Growing up surrounded by vineyards and winemakers, Adam Firestone (of Firestone Vineyard) always had an interest in combining the family business with beer making. He found the perfect business partner in his brother-in-law David Walker and the two founded Firestone Walker in 1996.Modeled on the Burton Union System, an old staple of British beer making, Firestone Walker boasts its own Firestone Union, a collection of connected American oak barrels used in a shared fermentation process. As pressure during fermentation rises, the union allows excess barm (yeast foam) to be expelled from the oak casks (much like a blow off tube in your own set up), but in this instance the yeast is thrust into troughs above the barrels where it falls out of suspension and the remaining beer trickles back down into the casks. This process loses far less beer to blow off waste, makes for clearer beer and allows brewers to easily reuse yeast. Each barrel at Firestone Walker is used for about 20 weeks before it is retired and used in aging beers for the Proprietors Reserve Series. This limited series features beers aged for several months to a few years in combinations of bourbon, Firestone Union and wine barrels, resulting in specialty beers that are incredibly complex in aroma and flavor.
Everything about this beer is bright and lovely. Pouring a crystal clear, radiant gold color, Double Jack has super fine carbonation and a fine head. This beer smells just as bright as it looks with notes of sweet malt and Calvados on the nose and a wonderful hop aroma signaling an impending bitterness. One of the easiest drinking higher ABV beers we've come across, Double Jack is sweet but not heavy with a perfectly balanced lingering hop bitterness.
Wookey Jack is a Black Rye IPA brewed with dark malts, rye, citrusy hops, and, according to Firestone Walker's website, "a dash of Wookey dust." We aren't quite sure what Wookey dust is, but it definitely makes for a delicious brew. Pouring dark as engine oil, the scent is wonderfully earthy with rye and resin aromas. Also present on the nose is a soft sweetness. Wookey Jack tastes much lighter than its color or ABV would indicate. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you might even think it was a regular IPA with a slight roasted finish. All around very drinkable and delicious.
Pouring with large, lively bubbles and a quickly dissipating head, Walker's Reserve could easily be confused with a glass of dark cola if the boozy scent of sweet, dried figs and dates went unnoticed. A subtle smokiness also comes through on the nose, with slightly smoky flavors following along with tastes of toffee and bittersweet chocolate. Again, surprisingly light in body for the style, making for very easy and enjoyable drinking.