Walker XV is essentially a cuvee – a blend of barley wine (76%),
imperial stout (19%) and imperial IPA (5%), though after three years in
the cellar it seems the stout and IPA qualities have faded and it’s now a
rich, intense barley wine. Slightly unbalanced, for sure, though the
flavors that remain are highly enjoyable, and the beer isn’t a challenge
to drink. That’s a mark of excellence.
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 10/7/11.
Appearance: Seemingly brown and opaque, but actually a deep shade of
burgundy and slightly translucent. Pours to a two-finger, tan, soapy
head which fizzles away and leave little lacing.
Smell: Intense aroma of dark fruits and confectionery notes. A hint of pine.
Taste: The engineering that went into making this beer is quite
impressive, though the palette itself is actually quite familiar. Rich
notes of dark fruits are immediately noticeable; plum, cherry, fig as
well as pure toffee and caramel syrups. Through the middle there’s a
touch of dark chocolate (probably from the stout component), and fair
amount of dry bitterness on the back end. Whatever hop character this
beer had initially seems to have faded, but not disappeared. Perhaps
there’s a touch of dank, piney, resiny notes, but they’re completely
upstaged by the sweeter, maltier notes. I do detect some vanilla and a
general earthy character from both the barrel-aging as well as the
alcohol, though I wouldn’t describe Firestone Walker XV as a hot beer
per se. Complex to be sure, though not quite the mind-blower it should
Drinkability: I sat down with Firestone Walker XV on a surprisingly hot
autumn evening and had no trouble drinking the entire bottle myself
(that being said, I probably would’ve prefer to split it). Yes, it’s
quite big and intense at 12.5% ABV, and yes there’s plenty of warmth
from the alcohol. But no, it’s not hot or slick. The alcohol adds to the
palette, it doesn’t distract from it. Also, the mouthfeel is quite soft
and calm, leading to a smooth finish. There’s a slightly dry, cloying
aftertaste, but that’s fine with me.