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During the dog days of the autumn grape harvest, thirsty overworked winemakers are fond of saying, “It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.”
But at Firestone Walker Brewing Company, the opposite is also true, as 14 local winemakers recently convened to help the brewing team blend the next Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale.
The result is “XVII”—a vintage blend of seven eclectic component ales aged in retired bourbon, brandy and whiskey barrels. XVII will be officially released starting at the brewery on November 2.
The blending session has become an annual rite at the brewery, with Brewmaster Matt Brynildson enlisting his winemaker friends from the surrounding Paso Robles wine country.
“I’m not aware of any other beer that is blended like this, from so many distinct components,” Brynildson said. “That’s why we bring in the winemakers.”
During the blending session, the friendly chatter turns to smack talk as the winemakers are divided into competing pairs. Each pair is tasked with assembling their best blend. The different proposed blends are then blind tasted by the entire group, and votes are cast for the winning blend.
This year, Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi of Tablas Creek Winery unseated repeat winners (for 2011 and 2012) Justin Smith and Mark Adams of Saxum Winery for the coveted cardboard crown awarded each year to the winning pair.
“All of our participating winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending,” Brynildson said. “Their input is invaluable, as this project is all about creating cohesion and complexity from an array of diverse beers. The result is a masterful blend, the sum being greater than the parts.” Beer Geek Nation craft beer reviews