Review: Firestone Walker XXIII Anniversary Ale
Another year and another Anniversary Ale from Firestone Walker. The info sheet for this one (nicely tucked inside the packaging) reminds the drinker that it was Firestone’s tenth anniversary ale, X, that actually introduced the world to their first spirits barrel-aged beer. And boy have they come a long way since then with the Proprietor’s Vintage Series chock full every year of unique and tasty barrel-aged brews.
For 2019, Firestone Walker again invited several friends in the wine industry to form teams and create a blend from that year’s Vintage Series. The same team with the winning blend for XXII walked away with top honors again this year, but the mix they selected is quite unlike last year’s. XXIII is 28% Parabola and only 28% Stickee Monkee (last year, it made up nearly half the blend). Firestone’s Bravo imperial brown ale (20%) and Bourbon Barrel Helldorado blonde barleywine (15%) round out the bulk of the recipe with a sprinkling of Velvet Merkin (5%) and Tequilla Barrel Heldorado (4%). I quite liked last year’s selection that memorably featured the Rum and Gin Barrel Helldorado. Let’s see if the winning team can impress us again.
This one pours a rich, coppery brown like an old penny or, come to think of it, the color of the bottle glass. A thin light brown head dissipates quickly leaving a ring of crema in the glass. The nose is creamy and gently sweet with vanilla custard and chocolate syrup. There’s a bit of sugar cookie here, too. Left to warm in the glass long enough, I detect a subtle smoked agave note that adds a unique vegetal edge to an otherwise dessert-filled aroma. The palate is light and airy, not nearly as thick or velvety as I expected. The blend has perfectly balanced the alcohol to the point where I get almost no evidence of it other than the flavors the respective barrels impart. Those, too, are somewhat unlike what I expected. The chocolate notes are restrained, cocoa powder almost, and the vanilla component comes across equally delicate as whipped cream or merengue. The barleywine is definitely at play here, giving the whole blend a clean, effortless edge with a touch of brightness, crushed pineapple, from the small amount of tequila barrel aging. All of that elegance makes this one dangerously drinkable for a barrel-aged beer. Another anniversary well-commemorated by the folks at Firestone Walker.
A / $20 (per 12 oz. bottle) / firestonebeer.com