Firestone Walker 13
Firestone Walker 13

We like to keep most of our coverage on the local Portland beer scene, hence the URL portlandbeer.org. Makes sense to us.  A lot of beer news happens outside of our little beer utopia though.  Some of it is relevant, some of it is interesting.   Though our main concentration will remain in our community, we will be bringing you some worthy news from the outside in an aptly named column called "On the Outside".

In this first installment, we're going to cover an outside beer from Firestone Walker, simply called "13".  You can find Firestone Walker beers in your favorite specialty stores.  Beers such as DBA (Double Barrel Ale), Pale 21 (California Pale Ale), and Union Jack (IPA), are all great representatives of the beers that Firestone Walker crafts.   One thing you'll notice is that these beers are not riding on any "extreme" beer trends: no hop blasts, no malt bombs.  What they do create are amazing, well-balanced beers.  From complex malt bills to intricate hop additions, these beers are all about subtlety.

And if a beer can be extremely subtle, "13" leads the way.  Yet, this beer was not brewed.  It was not even fermented.  Well, at least not in the traditional sense.  This beer is a 100% blend.  It is made up entirely of a not-so-secret blend of seven other Firestone Walker beers.  Seven other amazing beers, in fact.  Beers that you would be very lucky to try individually—almost none of which make it to Portland (though, coincidentally, you can check out their Velvet Merkin at the Holiday Ale Festival this week).

Portland Holiday Ale Festival 2008
Firestone Walker brewer Matt Brynildson.

In a fantastic display of "we're not so different from you", the brewery reached out to its winemaking neighbors, who know a thing or two about blending.  Notes from Brew Master, Matt Brynildson: "We were once again honored to enlist seven of the best winemakers from the Paso Robles region to assist in blending.  The blend was created in two sessions over the course of two weeks.  Scott Hawley (www.torrinwine.com) joined us again this year.  He is an exceptional wine maker who makes some incredible small lot wines and does a good dealof vineyard and winemaking consultation.  Matt Trevison (www.linnecalodo.com) played a huge part in this year’s blend.  Sherman Thacher from Thacher Winery was with us this year.  Sherman was a brewer for more than 15 years before he turned to wine making.  His skills were again a wonderful addition to our blending efforts.  My very good friend Steve Martell (www.kaleidoswine.com) joined us for the fourth year in a row.  Neil Collins (www.lonemadrone.com & www.tablascreek.com) was another major force in this blend.  Also from Tablas Creek, assistant winemaker Chelsea Magnusson sat in on our first session and added some great flavor vocabulary to the mix.  Making his first appearance as a beer blender, Eric Jensen (www.bookerwines.com) joined the team.  Eric has developed the amazing Booker vineyard and winery on Paso’s west side.  Along with the wine makers, Tom Griffin who provides many of our barrels, Rick Sellers from Draft Magazine (www.draftmag.com), Pete Slosberg of Pete’s Wicked Ale fame and Arie Litman sat in on the final tasting.  Special thanks go out to Michelle Brown, for organizing the sessions and keeping the notes. This process can get more than a little confusing at times."  Who knows, maybe my name can be added to the list next year. Are you listening Matt? Check out what goes into this unique beer:

39% of final blend: Parabola (aged in bourbon barrels) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout 15% ABV, 80 IBU Hopped with Simcoe, Bravo, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding

24% of final blend: Bravo (bourbon barrels 50% / brandy barrels 50%) Imperial Brown Ale 11% ABV, 35 IBU Hopped with US Fuggles

15% of final blend: Velvet Merkin (aged in bourbon barrels) Traditional Oatmeal Stout 6% ABV, 32.5 IBU Hopped with US Fuggles

6% of final blend: Opal (aged in rye barrels) Wheat Wine 11% ABV, 45 IBU Hopped with Saaz

6% of final blend: Rufus (aged in rye barrels) Continental Imperial Amber Ale 11% ABV, 40 IBU Hopped with Styrian Goldings and Saaz

6% of final blend: Double Double Barrel Ale (aged in retired FW union barrels) Double English Pale Ale 10.9% ABV, 45 IBU Hopped with Magnum, Styrian Golding, and East Kent Golding

4% of final blend: Saucerful of Secrets (aged in bourbon barrels) Belgian Strong Ale 9% ABV, 25 IBU Hopped with "everything but the kitchen sink"

Firestone Walker 13
Firestone Walker XII and 13, to be cracked in one month.

Is there any surprise that it might be hard to discern what goes into this beer by tasting alone?  This beer is way more than the sum of its amazing parts.  It is a wonderful blend that demands sipping, pondering, and daydreaming.  At a price of about $23.99 for a single 650ml bottle, this probably doesn't fall within your normal beer purchase range.   Due to its careful and deliberate blending, amazing heritage, and very limited quantity, it's a solid value for any beer connoisseur out there.   Serve at 55°F, relax, and enjoy this one of a kind beer.

In keeping with full disclosure, Firestone Walker did send me a sample of 13.  In another disclosure, I've since purchased two more bottles.  One to be paired with my last XII from last year and one to crack open next year at our annual New Year's Day tasting.