Just as harvest season is getting underway in the Paso Robles wine country, a boisterous group of local winemakers convene with the Firestone Walker brewing team for an annual blending of the brewery’s next anniversary ale.

Winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending, and we realized early on that they could provide invaluable input for creating a seamless beer out of numerous barrel-aged component ales. The winemakers come for both the challenge and the camaraderie. They split up into small teams and create their own preferred blends from the provided components. Each of the resulting trials is then blind tasted by the entire group, and votes are cast for the winning blend. The victorious team walks away with bragging rights—and with a set of coveted cardboard crowns.

The result is “XXIII”—a limited barrel-aged release, now available.

“Winemakers are blending experts, which is why we have sought their involvement ever since making our first Anniversary Ale in 2006,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “XXIII is super elegant and seamless. The component beers just flow together in a way that no single beer could have accomplished.”

XXIII Anniversary Ale is super elegant and seamless. The component beers just flow together in a way that no single beer could have accomplished.

Blended to Perfection

XXIII is a blend of six distinct beers aged in spirits barrels, including bourbon and tequila barrels—resulting in a smooth, bold and remarkably complex drinking experience.

To create XXIII, the winemakers were divided into teams for a friendly but spirited contest. Each team was presented with numerous different component beers and tasked with creating the ultimate blend. Hard work and smack talk ensued.

When the session concluded, all of the individual team blends were blind tasted by the group to determine the favorite. The winning blend became the basis for XXIII, commemorating Firestone Walker’s 23rd year on California’s Central Coast.

For the second year in a row, the winning team included Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan of Thacher Winery, as well as Will Freeman and Phil LaMontagne of TH Estate Wines. They all walked away with the coveted “cardboard crowns” that are accorded to the winners each year.

XXIII: The Final Blend

Stickee Monkee aged in Bourbon Barrels (28%)
Central Coastal Quad

Parabola aged in Bourbon Barrels (28%)
Russian Imperial Stout                                                                 

Bravo aged in Bourbon Barrels (20%)
Imperial Brown Ale

Bourbon Barrel Helldorado aged in Bourbon Barrels (15%)
Blonde Barley Wine

Velvet Merkin Aged in Bourbon Barrels (5%)
Milk Stout

Tequila Barrel Helldorado aged in Tequila Barrels (4%)
Blonde Barley Wine

The Winning Blend Team
  • Will Freeman &  Phil LaMontagne – TH Estate Wines
  • Sherman Thacher & Daniel Callan – Thacher Winery
  • Arie Litman – Bread maker and friend
  • Pete Slosberg – Pete’s Wicked Ale
  • Steve Donohue – Santa Clara Valley Brewing