Hailing from Paso Robles, California, Firestone Walker Brewing Company was started in 1996 by brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker. The brewery makes use of the brothers’ wine-making background, and employs a ‘Union Barrel’ system that uses 60-gallon American oak barrels for primary fermentation and stainless steel barrels for secondary fermentation.
The Barrelworks division of the brewery uses the retired barrels from the fermentation process to age experimental and limited run beers. From the Barrelworks series we tried two very limited releases - Lil Opal, a barrel-aged Farmhouse Saison and Bretta Rose, a raspberry Wild Ale. We also tried the Double DBA Vintage 2013, Velvet Merkin, and XVII, which are part of the Proprietor’s Vintage Series.
Lil Opal is a very limited run beer (only 750 cases) coming out of the Firestone Walker Barrelworks. This barrel-aged Farmhouse Saison is 25% aged in American oak for two years, and 75% aged in French oak for 8 months. The beer was relatively clear, and had a clarified butter color with tiny carbonation. With tart, yogurt aromas and hints of sour cider, the beer tasted lighter than we expected. In the mouth it had a dry and pleasant tartness that reminded us of Sweettarts.
Featuring an even more limited run of 500 cases, the Bretta Rose was an unusual and delicious beer. This Wild Ale is fermented with 1000 pounds of Santa Maria Valley raspberries, and then matured in French oak puncheons (oversized barrels that hold about 132 gallons). The beer pours a clear salmon color that reminded us of peach soda and Rosé, had very fine carbonation, and had strong tart aromas of raspberries. Not surprisingly, the soft but tart taste of raspberries dominated the flavor, and made us wish that this rare beer was a little less rare.
Leaving behind the delicate tastes of the Lil Opal and Bretta Rosé, we moved onto trying Double DBA Vintage 2013. This Imperial Special Bitter was a hearty, coppery-red color with a fine bone china head. The sweet aroma reminded us of brown sugar, leather, and gingerbread. At 12% ABV, it was warming and a little boozy. The beers creamy espresso taste made us want to drop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it and make a beer float.
Next up was the Velvet Merkin, a dark brown, licorice-colored Bourbon Barrel-Aged Oatmeal Stout. Extremely aromatic, the beer had a musty, peat moss scent not unlike an aged scotch. The mouth feel of the beer was smooth, and it had flavors that hinted at chocolate milk, sassafras and fudgescicle.
To celebrate its anniversary each year, Firestone Walker releases an annual Barrel-Aged Blended Ale. This years blend, XVII, includes 30% Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale; 25% Stickee Monkee, an English Barley Wine; 15% Velvet Merkin, the Oatmeal Stout we tasted earlier; 15% Parabola, a Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout; 8% Double DBA, the Imperial Special Bitter also reviewed earlier; 4% Helldorado-a Barley Wine; and 3% Wookey Jack, a Black Rye IPA. With an impressive makeup of dark, delicious beers, it’s not surprising that XVII pours a dark, cherry cola color with a contrasting bone china head. The beer had a boozy aroma that reminded us of amaro and rum raisin, and it had a coconut, bready, herbal taste.