The enlightened readers of this blog should be well aware by now that great beer is just as complex as wine. However, in the off chance that you have yet to ascend to the craft beer plane of being, we've found you a shortcut to Nirvana: Firestone Walker's XV Anniversary Ale. The Paso Robles brewery is known for the quality of their barrel aged beers, including the Imperial Stout Parabola and the Barleywine §ucaba (formerly known as Abacus), and XV bolsters that reputation even more. This blend of barrel aged beers (which includes Parabola) is powerful and intense, with layer after layer of rich flavors, and is a unique, challenging, and truly stellar palate experience.

The first thing you'll notice about the sixth edition of Firestone Walker's anniversary (it started in 2006 with their tenth anniversary) is that it doesn't look like a normal beer. For one thing, it comes in an elegant black box, almost like a bottle of good single malt scotch. It is also accompanied by a letter written by brewmaster Matt Brynildson describing the process and the components of the blend. The packaging makes it stand out, and the letter is an informative read, but it's the liquid in the bottle that is truly exceptional. The team at Firestone enlists local winemakers to collaborate with them to determine which components should go into the blend and in what ratio, which is one benefit of their Paso Robles location. Their added perspective is another thing that makes this beer special.

When you first pour it into the glass, the dark color, minimal head, and powerful aroma of bourbon and oak may seem intimidating. The first sip, too, will undoubtedly give you a bit of a wallop. But as you sit, sniff, sip, and savor your way through a glass, the beer opens into a rewarding journey through bourbon, toffee, vanilla, chocolate and more, including a surprising hint of citrus. This year Firestone Walker added some of their intensely fruity Double IPA Double Jack to the blend, and it's listed at 5% of the finished product. It's an interesting and subtle touch, a clever addition that adds yet another layer of complexity to this overwhelming (-ly awesome) beer. Despite the slight dryness and citrus element that the Double Jack brings, it's still a big, bad, dessert-type beer. At 12.5% ABV it's probably wise to split it with a friend or three, and experiences this excellent are best shared, anyway.

As good as Firestone Walker XV is right now, odds are it will only improve with time. If laid to rest for a year or more the flavors will mature and blend together in new ways, and some of the heat from the alcohol will cool, making this beer even more drinkable than it is now. All of Firestone Walker's anniversary series ales are constructed in such a way, and though we haven't tried the earliest editions, we can definitively say that XIV is still outstanding, perhaps even better than it was when it was released. If you're looking for a nice stocking stuffer or an interesting bottle to bring to a holiday party, Firestone Walker's XV Anniversary Ale is a great choice, for this holiday season or any holiday season this decade.

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