Beers in Review: Firestone Walker XIII and DFH-SN Life and Limb, Limb and Life

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Firestone Walker just released their Quercus Alba Thirteen (XIII). XIII is their fourth barrel aged beer release and, as the name would strongly suggest, it is their thirteenth anniversary beer. Firestone Walker’s barrel cellar topped off at 120 but only 53 of those barrels were used to make XIII. Here is a very quick breakdown of XIII’s components:

  • 39% – Parabola, Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in bourbon barrels, 13% ABV
  • 24% – Bravo, Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon (50%) and brandy (50%) barrels, 11% ABV
  • 15% – Velvet Merkin, Traditional Oatmeal Stout aged in bourbon barrels, 6% ABV
  • 6% – Opal, wheat wine aged in rye barrels, 11% ABV
  • 6% – Rufus, Continental Imperial Amber Ale aged in rye barrels, 11% ABV
  • 6% – Double Double Barrel Ale, Double English Pale Ale aged in retired Firestone Walker union barrels, 10.9% ABV
  • 4% – Saucerful of Secrets, Belgian Strong Ale aged in bourbon barrels, 9% ABV

For a complete picture of XIII’s components, download a .pdf of Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson’s notes here.

Here’s a video of Matt talking about XIII from YouTube:

Last year, Sammy and I drove up to Toronado in San Francisco for the Quercus Alba XII release party. We missed it this year because it happened to fall on the same night as my Mom’s birthday. To make up for it, we decided to take the short drive up to Palo Alto where Rose and Crown was selling it for $28/bottle. Joining us were BJCP Grandmaster-level judge John Watson, Jen and Joey from Wet Your Whistles, Travis, Dean (510 Brewing) and their wives as well as homebrewer Jeff. I had no idea so many people were going to show up at R&C but it’s all good as there’s nothing like having good beer with good people.

So what about the beer?

Firestone Walker, Quercus Alba XIII, 12% ABV

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Firestone Walker XIII poured a very dark brown, almost black color with a brown head. I picked up lots of oaky aromas initially followed by toasted coconut, some vanilla, a slight deep roasted malt notes and dark fruit character. The flavor is very similar; XIII has a malt sweetness that is like a deep, nearly burnt caramel with some roasted malt notes. I picked up some toasted coconut, vanilla while the dark fruit came through more in the flavor. This is a complex beer that seemed to get better as it warmed. XIII has a medium level of carbonation and is full bodied, with a light syrup viscosity and warming alcohol quality. This beer weighs in at 12% ABV. What a great tasting, layered beer.

As if XIII wasn’t enough of an experimental beer, Rose & Crown also had the Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head collaboration beers Life & Limb/Limb & Life on tap as well. The story of Life & Limb is an interesting one. Instead of paraphrasing it, let me just copy it directly from their website:

Life & Limb is a collaborative effort, the brainchild of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Life & Limb is a 10% ABV strong, dark beer that defies style characteristics- brewed with pure maple syrup from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts and estate barley grown on the Grossman “farm” at the brewery in Chico, CA. The beer is alive with yeast-a blend of both breweries’ house strains-bottle conditioned for added complexity and shelf life, and naturally carbonated with birch syrup fresh from Alaska.

Collaborative beers seem to be the beer du jour nowadays and it’s great to see a craft beer trailblazer like Sierra Nevada teaming up with a leading edge brewery like Dogfish Head. In a way it feels like a passing of the torch moment but Sierra Nevada is still going strong releasing well made and interesting beers like Torpedo and Kellerweis.

Limb & Life is the other side of the coin. This is a “small” beer made from the second runnings of Life & Limb. Once again, copy and paste to the rescue:

Limb & Life is a ‘small’ beer, made from the second runnings of the larger brew, Life & Limb. Limb & Life has a roasted malt flavor reminiscent of dark roasted coffee and toasted bread, combined with a pronounced hoppiness from the use of bold and aromatic American hops.

Limb & Life is an easy drking ‘session’ beer – an antidote to the heavy sippers, and a beer that begs for another glass. It is balanced yet flavorful, hoppy yet not without strong malt, and drinkable but still complex.Limb & Life will be an extrememly limited draft-only release.

Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head, Limb & Life, 5.2% ABV

life-limbWe tried the small beer first. Served in a pint glass Limb & Life poured out a clear, dark brown in color with what looked to be an off-white/beige head. This was a hop forward beer that smelled overwhelmingly of pine, think spruce. The assertive hop character continued well into the flavor, dominating with a hop flavor I can only describe as piney/spruce that is not unlike the flavor of new growth evergreen tips. Any malt character was on the slight roasty side and played second fiddle the entire time. Despite all the hop aroma and flavor, the hop bitterness was on the medium-low side. Limb & Life has a medium level of carbonation and is very light in body, nearly watery.

I found Life & Limb Limb & Life to be a little disappointing. Sure, there’s a great hop character about the beer but I find it mainly to be unbalanced; it’s almost all flavor and aroma with not enough bitterness or malt character to make it a really enjoyable beer.

Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head, Life & Limb, 10.2% ABV

limb-lifeServed in a snifter, Life & Limb pours out a very dark yet clear brown, nearly black color with a beige/tan head. This beer had a lot of alcohol in the aroma, almost hot, that seemed to dominate. The flavor of the beer was more promising than the aroma vaguely hinted at. Life & Limb has a complex malt character that has bits and pieces of dark, roasted malt, molasses and syrup/sap-like flavors. Maybe it was carryover from XIII but I thought I tasted a slight oak/woodsy note. The hop bitterness, about medium-high in level, was enough to provide balance to the sweetness of the malt. This beer was medium-high in carbonation with a medium/medium-high body.

I found Life & Limb to be a very complex beer. There were a lot of things going on, interesting things, but nothing in particular jumped out at me. This was a well-balanced beer, maybe a little too balanced. In any event, if I can find bottles of Life & Limb, I plan on picking up a couple of bombers to see how well this beer ages. Should be interesting. At the very least I’ll have good beer to drink when the world ends in 2012.

Overall I think I tried some very interesting beers. My favorite was the barrel aged XIII. There’s just something about the oak that adds such a complexity to the aroma and flavor of a beer that I thoroughly enjoy and find difficult to satisfy. Methinks I need to start experimenting more with wood in my homebrewing.

While Life & Limb was all about complexity tempered with balance, Limb & Life seemed to be a one-note wonder. Don’t get me wrong, it played that note really well but I think the experience as a whole would’ve been much more enjoyable with more balance.

It’s been a while since Sammy and have been to Rose & Crown. It was great to see so many people come out on a chilly, late fall California evening (well, as chilly as it gets for California) to hang out with us and drink some interesting beers. If I could afford it, or not feel guilty about doing so, I’d have purchased additional bottles of XIII to see how aging would change it’s character. Still, I can’t complain as I did have the oppportunity to try it. By the way, the mushrooms and fish & chips at the Rose & Crown are pretty damn good. The fish tasted fresh and the mushrooms moist and delicous. While not the ideal pairing for the beers we had this evening, they certainly hit the spot.

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8 Responses to Beers in Review: Firestone Walker XIII and DFH-SN Life and Limb, Limb and Life

  1. Pingback: BetterBeerBlog » Blog Archive » Beers in Review: Firestone Walker … « Articleblogs1

  2. Tasty review, as always, PE. Hard to believe that Dogfish Head could produce anything that’s “well-balanced,” but maybe that’s the result of the collaboration? Can’t wait to get my lips around these. Thanks!

  3. Derrick says:

    Nice piece, and fantastic, surrealistic shot of a pint of Life and Limb surrounded by mysterious red aura, with a grimacing face in the background.

  4. Deano says:

    I have to agree with you on your reviews of the beers. The small beer fell short but the XIII was a pretty epic well made blend!!!! The limb and life did open up as I let it warm up and I am curious to see how it is in a year or so aged in the bottle!! It was great to hang out with good beer peeps!!! I was impressed with the rose and crown as it was my first time there. I had the cheeseburger and it was nice and juicy and tasted really fresh. I will be going back in the near future for sure. I also had the bear republic hop rod rye on cask and have to say that was a solid beer too. Thanks again for sharing your XIII with me it was my favorite beer of the night!!!! We shall do it again soon :)

  5. Jesse says:

    you write that you found “Life & Limb to be a little disappointing” but I think you mean “Limb & Life” there.

  6. Shail says:

    XIII was an epic beer out of the keg. The complexity was great, very nice cocoa nib, vanilla, and coconut nose. I loved this beer and can’t wait for it to age. I had XI this past July and age does wonders to this beer.

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