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Winemakers blend ale with Firestone brewers 


Eight weeks ago, some of the Paso Robles region’s top winemakers arrived at Firestone Walker Brewing Company for an annual rite—the blending of the brewery’s anniversary ale, by far the most ambitious undertaking of Firestone Walker’s storied barrel-aging program.

The winemakers and brewers were divided into competing teams of two. As always, the session began with friendly insults and smack talk. But the room quieted down as they began to tackle the task at hand: assembling a winning blend from an eclectic array of strong ales variously aged for a year or more in retired bourbon, brandy and tequila barrels.

“This project is all about creating flavors through blending, and no one knows blending better than a winemaker,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “This beer is a testament to the fact that incredible flavors can be created through blending, and that in certain moments, with special people and exceptional raw materials, the result of the blend can far exceed the sum of its parts.”

Each team tasted through the lots and assembled their preferred blend. Then all of the trial blends were blind tasted by the entire group, and a vote was cast for the best blend of all. For the second year in a row, the winning blend was created by Justin Smith and Mark Adams of Saxum Vineyards. Their reward? Bragging rights and the retention of a makeshift cardboard crown.

Afterward, the brewing team went to work on fine tuning and scaling the blend. The resulting limited-release ale—called XVI, or Sixteen—is ultimately composed of 226 barrels spanning eight diverse components that converge in the bottle with striking harmony and complexity.

Sixteen is the seventh release in Firestone Walker’s anniversary series, dating back to the release of the inaugural anniversary release called “Ten” in 2006. Over the ensuing years, Firestone Walker has developed one of the craft beer industry’s most extensive barrel aging programs, spanning upwards of 1,500 barrels. Brewing beer with oak barrels has been a pioneering focal point for the brewery since its founding in 1996.

“Dozens of notebooks, hundreds of questions and countless beers have refined our approach to creating the best flavors possible through barrel aging,” Brynildson said. “Then we step back and let our winemaker friends help us put the final puzzle together. This year, the result is XVI—our finest achievement to date.”


Sixteen will be officially released at the XVI Anniversary Ale release party at the brewery in Paso Robles on November 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The festivities will include samples and live music. Space is limited, guests are encouraged to arrive early. For more information:

Thereafter, XVI will be available in select markets across the United States. The suggested retail price is $23.99 for an individually boxed 22-ounce bottle.


“We blended together 226 oak barrels and eight different beers creating something truly complex and exceptional.” – Brewmaster Matt Brynildson

Velvet Merkin / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 23% of Final Blend

-Traditional Oatmeal Stout

Stickee Monkee / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 22.5% of Final Blend

-English Barley Wine

Double DBA / Aged in retired Firestone Union Barrels / 20.3% of Final Blend

-Double strength English Pale Ale

Parabola / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 10.8% of Final Blend

-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout

PNC / Aged in Tequila Barrels / 8.1% of Final Blend

-American Strong Buckwheat Stout

Helldorado / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 5.4% of Final Blend

-Blonde Barley Wine

Bravo / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 5.4% of Final Blend

-Imperial Brown Ale

Wookey Jack / 100% Stainless Steel / 4.5% of Final Blend

-Black Rye India Pale Ale


“XVI is a 42% stout with Velvet Merkin, Parabola and PNC working together as three roasty toasty friends creating rich cacao, chocolate and mocha flavors together. Helldorado, with flavors of lavender and honey liqueur fold in flowery notes and DDBA delivers its signature American toasted oak, English caramel toffee and light leather nuances. Stickee Monkee lends rich maple syrup, spicy cinnamon, and ripe fig flavors while Bravo adds barrel character and bourbon notes. The addition of Wookey Jack, a Black Rye IPA, adds wily citrusy hop notes and spicy rye backbone. As this beer sits and breathes in the glass, more rich dusty chocolate, stone fruit and crème brulée character is revealed as the rich spirit characters fade—so take your time.


“These are my friends and brothers in fermentation science, and practicing experts in the art of blending.” – Brewmaster Matt Brynildson

Eric Jensen – Booker
Brock Waterman – Brochelle
Chuck Carlson – Curtis
Kevin Sass – Halter Ranch
Russell From – Herman Story
Matt Trevisan – Linne Calodo
Sherman Thacher – Thacher
Terry Hoage – Terry Hoage Vineyards
Justin Smith– Saxum
Mark Adams – Saxum and Ledge

Source: Firestone Brewery press release

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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog.