If you spend a few minutes perusing through any of the craft beer forums1 you will most likely come across a thread about having to pick your favorite brewery or pick your desert island brewery. For me it has always been a fairly easy question. Over the years I have become quite the fanboy for Firestone Walker and once they opened Barrelworks in 2013 it sealed the deal for me. With beers like Sucaba, Parabola and its anniversary series, Firestone Walker has set the bar pretty high so the idea of them producing sour beers really got me irrationally excited.
Barrel works is a 7,000-square-foot “Cathedral of Barrels” that was built to house one of the largest barrel aging operations in the craft beer industry. The team at Firestone wanted the creation of wild or sour beers to be done off site from the main production brewery2 to eliminate the possibility of infection to the “clean beers.”3 Barrelworks gave Firestone Walker the chance to really push the limits of there sour beer program and the resources to produce them on a larger scale then the single barrel brewery only offerings they had offered in the past.
One of the early releases from the Barrelworks project was Agrestic.4 Agrestic starts out as Firestone’s flagship beer Double Barrel Ale which is an English pale ale. The beer is then aged in 87 percent French oak barrels and 13 percent American oak barrels where their proprietary blend of yeast and bacteria is added to start the souring process. The final beer is made up of a blend of various barrels that aged from 8 to 24 months. It is released once a year and thanks to a road trip my parents took last year I was able to get my hands on a few bottles.5 Last year’s release was sold at an event in September at Barrelworks. It was priced at $13.99 and limited to 12 bottles per person.
As anxiously twist off the cage and start to battle with the cork it pops right off with a slight pull and a loud pop. The beer comes foaming out quickly after but thanks to my cat like reflexes not a drop was spilled. The beer pours a beautifully transparent amber color with a quarter inch of off white head that sticks around for ever.
The aroma on Agrestic is very subtle and complex. There is a bit of bretty funk,6 along with a touch of oak, peaches, vanilla and even a hint of baking spices. You can smell the acidity but it is also very delicate and based on the smell I do not anticipate a puckering sour bomb.
The beer drinks a lot like I would expect based on the nose. Very light and delicate. I get a pleasant level of acidity along with lemons, sour green apple, cherries and white wine. There is a big oak character as well as some earthy funkiness and grassy hay. The beer is more tart than out right sour and a welcomed sweetness helps cut the tartness around the mid-palate. The finish is a beautiful mix of sweet and sour that is very mouthwatering and really leaves you wanting another sip. I have to make a conscious effort to not drink the whole bottle in a matter of minutes. The bubbly carbonation adds to the refreshing factor and is the finishing touch to the beer.