Winemakers sometimes joke that it takes a lot of cheap beer to make a good wine.
But at Firestone Walker Brewing Company last fall, it took a lot of winemakers to make a good beer. For the fourth year in a row, brewer Matthew Brynildson invited area winemakers to taste vintage barrel-aged beers and blend the best of them into a special release celebrating the brewery’s 13th anniversary. Called simply “13” and released in November, the blend took shape during two weeks as seven winemakers combined seven barrel-aged beers into a giant super-brew. The mud-colored mix consists of 39 percent 2009 imperial stout, 24 percent 2009 imperial brown ale, 15 percent 2008 imperial oatmeal stout, and four older beers. Six of the seven blending brews were aged in rye, bourbon, and brandy barrels, and the outcome is a beer full of coconut, vanilla, and butter flavors. With such irresistible smooth and creamy effects, the liquor barrel beer category is growing fast. More than 600 breweries now dabble in the game across America, and bottled releases come from breweries like Deschutes, Goose Island, and Drake’s. Firestone Walker’s 13 can be found at the brewery’s tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Buellton and at many stores such as Whole Foods. Should you miss it, 14 is just months away.