At Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles, CA, the company has been influenced by its winemaking heritage and several of its brews are blends, including Solace, a summer seasonal that mixes hefeweizen and a Belgian saison. They have also been blending a special anniversary beer for the last five years with the help of area winemakers.
“We didn’t originally intend for it to go this way, it was kind of organic,” says Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker brewmaster. He believes winemakers come up with a final beer that has a more integrated flavor, while brewers given the same challenge would come up with a more aggressive character. “In using this process, we figured something out that was unique and special. Winemakers have a special vocabulary when it comes to tastes and blending is integral to making wine. It has proven to be a good technique and produced good results.”
Firestone Walker created the Anniversary Series to celebrate the brewery’s 10th birthday in 2006. For the latest version, winemakers used a selection of barrel-aged components to build Firestone 14, resulting in a final blend of Double Double Barrel Ale (31 percent), Sticky Monkey English Barley Wine (29 percent), Parabola Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout (27 percent), Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout (7 percent), Good Foot American Barley Wine (3 percent), and Black Xantus Coffee Infused Imperial Stout (3 percent). The last four beers were aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, while the Sticky Monkey was aged in former Bourbon and brandy barrels.
We’re getting better at this, but we haven’t scratched the surface of what is possible in blending,” Brynildson says. “It means thinking differently. You are not trying to get everything in one beer. You can look at missing elements and brew a beer as a blending piece. By itself it does not have to be balanced.”
A lot of brewers have been blending beers and not talking about it,” Brynildson says. Blending has been a part of brewing to either blend away problems or create new flavors. The trend in barrel aging is pushing blending forward and we will see more of it in the future.”