PASO ROBLES — A late grape harvest in the Paso Robles wine country this year paved the way for a boisterous group of winemakers to help blend “XXII”—Firestone Walker’s latest barrel-aged anniversary ale.
The anniversary ale was released Nov. 3 to the public at Firestone Walker’s annual Anniversary Party at the brewery in Paso Robles.
The Anniversary Party included live music by Bear Market Riot, light bites and tastings of some of Firestone Walker’s rarest beers.
“Usually by late summer the stress of the impending harvest starts bearing down on our winemaker friends, and some of them can’t make it to our blending session,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “Not this year—and the result was one heck of a blend created by one of our largest groups ever.”
He added, “Winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending, which is why we have sought their involvement ever since making our first Anniversary Ale in 2006.”
The Anniversary Ale blending session has become an annual late-summer rite at the brewery, and the 2018 session took place on Sept. 4 with 30 participants in attendance. The outcome was XXII, signifying Firestone Walker’s 22nd year on the Central Coast.
XXII is a blend of four distinct beers aged in spirits barrels: Stickee Monkee (Central Coast quad, 44 percent), Parabola (Russian imperial oatmeal stout, 22 percent), Bravo (imperial brown ale, 22 percent) and Helldorado (blonde barleywine, 12 percent).
The primary twist this year was the inclusion of Helldorado aged in rum barrels and gin barrels.
“Even though it’s a small percentage of the final blend, the gin barrel Helldorado adds a lot to this beer,” Brynildson said. “It brings this interesting botanical quality with spicy notes that we’ve never had in our Anniversary blends before.”
A unique synergy also emerged in the final blend of XXII. “There’s this distinct marzipan-meets-cherry note that comes from just the right amount of Parabola blended with Stickee Monkee and Bravo,” Brynildson said. “We saw that in ‘10’, our very first Anniversary Ale. That’s the magic of blending — drawing out these flavors that have nothing to do with any individual component.”
To create this beer, the winemakers were divided into teams. Each team created their own preferred blend from numerous components, and then all of the blends were blind tasted by the group to determine the favorite — which became the basis for XXII.
This year, the winning team was helmed by Terry Hoage and Phil Lamontagne of TH Estate Wines; Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery; and longtime brewery friend and master bread baker Arie Litman. This team walked away with the coveted “cardboard crowns” that are passed along each year.