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Archive | November, 2007

Firestone 11 and a ‘Tale of Two Matts’

Firestone 11I’ve already ragged on Firestone Walker for the Plane Jane names attached to spectacular anniversary beers. So to be constructive I should suggest a sexy alternative to “Firestone 11,” the beer they’ll be lining up to buy today at the Firestone Walker taproom in Paso Robles, Calif.

With apologies to Dickens let’s call it a “Tale of Two Matts.” And quote a bit from the opening of his similarly named novel: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

The Matts are Matt Brynildson and Matt Trevisan, the brewmaster at Firestone and winemaker at Linne Calodo Winery respectively. The former had everything to do with brewing, aging and assembling the beer. The latter sat in on sessions that determined the blends for “10” and “11.” As important to me is how generous Trevisan was with his time in a long conversation that helped me understand what makes this beer different.

The foolishness? The labor and time involved compared to what income the sale of 500 cases will bring. The wisdom? It’s in the glass.

Coconut. Vanilla. Oak tannins. Texture. Bourbon. Brown. Chocolate. Dark cherries. Smoke. Earthy/herbal.

That’s how my notes begin. Then, Do we really need to deconstruct this beer?

My thoughts turned to a conversation with Trevisan about blending “10.” “I told them they didn’t have to sit there and pick it apart to find the best one,” he said. “You didn’t necessarily want the one you had the most to say about. Ultimately it’s a beverage to enjoy.”

So Daria and I were pretty much done chatting about our impressions of the beer, even if they did keep coming. For instance, when I poured out the last of the 22-ounce bottle and kicked up the head anew a sudden whiff of rose perfume appeared, recalling Rochefort’s beers. Where the hell did that come from?

We enjoyed the beer but we talked about how much we like the Christmas tree we cut Friday, how many days we should appropriate for the Canadian Rockies next summer, and more stuff you don’t give a hoot about.

Instead, you’re here to find out what makes this beer different, perhaps special. Could there be a one word tasting note?

OK. Texture. It’s rich and velvety on the tongue, but finishes with enough leathery coarseness that it doesn’t leave a sweet impression. I suspect that’s one of the reasons such a wide array of flavors come together so well.

Class dismissed.

The rest of a “Tale of Two Matts” is optional reading.

Matt BrynildsonFirestone 11 is a compelling beer with a captivating back story. I wrote about the blending of Firestone 10 in the current Imbibe magazine.

Also, check out Sean Paxton’s recently posted Blending Firestone Walker 11 with Matt Brynildson for photos far more illustrative than my words. Don’t miss the “Bourbon Dot.”

Before we get to the nitty gritty geeky details comparing “10” and “11” let’s back up a bit. When Brynildson hit upon having area winemakers help with the blend, Trevisan — who stocks up on a variety of Firestone Walker beers to serve winery workers during harvest — was one of of the first he called. Wine Spectator has characterized him as one of the “Young Turks” of the Central Coast.

Handed a glass of Abacus, a barley wine, that was a composite taken from several barrels Trevisan asked instead for samples from individual barrels. A conversation with him about wood makes the reason why obvious.

French Oak versus American Oak is just the beginning, because he’ll tell you about different forests around the world. He described two oak trees, each one on a slightly different part of his property, each developing differently in its own microclimate.

“It starts with how the cooper chooses his trees,” he says. Where the wood is dried (think Oregon Coast versus Mojave Desert) and otherwise how the cooper treats it make as much difference as variables that are more easily quoted, like the level of “toast” (when a partially assembled barrel is placed over a fire and charred). For instance, when a winemaker or brewer buys a new barrel it will be described along these lines: American Oak, Medium Aroma Toast, 24 months (the time spent seasoning).

Trevisan says too many winemakers want barrels with the same specs to produce the same flavors. “That takes the human element out of it,” he says. “If I have two barrels I like the idea of the left one and the right one tasting different.”

Assembling those flavors, of course, is why Matt consulted with Matt. “I always work off what I call liquidity. What’s the weight in the mouth? How to you want the wine perceived?” Trevisan says. He returns often to the word “viscosity,” and the importance of flavor at mid-palate.

That may mean something a little different in wine than beer but relates directly to the impressive texture of Firestone 11. A fair complaint about some high alcohol “extreme beers” is that they start with an intense blast of aromas and flavors, but there’s little depth by mid-palate. That’s not the case here.

Make no mistake, Firestone 10 and Firestone 11 taste quite different. We’re not talking about the difference between the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Pinot Noir from a winery. We’re talking the difference between a barley wine and a really big brown ale. The geeky details:

Firestone 11
– 82% Bravo (an Imperial Brown Ale brewed in August 2006)
– 16 bourbon barrels, 5 brandy barrels, 2 retired Firestone Union barrels (new American oak)
7% Rufus (a Continental Styles Imperial Amber brewed August 2007)
– 1 bourbon barrel, 1 rye barrel
7% Velvet Merkin (a regular strength Oatmeal Stout brewed October 2007)
– 2 bourbon barrels
3.5% Parabola (Russian Imperial Stout brewed February 2006)
– 1 bourbon barrel

Firestone 10
– Abacus (Barley Wine) 46%
– Bravo 16%
– Parabola 11%
– Ruby (Double IPA) 8%
– Walker’s Reserve (Oak fermented Robust Porter) 6%
– Hemp Ale (American Brown) 6%
– Double Barrel Ale (oak fermented English Pale) 6%

A 22-ounce of Firestone 10 sold for $9.99 when it was released last year. The suggested retail price on “11” is $16.99.

Fantasy Beer Dinner #5: Lisa Morrison

Lisa MorrisonFor more about what this is part of look here.

Lisa Morrison (a.k.a the Beer Goddess) is the Oregon Correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and a frequent contributor to several other publications. She was honored with a Brewers Association Journalism Award in 2004. She also teaches SudSisters, a beer appreciation class for women in and around Portland.

In case you forgot, the questions are: If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

My maternal grandmother, Norma, because she liked kicking back with a beer or two, and she was a foodie before there even was a name for it. I think she’d get a kick out of a beer dinner.

Michael Jackson, because we still had much to learn from him. And because I was not yet ready to say goodbye.

Musician/poet/activist Bruce Cockburn. I’ve admired his musicianship and writing since I was a teen. I don’t think he’s much on beer, but I bet we could convert him throughout the course of the dinner. Bonus points if he brought his guitar along.

My husband, Mark Campbell, because I can’t imagine doing anything this cool and not have him there to share it with me. I think he and Granny would’ve gotten along like gangbusters.

The beers

Duchesse du Bourgogne – one of my all-time favorite beers. I think Granny would appreciate how nicely it pairs with everything from steak to cheesecake.

Hair of the Dog Fred, a Portland-brewed favorite. If I had five seats, I’d have invited Fred Eckhardt, but I will serve the eponymous beer instead.

Laurelwood Deranger Imperial Red Ale, another hometown choice. I stalked this down for The Beer Hunter when I offered to get him a beer and he requested “something hoppy and American.” He loved. So do I.

Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, in honor of our Samoyed puppy named Yeti. She’s not oak-aged, but she does sometimes think she’s royalty.

Fantasy Beer Dinner #4: Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason

For more about what this series is part of look here.

Andrew Mason assists Matt Van Wyk with brewing at Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery in Illinois, the 2006 GABF Small Brewpub of the Year. He also makes the Flossmoor blog one of the most interesting maintained by a brewery.

In case you forgot, the questions are: If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

1) Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716)
-paraphrased from Wikipedia-
A truly fascinating character from the Enlightenment. It would be nearly impossible to explain everything that he accomplished in his lifetime in this exercise, but here are a few. Discovered Calculus independently of Newton, was a Natural Philosopher, Discovered the Binary System, which is the basis for almost all of modern day computing, and was a contributor to Philosophy and the Technology of his day.
I got interested in him from Neil Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy where Leibniz plays a major role interacting with his fictionalized characters from that time. If his fictionalized personality was anything at all like his real one he would be a blast to share a few beers with.

2) Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Another dead German but another one that I hold in high regard. I’m Lutheran, born and raised, and although we don’t worship Martin Luther, we do learn a lot about his life along the way. I’ve always thought the very human part of his life was very interesting apart from Reforming the Christian church, founding Protestantism, translating the Bible into the common language of the people, and writing extensively. He had a fiery personality and appreciated worldly things in addition to heavenly.

3) Mike Royko (1932-1997)
One of the quintessential Chicago figures of the last century. Royko was and history may show, the best columnist Chicago has ever seen or will see. Here are a few excerpts from Mike Royko, One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko published by University of Chicago Press. Royko wrote about the everyman and always played it straight. From Slate magazine, Jacob Weisberg says,

“Reading [his works] in the new posthumous selection, One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko, I found myself wondering: Why doesn’t anyone write a newspaper column this good anymore? Royko wasn’t quite a Twain, or a Mencken, but his writing was distinctive and memorable and in its time the closest thing to lasting literature in a daily paper. Royko could make you laugh and make you think, stir outrage at a heartless bureaucrat, or bring a tear to the eye when he flashed a glimpse of the heart hidden beneath his hard shell.

Royko would be great to have a beer with. In fact, if this was the ultimate fantasy beer dinner it would be at one of Royko’s old haunts, the original Billy Goat Tavern under Michigan Avenue. You know it even if you haven’t been there. Cheezborger Cheezborger Cheezborger.

4) David Bowie
The only living member of the dinner apart from myself. Does Bowie really need an explanation?

The beers

One would definitely be a Bamberger style rauch beer. I’m deliberately not picking a specific one because nearly any beer from Bamberg is perfect. I love rauch beers. Some of my favorite beer memories are walking around in Bamberg after a morning tour of the Weyermann Malt House, eating lunch, drinking beers, and discovering the city with my family.

The next would be a Kreuzberg Kloster beer from the area of Germany known as the Rhön. One of my first real German beers was their Dunkel, drunk out of a cold ceramic stein. But we weren’t able to drink the beer until we first climbed up the huge hill that the monastery sits upon, walked along the whole tour of the stations of the cross, looked at the enormous crosses on top of the hill (kreuz = cross burg = hill or small mountain) and walked back down the hill to the monastery where the beer is. And it was great beer.

A sour belgian-style ale
Something drinkable, but still assertively sour, acidic, and tart. Could be authentically Belgian or it could be an American interpretation.

Ol’ Woody
And I realize I don’t necessarily make the best beers in the world, but I sure as hell love drinking what I make. Ol’ Woody is a 100% Amarillo IPA that we make that is barrel aged in a used bourbon barrel and then dry hopped once it is pulled out. You have to serve at least one of your own beers at a fantasy beer dinner.

And although you didn’t specifically ask, and I already mentioned the Billy Goat, we would definitely be eating bbq. I have a passion for bbq that has drawn me all over the US seeking it out. There would be a mix of Texas brisket, North Carolina pulled pork, Memphis ribs, and some Kansas City sauce to go with it.

Fantasy Beer Dinner #3: Sean Paxton

Sean PaxtonFor more about what this is part of look here.

Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, was a professional chef for years and has been a homebrewer since 1993. The meals he prepares annually for Northern California Homebrew Festival are legendary, and he writes a regular food column for Beer Advocate magazine.

In case you forgot, the questions are: If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

So many people to chose from, yet the more I think about it, the easier the guest list is.

Father Dominique, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy. What we taste today in Rochefort’s 8 and 10, might not be how those two beers started back at the turn of the century without his help. Father Dominique’s improvements to the production and quality of the brewing techniques, ultimately changed the course of the monastery future. To discuss with him what and how the beers were made before and what changes were implemented would make for a pretty incredible evening. Can he bring some samples to share at the table?

Charles Greene. One of the two brothers who brought us the Greene & Greene style of architecture. I see many similarities in highly skilled trade and decorative art using wood, to a brewer designing a great beer for the palate and brewing it. His take on food and beer would add a nice mix to the table.

Matt Bryndilson. Besides being a great brewer (at Firestone Walker), he is also a total foodie at heart. With his crazy blend of last years 10 and soon to be released 11, Matt’s experience in blending beers, aging in oak and hop knowledge, could spark an interesting discussion on the future of brewing. I would also love his take on the meal and beers that were served over dinner. And besides, he’s still alive.

And Michael Jackson. I only met him once and never got a chance to cook for him. That would have been cool, to cook for such an amazing inspiration. That menu would take a long time to create. But, oh the conversation that would come out of it.

The first course would start with a glass of De Dolle Stille Nacht Reserve 2000 aged in Boudreaux Barrels for 18 months. The flavors of toffee, apricots, cherries, grapes, cinnamon and touches of spices that you can almost identify, but meld into another flavor dancing on your tongue. I’d pair this with a selection of Trappist cheeses: Chimay Grand Reserve, Orval and Westmalle Tripel Crème, garnishing the plate with fresh figs, dried apricots, toasted hazelnuts, cinnamon infused honey and a rustic sourdough.

Second beer would be De Struise French Oak Aged Pannepot. When I first tasted this elixir, I thought “Sex in a Glass.” Urbain and his crazy/wild team of brewers created a brew that is perfect with food, or to sit by a fire and smoke a nice cigar. To pair with this treat, I would have to have to do a Seared Duck Breast, cooked a juicy medium rare, on a Bed of Pureed Celery Root, with a sauce reduced from New Glarus Cherry, duck stock and thyme from the garden.

I would have to serve my almost done Saucerful of Secrets to my four guests. With a crazy and complex grain bill, different sugars and a radical fermentation, it would be an honor to pour this for a third course. I would pair a Fig Wood Smoke Rack of Lamb, served with a Fig Coriander Demi and Black Truffle Mash Potatoes topped with Seared Foie Gras to play off the dark fruit flavors in the beer.

And my last beer would be Hair of the Dog Dave. Created by triple freezing Adam, aging it in Bourbon Barrels for 6 months, flavors beyond most ideas of what beer is, wash over the tongue. The fact that It’s over 28% abv and over 10 years old now sure helps . . . I did a Beeramisu for Fred Eckhardt’s 80th with Alan, using this beer and pairing with it. The intense malt flavors pair nicely with the nutty mascarpone and a sprinkle of 120L crystal malt. A nice way to end the evening.

Fantasy Beer Dinner #2: Steve Hales

Steven D. HalesFor more about what this is part of look here.

Steven D. Hales is Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg State University, but more relevant here is that he edited Beer & Philosophy. He also contributed a wonderful essay in which he introduces us to the idea that quality is the density of pleasure.

In case you forgot, the questions are: If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?

Here’s my list, of folks that were great raconteurs who liked to drink, and would be a hoot at dinner:

Benjamin Franklin
Winston Churchill
Ernest Hemingway

If I added a fifth it would be Scottish philosopher David Hume.

Here’s what I’d serve. And I imagine the beers going with specific foods, too.

1. Franziskaner Weissbier. Served with a salad.
2. Saison Dupont. With a broth vegetable soup.
3. Ommegang Abbey Ale. Served with a roast lamb.
4. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. With a dense chocolate
torte dessert.

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