Deconstructing Firestone Walker XV

The last time I was at the Avalon in Hollywood wasn’t for a beer tasting event, but that’s a story for another day. On November 12th of LA Beer Week, we arrived at the usually bustling nightclub to a long line of eager attendees anxiously anticipating what’s to come, Firestone Walker Deconstructed. Once inside the venue however, there was no world renowned DJ or high tempo club music, just really good beer and really great food from world renowned Firestone Walker and Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton. I use the word “just” loosely because there was nothing minimal about an event that featured 8 food courses paired with a selection of 11 different beers.

The real star of the night was the highly anticipated Firestone Walker XV, their annual blend of barrel aged beers. Hailing from the wine country of Paso Robles, blending is nothing new to the region however it wasn’t until Matt Brynildson, head brewer at Firestone Walker, had a “eureka moment” to bring the technique over to the craft beer world. We had the pleasure of asking Matt some questions as the night went on and got more insight into the blending process.

Chances are, any brewery that barrel ages their beer has a process in place for blending. That’s because, as Matt described, each barrel imparts its own characteristics to the beer so in order to have a consistent finished product, these variations are blended into one large batch. Matt’s process for XV takes this one step further in that instead of blending the same beer together, he brews 8-10 unique flavors and invites a group of 16 winemakers from the region to do it with him. He also told us that he likes to stay as uninvolved as possible in the multi-session, 12 hour process, allowing the winemakers to even make the selection as to which beers they do and don’t use.

This years blend features eight different beers, each of them barrel aged anywhere from 3 to 12 months. As Matt explained it, many of these were never meant to be sipped on their own but instead are primarily used as blending components. As we tasted each of them, this started making a lot of sense as some had such extreme oak characteristics that it was like licking the inside of a bourbon barrel. An experience that some of us enjoyed very much.

The blends base is made up primarily of Barley Wines with four of the eight components coming from that style family. These included Sticky Monkey, which is described as being “sweeter in order to balance some of the heat of the alcohol” and Helldorado, a golden Barley Wine that is useful in lightening the final color of the anniversary ale. Surprisingly, they also used a significant amount of Double Jack in the blend which really helped mellow and meld the oak and bourbon flavors in the final mix.

After eight food pairings, each matched with a component of the blend, it all came together when they finally served XV. Although a slew of 12% monsters slightly skewed our palates, it was still possible to identify many of the elements that we had been tasting throughout the night. From the boozy and oaky flavors of Good Foot to the creamy and chocolaty Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin, XV is an amazing blend of amazing beers brewed by a downright amazing brewery.

– Philippe

From Left to Right: Flash Gordon, Sean Paxton, Matt Brynildson, Philippe Gagnon

This was originally written for and posted on the Tap Hunter Blog

Philippe Gagnon is the founder and writer for Craft Beer Culture. Currently residing in Orange County, California, you can find him at the local brewery drinking craft beer or online through FacebookTwitter, and .

Leave a comment