Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Brewer’s Notes on Firestone Walker `10′

By William Brand
Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 at 8:00 am in Uncategorized.


As I promised in my Beer of the Week column today (Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006) on Firestone Walker 10, here are the company’s notes on the beer, followed by a description of the process by head Firestone Walker brewer Matt Brynildson:

Since founding our brewery in 1996, we have specialized in the rare art of brewing beer in oak barrels.Now,in celebration of our 10th anniversary,we present 10—a commemorative oak-aged strong ale crafted in 10 separate lots over 10 months,then carefully blended to create this truly unique and harmonious brew.

The Vision Behind “10”

The Goal: To create complexity centering on oak, in a multitude of forms, by brewing high gravity beers in complementary styles, aging them in different barrel formats and then blending them together to achieve new harmonious flavors.

The Puzzle: To blend these various components (or lots) to create a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This was done with
the help of a small team of Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County winemakers who are practicing experts in the art of blending.

The Inspiration: Firestone Walker’s oak brewing tradition and our connection with winemaking. More specifically: a study of the Port wine
(solera) tradition and how it could be applied to brewing.

The Barrels: The individual lots were aged in oak barrels, most of which were hand selected from premium Kentucky spirits producers by Tom Griffin, an expert
in the art of bourbon barrel beers. Each barrel lent its own unique influence to the final blend.
Barrels hand delivered by Tom Griffin fresh from the distilleries:
Old Fitzgerald Bourbon / Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey
Heaven Hill Bourbon / Heaven Hill Brandy
Barrels purchased directly from American Coopers toasted to Firestone Walker’s specifications:
New American Oak produced by World Cooperage
Retired Firestone Union Oak produced by World Cooperage, Seguin Moreau and Barrel Associates

The Components: The following brews were aged in six different barrel formats creating 10 distinctive component lots (pieces) that were blended together. Portions of
these beers were also fermented in the Firestone Union oak barrel brewing system. Following are descriptions of key components with their original
code names:

Abacus
- 5 barrel varieties -Strong English Style Barley Wine (brewed 1-24-06 Racked to barrels on 2-7-06) OG =26P FG=5.1P IBU=50 Color=15 / Hopped with Amarillo and East Kent Goldings

Parabola – 2 barrel varieties , Imperial Oatmeal Stout (brewed 2-09-06 Racked to Barrels on 2-20-06) OG=28P FG=7.5P IBU=80 Color=Black / Hopped with Summit, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding

Ruby – 2 barrel varieties -American Style Barley Wine / Imperial IPA Formulated by Jim Cibak while still working for Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, IN.) OG=26P FG=8.15 IBU=60 Color=20 / 100% Maris Otter Malt & Hopped with Simcoe and Summit Bravo – 2 barrel varieties

Imperial Brown Ale (Brewed 8-2-06 Racked to Barrels on 8-11-06) OG= 22P FG= 4.8P IBU=45 Color=32/ Hopped 100% with an experimental hop variety provided by S.S. Steiner Inc.
Other Component Brews Included in The 10 Blend: Walker’s Reserve, Humboldt Hemp Ale, 100% oak barrel fermented Double Barrel Ale.

A Note from Brewmaster

Matt Brynildson

Preface

A number of amazing people had a hand in crafting “10”. This beer, like everything that comes from our brewery, is a result of cohesive teamwork.

The 2006 Firestone Paso Brewing Crew is the finest group of folks that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The good energy that flows through this brewery is what makes our beers the pure flavorful expressions that they are. I take only a small piece of the credit, in fact, a small fraction.

The real credit goes to a phenomenal group of our talented brewers, employees, friends, industry experts and people with a passion for beer. Brewing is a human activity and a labor of love. Without good karma, strong work ethic and positive human energy, beer is lifeless and without soul. Like this beer, the team is far greater than the sum of its parts.

This beer is a celebration of many amazing years of brewing, creating and working together.
This beer is really for us, but we are happy to be able to share it with you.

The Journey

When we started talking about a 10-year anniversary beer in December of 2005, we immediately thought to brew a Barley Wine style beer or a Russian Imperial Stout fermented in oak. These were not original ideas, however; they were tried, true and accepted. Then, perfectly on cue, a call came into the brewery from Tom Griffin asking if we would be interested in a few bourbon and brandy barrels to play with and the wheels started turning.

No critters, no fruit and no spice, just clean beers showcasing what barrels had to offer.
I started researching and talking to friends in the wine industry, experts at the art of aging in oak. I kept running into the concept of blending to refine flavor and create complexity. I learned that every barrel becomes something on its own and must be considered a separate component.

Based on this finding, we decided to brew a number of high gravity beers, being careful to formulate and create beers that would stand up to time in a barrel. Somehow the scale of the project organically grew into an 80-barrel puzzle (Tom took a liking to the brewery as well as the Central Coast scene and as a result, our collection of barrels grew.) We brewed the Abacus to be the lean Mourvedre and show-case the barrel flavors, Parabola to be the big gamey Syrah of the blend, Bravo Brown to be the gentle Roussanne or Viognier integration and blending piece and Ruby to be the fruity sweet Grenache.

Experiments that otherwise wouldn’t fit into our normal program were exercised. Brewer Jim Cibak designed Ruby utilizing the lauter tun as a hopback. New hop cultivars were used in each beer to see what they might bring to the table. Extended boils pushed original gravities to all time brewery highs and at the same time brought new caramel and molasses notes along with beautiful ruby colors to the beers. Each piece was presented in our tasting rooms and at a few select fests over the course of the year, helping us to get to know the beers as they developed.

A couple of the pieces took awards on their own in 2006 competitions as well. Periodic barrel tastings, topping sessions and lab analysis opened our eyes to the amazing world of oak aging and flavor development.

Winemakers vs. Brewers

When it came time to blend there was a definite split. The brewers leaned toward blends that were high in amounts of Parabola and bourbon barrel flavors while the wine makers centered on flavors contributed by Bravo, Abacus and brandy barrel aging. The brewers pushed for aggressive flavors and exclamation points while the wine makers gravitated towards balance and subdued complexity.

Initially the blending session appeared to have brought too many chefs into the kitchen. As I began to study the notes, though, a common theme became evident and a few discoveries were made as well.

No single beer had a cherry flavor and no fruit had been used in any of the beers, but when blended in a certain way, a rich creamy cherry note beamed through! Parabola by itself was somewhat toasty and acrid (as Imperial Stouts often are), but when blended with the other pieces a delicious dark chocolate flavor was revealed.

The version of Abacus aged in American oak was so intense that the tannic astringency left the sides of the tongue reeling long after a small sip. When blended with Bravo then kissed with a touch of the hoppy Ruby, however, an amazingly complex oak aroma and flavor appeared that was reminiscent of some of the finest wines that I can remember tasting. We learned that equal blends resulted in muddled and confused flavors while leaving one beer as a centerpiece and building flavor around it brought out the most amazing and enhanced flavors.

In the end, Abacus became that centerpiece.

Nine months in the barrel established Abacus as the elder of the clan and the natural leader. Blending in smaller amounts of Parabola resulted in the beautiful cherry aroma and chocolate flavors that are present in “10”. The brandy barrel pieces countered the assertive bourbon bite and tannic American oak notes moving Cognac and grape notes into the fold.

Bravo carried a mellow calming effect smoothing out the alcohol burn and further
mellowing the oak astringency of new American barrels. Bravo also carried with it tobacco, leather and spice—the aura of a well-kept humidor.

Ruby was by far the greatest integrator and in large percentage blends, its hoppy aroma created chaos and confusion. At 10%, though, it carried a fruity component into the brew that made everyone at the table smile.

In Closing

Every time I taste the final blend I get something new, so I leave the rest to you. We chose to put this beer in a larger bottle format, but recommend opening and sharing this bottle with friends.

Enjoy it in a half-filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Let it warm to 55F, and spend some time soaking up the aroma. Sip and let it meander on your tongue and try to describe what you are experiencing. Try it with food like your favorite chocolates and strongly flavored cheeses. This beer will develop over time, but I can’t tell you how. If you choose to age it, be sure to cellar it in a cool dark place.

We would love to hear what you think of our first oak-aged blend—it was a pleasurable journey in the making! Cheers to your health and happiness!

Matt

(E-mail Matt Brynildson at matthew@firestonebeer.com.) My suggestion: Buy at least two bottles, better three or four. if you can afford it (22 oz. bottle, $9.99).Drink one now, save the rest to try in subsequent years. I honestly believe this is a beer that is too young to fully appreciate. Am I right or wrong? Let mne know. Post a comment here or e-mail me at whatstoptap@sbcglopbal.net. William Brand.

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