Walker’s Reserve

Walker’s Reserve porter isn’t as stellar as some Firestone Walker offerings, but it’s still very good. Black in color with a head that’s both fizzy and creamy, the first thing you taste is chocolate and slight caramel.  The front end of each sip provides the bulk of the flavor, which slowly dissipates as it continues, but is never scant.  The flavor changes slightly in the middle, which to me yields oatmeal, yet still retains some of the chocolate.  Although the flavor peaks at the beginning, by the end the flavor is still very nice and yields almost no aftertaste, which works very well because this porter is very refreshing.  The flavor is rich and the mouthfeel is middle-of-the-road for porters, but Walker’s Reserve is still light enough to never weigh you down.  The chocolate-to-oatmeal transition is what sticks out most to me about this porter. It’s very drinkable and a great “everyday” porter: nice enough to enjoy often but still not on the top shelf.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    10
Thickness            7
Hops/Malt          8
ABV                       5.8%

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Double Jack

This isn’t the best double IPA I’ve ever had, but Firestone Walker’s Double Jack is definitely on the top shelf.  As part of the brewery’s Proprietors Reserve Series, this beer spends extended time in bourbon and wine barrels to enrich flavor as much as possible.  What is produced is a double IPA that yields copious amounts of complex hop flavor.  The brewers call the combination of strong flavors in Double Jack “aggressive,” but they only seem that way if tasted individually.  Taken as a whole, the beer is smooth and the powerful flavors blend so well they’re hard to discern.

Above all else, hops are the most noticeable flavor element.  They control the scene from start to finish, and while they’re extremely pronounced, they’re easy to handle. Double Jack is very smooth and feels lighter in your mouth than you might expect.  The beginning of each sip greets you with a hop explosion, and as it continues, the same hop flavor is sustained.  While hops are by far the main flavor component throughout, by the end of each sip they are most potent.  The blow is lessened by citrus flavors, predominantly grapefruit, rounding it out.  It’s refreshing and satisfying, giving you all the hops you want – and more – without overpowering.  The trick to help balance the strong hop component is malt.  While the malt flavor never overcomes the hops, it provides what the beer needs by neutralizing some of the hop sweetness.  This also adds smoothness to the beer, making it creamy and smooth, which avoids any lingering flavors that throw off the beer.  To top it all off, the extended time Double Jack spends in barrels enriches the maltiness and smoothness.  The barrel aging further brings all the elements together, making Double Jack richer and deeper in flavor while adding even more smoothness.  Upon the first sip, this seems like a very simple imperial IPA, but the more you drink it, the more appreciation you gain.  The depth of flavor is noticeable from the first sip and only gets better as you drink.

For me, this is Firestone Walker’s flagship beer.  While I’m not rating it as high as Union Jack, for some reason Double Jack sticks out more for me.  Maybe I’ll put a finger on it someday, but for now, if given the opportunity to have a Union Jack or Double Jack, I’ll choose the Double.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    5
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          2
ABV                       9.5%

Union Jack

To put it simply, Union Jack is everything you want an American IPA to be.  It’s simple yet remarkable, and delivers everything you hope to get when you taste for an IPA.  A wonderful golden color and slightly citrusy aroma set the stage before each sip.  Upon drinking, Union Jack is smooth from beginning to end.  Hops are clearly the dominant flavor, as they should be, and provide classic sweetness and citrus notes that are pronounced, but not overpowering.  The flavor is the same from the beginning of the sip to the end, reaching it’s pinnacle at the finish as the beer gives a final burst of hops.  It’s not too strong, though, and doesn’t leave an aftertaste that is stale or syrupy.  Instead, you’re left with the same hop presence you enjoyed during the sip, only a little more amplified.

While it’s easy to rave about the flavor of this beer – which is marvelous – the thing that sets Union Jack apart from the rest is the perfect balance it has.  To aid the smoothness is a medium thickness that completes the body. If it were any lighter or heavier things would be out of place; the beer would have too strong a flavor for the profile or it would be too heavy to drink easily.  The slew of malts used has an impact here, rounding out the flavor.  The almost velvety mouthfeel is refreshing, quenching your thirst while making you salivate at the complex flavors at the same time.  Because the hop flavor is also in balance, it emerges from the beer naturally.  The sweetness and citrus are definitely there, but any more would make the beer taste much heavier than it actually is.  Any less, and it wouldn’t be enough.  When all these elements are put together, you’re left with the perfect American IPA.  You get all the hops you hope for: a bit of sweetness and citrus, refreshment, full flavor and, most importantly, satisfaction.  If you like IPAs, you’ll love Union Jack.  If you don’t like hops, this probably isn’t for you.  Hops are laid on thick, just not as thick as a double IPA.  If you’re looking for a great IPA, not much else compares to this.  This is what the great American IPA is all about.

Overall                 10/10
Color                    6
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          2.5
ABV                       7.5%

An introduction to Firestone Walker

The next few posts will review beers from Firestone Walker, my new favorite brewery.  Within the last year Firestone went from unseen to relatively common in Chicago, and can now be found at numerous locations.  So far, everything I’ve had from the brewery has been nothing short of excellent.

What makes Firestone Walker unique is their brewing process. The brewery employs a process popularized in 19th century England called the Burton Union.  The Firestone Union is a take on the original and uses a system of oak barrels during the brewing process to create incredible flavors.  The goal of the brewers is to make beers that have “extraordinary character and complexity,” and succeed with flying colors.  Every beer Firestone makes is crisp and presents a full flavor that is complete and satisfying.  The founders, an American raised in wine country and a Brit, use barrels to the fullest to produce beers that are robust in flavor and always leave you satisfied.

Of the Firestone Walker products I’ve had, I’ve found possibly the best American IPA and double IPA out there, in addition to other wonderful creations.  I’ve wanted to review several Firestone beers for some time, so I felt the need to write an intro.  At this point, I put so much faith in the brewery I can’t imagine them creating anything bad, or even subpar.  Wherever you are, if you see anything from Firestone Walker, I strongly encourage you to try it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Racer 5 IPA

I had actually seen this IPA on the Falling Rock Tap House menu before I left for Colorado.  I’d never heard of it, so when when we went to Falling Rock it was the first beer I ordered.  Bear Republic Brewing Co. from Northern California produces this American IPA, and while it’s not outstanding, it’s still a solid beer.

The thing that sticks out the most about this IPA is how light it is.  It’s almost to the point of watery, but it’s done well.  Each sip begins with a very light mouthfeel that’s about as light as a domestic light beer, but there’s a great hop flavor to back it up.  The hops aren’t overpowering, but are definitely stronger than you’d expect from the almost weightless body.  The lightness continues for most of the sip, not getting that much thicker while still retaining a pleasant hop sweetness.  It’s refreshing and subtly sweet. At the end of each sip the hops reach their richest point.  It normally wouldn’t seem like a lot, but the lightness of the body makes the hops more pronounced.  It’s just a little too much.  Something’s just a touch out of balance.  Sometimes the hop flavor is noticeably stronger than others, which can leave a slight, unpleasant aftertaste.  But despite it’s shortcomings, this is a very good American IPA.  If you don’t want to get weighed down too much, this is a great option.  It’s also a great beer if you want to introduce someone to IPAs without overpowering them.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    5
Thickness            4
Hops/Malt          3
ABV                       7.0%

Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler

Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler is a fantastic brown ale.  For the time of year when you want something a little more to your beer, Tumbler supplies just that. Tumbler is very dark in color but rather light in body, making this brown ale very refreshing. Because it’s not too heavy it’s easy to enjoy and sip on lightly, and at the same time is full of flavor.  Light malt is the predominant flavor, but a slight nuttiness is present to give Tumbler a darker and heavier taste without the body and mouthfeel to back it up.  The flavor is simple, yet very fulfilling.  It’s smooth and doesn’t leave an aftertaste, like many brown ales can. Because of this, Tumbler is the perfect beer for early fall, but I wouldn’t mind drinking it in November or January either. It provides the fuller flavor you start craving in mid-September, but doesn’t give you the body you only want to find in some thicker winter ales.  Sometimes you want a beer that doesn’t weigh you down yet still has full flavor, and this is a great example of a beer that provides both.  As you can tell, I really enjoyed drinking Tumbler.  I will definitely be getting it again this fall, and when I do, there’s a great chance I might increase the rating.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    9
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       5.5%

Sierra Nevada Summerfest

I had a party at my house last weekend and because it was going to be 90 degrees and humid, I needed something light and refreshing to cool the masses.  After a long browse in my favorite local liquor store, I settled on Sierra Nevada Summerfest.  A crisp lager would work perfectly on a hot day outside, and since I’d never tried Sierra Nevada’s summer seasonal, it was time to give it a go.  Sierra Nevada is one of the most prominent craft brewing companies in the United States.  It’s now a well-known story that Sierra Nevada started after California ended it’s ban on home brewing in the 1970s, when small brewing clubs formed across the state during the home brewing “revolution.”  And now, years later, Sierra Nevada products can be found in almost every liquor store and their most common beer, their pale ale, is often found at bars alongside Sam Adams and Blue Moon as one of America’s most popular microbreweries.  Sierra Nevada was very influential and helped America fall in love with craft beers, and as a whole puts out very good products.  My hopes were high when I bought Sierra Nevada Summerfest, but unfortunately I was let down right away.

As a whole, Sierra Nevada Summerfest just doesn’t offer a lot.  It’s true that lagers are supposed to be basic and simple, but this beer left a void and me unsatisfied.  On the front end there is almost no taste.  I guess you could say it’s crisp and clean because of it, but there’s still no flavor.  The flavorless beginning progresses to a back end that leaves an unexpected, heavier aftertaste.  The aftertaste is hard to place, though, but I guess you’d say it’s malty.  It’s a strange contrast from a beer that was almost nonexistent in the beginning.  There’s no pronounced hop, malt, wheat or fruit flavor, which is fine, but a lack of flavor in general.  Summerfest does live up to traditional lager characteristics such as light mouthfeel and color, there’s just a lot to be desired when drinking it.  I wish I had more to say about Summerfest, but there’s not much else to say.  It’s not that good and doesn’t satisfy a craving for a clean, easy-to-drink beer.  I expected a lot more from this lager and Sierra Nevada, and I know I won’t be trying it again.

Overall                 5/10
Color                    3
Thickness            3
Hops/Malt          5
ABV                       5.0%

"Good people drink good beer." - Hunter S. Thompson