Sips: When winemakers help craft an ale, magic happens

Firestone Walker

By Gary Dzen Globe Staff 

For 12 years, Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson has been taking advantage of his brewery’s Pasa Robles, Calif., location to make Firestone’s most special beer.

Brynildson gathers local winemakers — experts in blending their own drink — and tasks them with helping to create the final blend of Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale, now in its 21st iteration.


Like blending wine, combining beers of different origins and vintages is unscientific, adhering to guidelines that have worked in the past but also leaving room for artistry. The group blending Firestone’s anniversary ale breaks off into teams, with the winning blend voted on by a blind taste test of the entire group.

Firestone Walker’s XXI Anniversary Ale is a blend of some of the company’s most distinctive beers: Velvet Merkin (8.5 percent ABV) and Parabola (13.8 percent ABV) are oatmeal stouts aged in bourbon barrels. Bravo (13.5 percent ABV) is an imperial brown ale, while Helldorado (13.5 percent ABV) and Stickee Monkey (12.5 percent ABV) are a blonde barleywine and quad, respectively.

There’s nothing light about the final product, which leans on the soft chocolate character of the Velvet Merkin while incorporating the island spice and molasses of the Helldorado, aged in rum barrels. It tastes like a stout but better. Allow the beer to warm slightly and serve in a snifter glass to maximize the experience.

Gary Dzen can be reached at