Weekly Beer Report #1

Velvet Merlin

I decided that since I try at least one new beer nearly every week that it might be fun (for me even if not for my readers) to post a list every week of the beers I’ve had since the last report. Since we’re just into January I’m going to cheat a bit on this first one and cover what I had over the holidays, then post separately every week for January.

December Holidays
I am very lucky that when my parents retired they moved up to central California just a few miles from the Firestone Walker brewery. We drove up on Christmas Eve and took the last brewery tour of the day. In fact it was just the seven of us from the family so it ended up being a private tour of sorts. Now I’ve been on several brewery tours over the years so the basic stuff was nothing new but it was really neat to see the Burton Union system in person. (In fact I need to have someone send me the pictures of us standing in front of the barrels). Basically they take the fermenting beer out of the main tank and let it ferment for about a week in the oak barrels, then return it to the main tank (that’s a very simplified description). I know they do this for their Double Barrel Ale (which is a great beer) and I think that’s the only one it’s used for.

The highlight of that trip was sharing a couple of tasting flights with my brother and sister-in-law, specifically the Velvet Merkin. This is the bourbon barrel version of Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout. The bourbon scent was so strong I could smell it by the time the glass was still 3-4″ away from my nose. This one is available only at the tap room if I remember correctly, possibly on tap at local bars as well. Great beer but definitely not a session brew by any means. You can only imagine my amusement watching my brother explain to our parents the definition of merkin.

I was finally able to try the standard Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout on tap and it’s a great beer in its own right. Without the strong bourbon note I could easily have several in one sitting. The is one of my favorite stouts, but sadly Merlin is a winter only seasonal brew. I had heard before that the normal version of this brew was originally named Velvet Merkin but when it went into wider distribution they changed the name (see this article at The Full Pint). The tour guide didn’t know anything about a name change, he told us they were just different beers but then again he had only been working there a couple of months at the time.

Other beers at the tap room were Pale 31 , Solace wheat beer, Union Jack IPA (not bad but then again I’m spoiled by all the great West Coast IPAs in San Diego), and a good pilsener; of course I forgot to write down the name and it’s not on the web site, either. I don’t think I even had the DBA (Double Barrel Ale) on tap that day since there were so many others to try.

Walker’s Reserve Porter was great on tap (I’d had the bottled version before), it spends “spend several months, even years in a combination of retired bourbon, Firestone Union and wine barrels.” I’m eager to try the other styles in the Reserve series.

My brother is a serious homebrewer in New Mexico now and he brought six beers for a tasting. His Grandpa’s Scotch Wee Heavy won Best Ale at the state fair last year and he’s won the last two quarterly homebrew club contests so he’s really on a roll. I am very jealous of his 4-headed homemade kegerator and all-grain homebrew setup.

To end the year I decided to give the Samuel Adams Infinium 2011 a try. At about $22 for a 750ml bottle it was pricey but I figured New Year’s Eve was a special occasion. It was a pretty good tasting beer but not really my style. I’m not sure why I even tried it since I don’t like champagne and that was the stated goal of this beer: use traditional brewing methods and ingredients to make a champagne-like beer. I think they succeeded in that regard but it’s just not my style.

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