushing even deeper, a subtle malt roast develops suggestions of gingerbread muffins with a touch of chocolate. Finishing flavors are salty like peanut brittle, enclosed by a poignant twist of spice with an outline of licorice, rising toward a bitter edge of orange peel. Alcohol eventually surfaces, yet while being disguised in bourbon, offers little distraction. The final flavor reminds me of German chocolate cake. Hop contribution is practically non-existent, appearing only as a faint touch of pine oil on the finish. Mouthfeel is chewy, smooth, and creamy with a full, well-rounded body that closes in heat. Alcohol proves to be incredibly deceptive, so drinkability is unhindered by its influence.
This will go down as my highest-rated domestic Quad. In some ways, it almost tastes more like a bourbon-aged Barleywine. Where most will simply fail to stand up to the greatness of traditional Belgians, this has given me a newfound respect for the American interpretation of a well-established classic. The oak adds a nice degree of complexity that tastes very complementary to the stylistic qualities of the quad. Barrel-aging a Belgian is unheard of, so this is a rather progressive approach as far as I understand. I do think it needs more Belgian yeast in order to to really taste traditional. This should perform wonders in a cellar. Okay, so it might lack the more intricate complexity of a genuine Belgian Quad, but I’m impressed. Stickee Monkee is a delicious brew that gives me one more reason to love Firestone. I highly recommend it!
This West Coast-style IPA has long been one of my favorites. The nose is bright and juicy, loaded with citrus, tropical fruits, a floral bouquet, herbs, and honey-sweet grains.
On the palate, loads of citrus zest up front, with grapefruit juice standing as the focal point of the beer. Tropical fruits follow with reminiscent hints of pineapple. A shallow body of sweetness rises up with raw sugar flavor as pale malts push with support from below. Herbal hops round out the finish with juniper or pine, ending with a lingering flavor of mint leaf. Mouthfeel is creamy at first, developing into a crisp astringency, then leaving with a sustained bitter note.
The hop bill is superb (see below), essentially a short list of my favorite hops. All varieties come together for an amazing, well-rounded flavor with a balanced blend of herbal, citric, and floral characters. For an IPA, the bitterness is quite tame, helping to keep from wrecking the palate for a more efficient drinking experience. This is also slightly more malty than the average IPA, which provides a superb degree of balance in contrast to the bitterness. The flavor profile is very much like its older brother, “Double Jack,” also a remarkable brew. For me, this stands alongside Stone, Odell, and Ballast Point as some of the best IPA’s available year-round. This is a must-try for all you IPA fans. I love this beer. It’s everything a good IPA should be, and I highly recommend it!
Malt: Two-Row, Munich, Cara Pils, Simpson’s Light Crystal
This English pale ale blends one batch that was brewed in traditional stainless steel, then adds 20% of a different batch that was aged in 60-gallon oak barrels (I would love to try this 100% oak brew).
Aromas are like toasted bread, caramel drizzled biscuits, with distinctly English herbal hop notes. On the palate, bubbly carbonation plays off the tongue while caramel washes over roasted, bready malts. Herbal hops quickly rise, transitioning into flavors of red apple, oranges, and other fine earthy notes added from the oak. Malts soon taste like whole grains with a raw, husky quality. The finish is somewhat dry, leaving with a light touch of bitterness. There’s a proportionate bitter-sweetness which I find very agreeable. Mouthfeel is crisp yet smooth, soft on the edges with a lighthearted body.
Double Barrel is an everyday ale that drinks great, and is perfectly suitable for any occasion. I say this is a malt-forward ale, because it’s not that bitter, but it’s not that sweet either. So it ends up being a little sweet up front, fruity in the middle, then leaves with earth tones toward the finish. English pale ales have greater malt complexity than Americans, and I personally find the English hops to be a welcome shift from the typical citrus-focused varieties we’ve all grown accustomed to in the states. When you consider this in the context of the pale ale, this is a solid brew. Although this is unlikely to turn heads, I recommend it.
Walker’s Reserve Porter was recently retired from the Firestone lineup, so I’m glad to have been able to review it before it’s gone for good. The aromas come across relatively grainy with a dash of oats, roasted notes like bittersweet chocolate chips, hints of coffee, burnt bread, and a caramel-like sweetness.
The palate begins like a thin layer of sweet toffee wafers and a touch of burnt molasses. A flood of milk chocolate quickly follows with malts flavored like dark bread. A modest roast character emerges from the back-end, leading toward a submissive approach of Cascade hops, which carry gentle undertones of grass and citrus. Faint traces of vanilla and oak (and I do mean faint!) make their final remarks. An agreeable mouthfeel is initially creamy over a soft, well-rounded body that finishes a little dry, moderately carbonated with slight acidity.
I appreciate the finely tuned exchange of balance as sweetness slowly tilts toward bitterness. I must admit, this was never my favorite go-to porter, so I’m not particularly disappointed to see it go. However, now it appears their lineup needs a porter or stout in the year-round selection, where the only similar style I’m seeing is the seasonal Velvet Merlin. I think this was a solid porter that really captured the true essence of the style. There really wasn’t anything about it to dislike, but it’s not very memorable either. I recommend you say your final goodbye if you can still find an old bottle.
This stout game is strong son! Salted Belgian Chocolate from New Belgians Lips Of Faith series, Legion Russian Imperial stout from Community, Stone’s Coffee Milk Stout, Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin and I grabbed a glass of French Quarter Temptress from Lakewood Brewing. Stout coma!