There was no better present on my birthday than to hear that one of my favorite beers from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. was being released on March 25.

The subject of today’s review is Parabola, Firestone Walker’s Russian imperial oatmeal stout that debuted in 2009 and is brewed with hallertau and Zeus hops along with nine different malts before being aged for one year in a variety of bourbon barrels, including those that previously held Elijah Craig, Four Roses, Pappy Van Winkle, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace. The stout came in at a slightly higher 14.5 percent ABV compared to last year, 13.1 percent ABV.

While the beer itself was essentially the same as previous versions, there were a couple of major changes with this year’s release. It was the first time that the stout was brewed, barrel-aged and bottled at Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Mo., which is owned by Duvel Moortgat, who also owns Firestone Walker. This was due to Firestone Walker exceeding its brewing capacity at its brewery in Pasa Robles, Calif., and brewmaster Matt Brynildson traveled back and forth multiple times to make sure that the stout was kept to his standards. In addition, while Parabola and the other members of the Proprietor’s Vintage Series have historically been packaged in 22-ounce bottles, all of the releases in 2017 and going forward are being sold in smaller 12-ounce bottles.

It was released on March 25 during an event at the brewery with a purchase limit of 12 bottles per person.

Visually, Parabola 2017 pours a deep black color that seems imperious to light and features a finger of fluffy mocha tinged head that dissipates quite slowly, leaving a relatively thick lacing behind. There seems to be plenty of carbonation present and the aroma from the glass is strong bourbon, sweet raisins, toasted coconut, oak, dark fruit and roasted almonds.

From the first sip, I know I am in for a treat, as I am immediately tasting both molasses and raisin sweetness on the palate, followed by rich creamy oak note combined with bit of dark chocolate and roasted coffee bitterness on the finish. In fact, the flavors on the finish are so distinct, it reminds me strongly of chocolate-covered espresso beans, which I have enjoyed on occasion. Surprisingly, the bourbon note that is so prevalent on the nose is not a major player in the profile, and is relegated mostly to the back end of the palate. Despite how it looked when I poured it, the level of carbonation is a touch low—albeit still well within normal limits—and that became more and more apparent as the beer warmed up. However, the mouthfeel is a real disappointment, as it is noticeably thinner than in previous years I have enjoyed, especially 2015’s incarnation.

Firestone Walker Parabola 2017
BREWERY: Boulevard Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Kansas City, Mo.
STYLE: Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 14.5 percent
IBU: n/a
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASE DATE: March 25, 2017
AVAILABLE IN: 12-ounce bottles
I look forward to the release of Firestone Walker’s Parabola every year for one simple reason: because it is consistently one of the best examples of a barrel-aged stout on the planet. Profile-wise, while the bourbon in this year’s incarnation extremely evident in the aroma—almost to the point where I was concerned before drinking it for the first time—the note was quite restrained in the actual profile, and was balanced excellently by the rest of the flavors. Having said that, the mouthfeel is quite a bit thinner than in years past, enough so that it really takes away from the overall experience. In the end, Parabola 2017 is still an excellent barrel-aged stout that deserves is place among the stars flavor-wise, but the thin body keeps it from being as legendary as past releases.
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