Firestone Walker Brewery turns the winemaker's adage that "it takes a lot of beer to make wine" on its head with Firestone Walker XVII -- a beer that depends on the refined palates and blending skills of a conclave of Central Coast winemakers to blend an array of barrel-aged specialty brews into a single cohesive beer.
Begun for the brewery’s 10th anniversary brew, the "winemakers blending session" has become an annual event at the Paso Robles brewery that sees more than a dozen winemakers compete to create the most popular blend. The blenders are broken into teams of two, given access to Firestone’s long list of brews, and asked to create a blended beer -- or "cuvee," to use a winemaking term -- that showcases the best elements of the brewery’s groundbreaking barrel-aging program. The winning team is awarded cardboard crowns constructed from wine cases and bragging rights for a year.
Beers such as the fan-favorite Parabola bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout and Double DBA imperial bitter are mixed with beers that were developed specifically as blending components. Brews like "blonde barleywine" Helldorado and Stickee Monkee, a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian quad, are made in comparatively tiny quantities and rarely seen outside of the brewery’s tasting room, but they are favorites during the blending session as pitchers of the component brews are passed around the room.
The reigning champion team was dethroned during the 2013 blending session by Neil Collins and Chelsea Magnusson of Tablas Creek Vineyard who mixed up a blend heavy on bourbon and brandy barrel-aged Bravo, and Stickee Monkee.
Their final blend, Firestone Walker XVII, is now available in limited, attractively boxed 22-ounce bottles and on the occasional tap. Or you can visit Hollywood craft beer bar Blue Palms Brewhouse on Saturday, Nov. 23, for a Firestone Walker Anniversary Party featuring flights of the last five anniversary beers, and a VIP session that includes pours of Firestone XI through XVII.