When we recently introduced our new Parabolita Salted Caramel barrel-aged stout, we took some friendly flak from a few beer purists who didn’t like the sound of a high-gravity stout infused with vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and roast coffee.

The term “dessert beer” was thrown around, and apprehension was in the air. But then the reviews rolled in…

The Full Pint: “Parabolita took us back to those happier, simpler times in beer where we didn’t have skepticism when a brewery riffed on a classic. Everything in Parabolita is balanced. The oak, the vanilla, the baking ingredients…”

UPROXX: “This was the most nuanced and beautifully built beer by far. There was no syrupiness or overly intense notes. It was balanced, delicious, and very much a bourbon-y beer.”

Drinkhacker: “Parabolita, however, is about as balanced a dessert stout as you’ll find offering barrel-aged brew fans plenty to love even at the slightly lower ABV.”

Decibel: “As stouts go, Firestone Walker’s Parabolita is perfect. They’ve taken what is generally considered to be a world-class imperial stout (Parabola) and aged it in bourbon barrels with a mix of vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and sea salt to create a ‘salted caramel’ flavor profile — an enhanced stout experience.”

These sentiments were echoed by beer drinkers, and more than a few skeptics were won over by the charms of Parabolita once they got their hands on it. This experience got us thinking about the whole idea of “adjunct” beers – what they are, and how we approach them at Firestone Walker.

The Golden Rule: Balance

Simply put, an adjunct beer is one that includes added ingredients beyond water, hops, malt, and yeast. In industrial beer, it can be an inferior ingredient simply included to enhance the bottom line. In craft beer, however, it typically denotes extra ingredients designed to add dimension, flavor, and/or style to the drinking experience.

We were intentionally slow to jump on the adjunct beer phenomenon, which has accelerated over the past decade. However, we have produced our own profusion of such beers in recent years, including barrel-aged cocktail beers with a variety of spices, fruits, and other ingredients. We have also seen our seasonal stouts move in the adjunct direction, such as our current Mocha Dolce Nitro Stout.

Parabolita is the perfect example of a Firestone Walker adjunct beer, infused as it is with Madagascar vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and sea salt to achieve a full salted caramel-style expression.

“The cocoa and vanilla are playing off of flavors we’re already perceiving from the beer and the barrels, so it’s more of an amplification than a whole new flavor being layered into the beer,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “It’s not like we’re trying to make a banana split beer where we layer in a bunch of extreme flavors – we’re aiming for something seamless and complementary.”

As for the sea salt, Matt says, “It’s similar to food, where it helps accent and brighten up the flavors.”

In short, the Firestone Walker philosophy regarding adjuncts is that they should always be in service to the larger goal of creating balance. “With any beer, we’re constantly trying to find that balancing point,” Matt said. “We’re very vigilant and mindful when it comes to adjuncts – how much of a particular ingredient to use, how long we circulate the beer through it, and how all of these flavors work together as one.”

He added: “Over-the-top pastry beers just aren’t our jam, but we’re borrowing from the concept to make it our own. Interesting flavors are the means, not the end. We always want to create a beer that keeps you coming back for more.”

Learn more about how we developed Parabolita at our blog. You can also use our Beer Finder to discover where it’s available near you, or place an order online and have it shipped straight to your door.