California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Co. celebrated a quarter century of beer-making last fall with the release of this brew, dubbed XXV. It’s the 16th release in what has become an annual autumn rite in which the brewery and their local winemaker friends gather for a friendly blending competition and what must be one helluva party. The winning brew this year was a mix of five different beers. The flagship Parabola imperial stout forms a healthy base at nearly half the blend (41%) with Tequila Barrel Merkin milk stout (28%) the next largest component. Stickey Monkee quad (10%) and Brandy Barrel Barley Wine (13%) make up almost the remaining quarter, with just a dash (8%) of Whiskey Barrel Wheat Wine rounding things out. This release has ranked in our Top 10 Beers list for three straight years, most recently taking home top honors in 2021. Let’s see how the silver anniversary blend stacks up.
The beer pours a color reminiscent of dark chocolate fudge with a thin, caramel-colored head. The aroma shows, unsurprisingly, lots of barrel-aged stout influence with sweet and mildly boozy notes of raw coconut and sticky vanilla bean. As it warms in the glass, things turn more complex with a green, almost salty, vegetal note (likely the work of the Tequila Barrel Merkin), a bit of candied nuts, chocolate syrup, and golden raisin. It’s enchanting stuff, and that’s before even tasting it. On the palate, all that complexity in the nose is deftly balanced and elegant. The flavors aren’t big and punchy, like so many barrel-aged beers (including some of the components here). Instead, this is light and silky, full of black cherry and dark chocolate-covered raisins, lemon zest, and grape skin. There’s no bitterness, so those flavors roll unobstructed into the long finish where just a hint of acidity, more citrus than grape, and a bit of agave-tinged sweetness add a small burst of brightness that kept me dipping back into my glass. Very different from recent releases but definitely a contender for top honors again this year.
A / $20 / firestonebeer.com