Most will smile when they hear the name Velvet Merkin, Firestone Walker Brewing's newest limited-edition beer, but cigar lovers should smirk knowing it's a brew that practically begs to be paired with a premium smoke.
Velvet Merkin is an oatmeal stout that has been aged for a year in retired Bourbon barrels acquired from the Four Roses and Heaven Hill distilleries. The oats, which make up approximately 15 percent of the total malts used to brew the beer, give Merkin a silky mouthfeel that clings to the palate.
Merkin debuted recently as a member of Firestone's Proprietor's Reserve Series, the brewery's celebrated collection of barrel-aged vintage beers. While the other brews in the Reserve Series all had an alcohol content that exceeded 10 percent, Merkin clocks in at only 8.5 percent.
"With barrel aging, it's easy to gravitate toward higher alcohol beers, because the higher the alcohol, the better the chances that the beer will remain stable in the barrel over time," said Firestone brewmaster Matt Brynildson. "But we've gotten more and more comfortable with putting lower alcohol beers in the barrel, and there's this interesting synergy when you do that."
Until the recent release of Merkin, the only way one could enjoy the beer was during a special event or in the California brewery's tasting room. That's because Merkin was originally brewed in 2004 as a component for Anniversary Ale, which is a beer blend that Firestone has released annually since 2006. (The next Anniversary Ale, XVII, is set to go on sale in early November.) Some other Anniversary Ale component beers—Double DBA and Parabola—have also been released as part of the Reserve Series.
"This beer has earned a cult following, and people have been hounding us to release it," said Brynildson.
Firestone has produced only 3,500 cases of Merkin for sixteen states, and it's available in 22-ounce bottles.
(Cigar pairing on next page)
Firestone Walker Vintage 2013 Velvet Merlin (8.5 percent alcohol by volume; $16.99 for 22 oz. bottle)
APPEARANCE: Dark brown, near-black liquid with a frothy head the color of espresso. Lacing nicely holds on to the sides of the glass and is resurrected with a quick swirl of the brew.
AROMA: A bouquet of chocolate that includes milk chocolate and cocoa nibs. Subtle notes of toasted vanilla and Bourbon come through, with a hint of oak.
PALATE: Smooth milk chocolate hits the tongue and is followed by a nice note of vanilla and espresso. The mouthfeel is akin to heavy cream or butter in that it's smooth and lush.
CIGAR PAIRING: Curivari Buenaventura BV 560 (5 inches by 56 ring gauge, $5.40, 92 points, August 2013 Cigar Aficionado) Silky to the touch, this squarely pressed toro layers the palate with graham cracker and wood flavor. Toasted nutty notes emerge on the finish. Balanced and tasty. The interplay between smoke and brew is splendid. The beer's oak and vanilla flavors become more prominent with each puff, and the smoke's woody flavors are cooled so more of the graham cracker spice can emerge.
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