For the most part, I like blended things. I like that Davis is a community of all sorts of different people with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. I like a blend of musical styles coming together to make something new. I like that church is often a blend of innovation and tradition, ancient and new, young and old. I like smoothies blended with ice and different fruits. But for the most part, I don’t like blended beer.
I have always disliked blending beer with other things: I don’t like beer and bloody mary mix, or beer and liquor, and no, I never really cared for the quintessential party trick – black and tan where a dark beer, usually Guiness is poured over a spoon into the same glass half filled with a lighter bill. (Truthfully, that’s not even a blend.) And for whatever reason, blending different styles of beer together always felt a bit lazy to me. Like the brewery couldn’t come up with a good idea for a new recipe, so they just started throwing together existing beers to see what happened. Sometimes I’m forced to cook this way if I’ve forgotten to go the store, and often the results are not good. On occasion, however, I’d stumble upon a new dish that the family likes and it becomes something we try again. With my family, a general rule of thumb was: simpler was better – in other words, the more ingredients I tried to get creative with, the more catastrophic the result. This is generally a lesson we learn in kindegarten. Yellow and blue make green. Red and blue make purple. Put all the paints together and you get a slimy looking blackish grey.
The same is often true for beer. Blend two, three, or even four styles together and you may get something interesting. Blend five, six or seven and you are playing with fire. A brewer with talent can successfully blend different styles together and come up with something unique and exciting, but generally, I’ve never been impressed. Blending beer is certainly nothing new and Firestone Brewery has been playing with blending for their annual Anniversary Ales for 15 years. The release for this year, however, Anniversary Blend XV, pushes boundaries even for them. This limited release beer was on tap at the Davis Beer Shoppe, and while looking over the tap list a staff member suggested I give it a try. “It certainly is unique,” he said, ” but be warned, we serve this as an 8 ounce pour for a reason. It’s over 12% alcohol and you’ll notice it.” Never one to ignore the suggestions of the Beer Shoppe folks, I gave it a shot.
A blend of 8 different beers, I had my doubts Firestone could pull this off successfully. Comprised mostly of Barley Wine style beers, I wasn’t sure I’d like this anyway, but with 8 different beers it seemed destined for a mushy blackish grey crayon mess of a beer. The nose was decidedly complex and the alcohol was in your face. The beer looks as though it were a mass of crayons – a brownish, blackish, just darkish blend of colors. But the taste, while incredibly complex, unique even, managed a decidedly integrated feel. This beer, however, is not for the faint of heart. It felt like I was drinking liquor the entire time and sipping was a necessity. Apparently a gentlemen in the table next to me hadn’t been forewarned about the strength of this ale because he sat down, took a big swig, then nearly spit it out while with eyes wide simply said, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that – my goodness that’s strong.” Allowing the beer to warm up a bit released even more flavor, enabling the flavors to mingle, make friends, and blend in together as if they were meant for one another.
You always tell your child his painting is lovely, though in reality it is a mash of greyish non-color, but Firestone doesn’t need to be treated with kid gloves. This is a brewery gaining a reputation among some, and Anniversary Ale XV is an ambitious release. Far from a mess of mixed up color, this blend is seamless and worth a try. Just remember: little sips.