Firestone Walker is fresh off of a huge victory, claiming the title for Best Mid-Size Brewery at last weekend’s Great American Beer Festival. It’s one of the highest honors a craft brewery can get, so we thought it would be a good time to gush over the Central California craft beer powerhouse, detailing the five essential Firestone Walker brews that everyone should at least attempt to drink at some point in their lives.
It’s tough to pick just five beers, since FW has been knocking it out of the park since 1996, producing fan-favorites in a broad range of styles, from barrel-aged stouts to session IPAs. While the recent GABF award is an honor, they’ve won best Mid Size Brewery at the World Beer Cup an astounding four times over the years. Some of their fans were a little stunned this summer when Firestone Walker signed a deal with Duvel Moortgat, that has the Belgian beer corporation investing in Firestone Walker, while FW continues to operate as an independent entity. Duvel already owns Brewery Ommegang and Boulevard, but this deal is being described as an “investment,” not an acquisition. If you want to put an optimistic spin on it, the Duvel money will help Firestone Walker expand production and eventually distribution, which is one hell of a silver lining. Especially if you’re on the East Coast where it’s tough to find Firestone Walker beers.
So, the next time you’re in a bottle shop that carries the much-lauded Firestone Walker, keep an eye out for these five beers.
Double Barrel Ale is Firestone’s flagship, with some decent hardware of its own (gold at GABF in 2012, and about 10 more big medals over the years). It’s also a good place to start exploring the brewery. A British style pale, DBA is fermented in oak barrels, blended with beer fermented in stainless steel barrels (Firestone Walker loves blending). It’s way too tasty to simply be labeled a “British pale,” with big notes of toffee and caramel underscoring the bite from Magnum hops.
Firestone Walker jumped head first into the session IPA trend with Easy Jack, a 4.5% ABV beer that’s dry-hopped with heavy hitters like Halltertau Melon, Bavarian Mandarina and Mosaic for big citrus aromas. Sounds like a lot of different session IPAs out there, but Easy Jack differentiates itself by also delivering a decent malt backbone to hold all that hop buzz together.
Now we’re getting into the good stuff—the limited beers that have made Firestone Walker a household name (imagine a house full of beer geeks). Parabola is a Russian imperial stout with all of the lovely trappings of a Russian imperial stout—namely, bourbon and coffee. And vanilla. And booze. And more bourbon. Firestone Walker’s regular distribution is limited, and Parabola is especially tough to find. Look for its release in 22-ounce bombers every spring. Be careful if you pick one up—it’s no joke at 14% ABV.
Speaking of limited release barrel-aged stouts (are you sensing a theme with Firestone Walker?), this oatmeal stout is like Parabola’s sweeter little brother. There’s plenty of bourbon and oak from the aging, but also sweeping notes of chocolate and vanilla. Don’t get Velvet Merkin confused with Velvet Merlin—Merlin is the base oatmeal stout that’s not barrel aged. Both are seasonal, both are great, and both are on the shelves right now.
This big-ass beer changes every year, and we’re not exactly sure what to expect from this year’s release, but we’re pretty certain it’s gonna be a strong ale that’s actually a blend of several different oak aged beers. It will be high gravity, it will be heavy on the oak, it will be awesome. Last year’s Anniversary Ale 18 was heavy on the Parabola, but also had nine other beers thrown into the mix. I believe that’s called “complex.” Anniversary Ale 19 will be released October 31 at the brewery.