The Best of All Possible Worlds: Firestone Walker’s XIX


On the docket:  22 oz. bottle of Firestone Walker’s XIX.  Bottle date:  10/2/15

Poured into:  River Horse snifter

S:  The body fills into the glass as a walnut, mahogany orb, nearly black.  The bottom sports orange tints, the meniscus counters with a light aubergine.  The head, a dense, foamy taupe cap builds and dies.  What’s left is a tight ring at the outside of the glass, full of bubbles.  An archipelago of small bubbles floats in the center.  Small brown particles (FW warned drinkers ahead of time) settle to the bottom.  Carbonation is visibly undetectable.

A:  First and foremost, the barrel-aged aspect of the aroma, front and center:  vanilla and a slight oaky, earthy tobacco.  After consideration and a swirl, one might also take in coffee, dark chocolate, fruit cake, coconut, and a slight spiciness.  Warm, piquant booze sends a tingle up the nostrils.  In the middle of it all is a very subtle pine resin.  All in all, a multi-layered aroma giving evidence of each of the four beers in this celebratory concoction.

T:  Wow, so much happening, I doubt there’s any way I’ll catch it all.  Much of the aroma carries into the palate.  The coffee, chocolate and fruit cake are easiest to pick out.  New flavors, not in the nose are here too, such as a rich molasses (thank you Stickee Monkee), and fleeting touches of caramel (and thank you Bravo).  Delving further into the structure, there’s also a soft anise/black licorice feature (Dr. Parabola, I presume?).  Though a massive sweetness sticks around through mid-palate, it leaves after a while, providing a drying, tannic, oaky finish.  The finish itself is long, and certainly feels like the smooth burn of brandy, and the vanilla of bourbon barrels.

F:  Thick, oily and coating.  Heavy on the palate, with just enough lift from the carbonation.  Chewy (there you are, Mr. Merkin).  As it warms it gets almost too heavy… almost.

O:  This one deserves contemplation, as Firestone Walker has done it once again.  This beer is greater than the sum of its parts.  Each sip and degree of temperature change brings something new.

S:  3.75  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing: if you must… sharp cheddar cheese, hearty beef stew made with a splash of whiskey… but really, this one deserves full attention.  Enjoy it on its own.

Wake this Giant: B. Nektar’s Sleeping Giant Mead

Since it’s not a Sunday, I have a non-beer review with which to enlighten you.  At the urging of various individuals, I finally decided to try beer’s buzzing cousin, mead.  I’m not familiar on how to evaluate it, so I looked up some guidelines.  While I didn’t do a very scientific review, I did try to detect any glaring flaws, in addition to elaborating on the experience to give others a sense of what all the buzz is about.

On the docket:  375 mL bottle of B. Nektar’s Sleeping Giant (Limited Release)

Poured into:  Odd Otter stemmed tasting glass

S:  This giant pours a pale gold, with crystal clarity.  Reminiscent of a mature chardonnay.  No bubbles are present.  During the course of drinking this, legs appeared on my glass, providing evidence of the alcohol and sugar content.

A:  A light floral note cedes to a spicy, woody aroma.  The rye whiskey barrel finish is quite evident.  A honey sweetness emerges as the mead warms up, too.  Higher alcohols present themselves, but in a pleasant way.  This mead clocks in at 15.1, also known as sack-strength.

T:  Sweet honey, a mingling of peaches and apples, maybe even pears.  When warmer, herbal, medicinal flavors show up.  Though I’ve not had many, the impression suggests a sweet Riesling- as odd as the comparison might be.  The combined elements of the abv and the barrel aging create a piquant, drying, woody quality.  I’ll be so bold as to say the end has “Manhattan” qualities to it, a favorite rye-based drink of mine.  Crazier- it seems like this guy has the vermouth and the bitters in it, too!  Or, that could be the power of suggestion.

F:  Full-bodied, sweet, rich.  It dries out on the finish, a small tannin-like sharpness from the barrel aging.  As they say in the whiskey world, this one has a medium finish.

O:  Though not experienced with mead, I truly enjoyed this offering, and feel fortunate enough to get my hands on a bottle.  I’m not usually a fan of barrel-aged beer, but enjoy rye whiskey.  One sip allayed my fear.

S:  4  A:  3.75  T:  4.5  F:  4  O:  4

Suggested food pairing:  I’ve heard it’s hard to wrong with food pairing regarding mead.  My picks?  Earthy or nutty English cheese, fruit with a caramel dipping sauce, spiced nuts

Lost in the Maze: Uinta’s Labyrinth

On the docket:  750 mL cork and cage bottle of Uinta’s Labyrinth, bottle date:  7/26 (year unknown)

Poured into:  Jester King Snorkel snifter

S:  The inkiest, blackest, consuming black fills my glass.  On top, espresso-foam head wells up, then settles to a small ring.  It’s completely opaque, so I cannot detect bubble activity.  I could stare into its depths for hours, but I have to smell and taste it, too.

A:  Roasted coffee, wood, the darkest of chocolate, and Oh My Sweet Lord!  Black Licorice.  Bright citrus aroma off the hops.  And yes… booze.  This black beauty weighs in at 13.2%.  Sip with care!

T:  If I were Adam, in the Garden, and Lucifer were to slither up to me with a glass of this and start speaking of rebellion–well–let’s just say he wouldn’t have to try very hard.  This is most of everything I look for in a dark, dangerous beer.  Sweet date and fig up front quickly yields to coffee, dark chocolate, and black licorice.  The bright note from the hop aroma shows up towards the end, only to be outdone by a dry, roasty, woody finish.  The faintest hint of vanilla.  Your tongue turns to 800 grit sandpaper and you go back for another seductive barrage of flavor.  A note- the black licorice is smooth and silky, like that of gourmet product, not of a candy that rhymes with sizzler.

F:  Creamy, oily, slick, coating.  Rich and luxurious.  As it warms…. so does the finish, though quite dry.  Drink cool for crispness, drink warmer for richness.

O:  Quite possibly the best imperial stout I’ve ever tasted, and though I may not have had offerings such as The Abyss, Dark Lord, Hunahpu, Speedway, Black Note, or those whales that people chase… good God!  Give me one of these every year, and I’ll consider myself a blessed man.

S:  4  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4.25  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing:  smoked charcuterie, braised beef, low and slow barbecue, tiramisu, and my personal pick- traditional Slovak poppy seed roll.  Divine flavor synthesis.