Brewer: Firestone Walker
Style: Barrel-Aged Stout
Firestone Walker's brewmaster Matt Brynildson began his career as a hop chemist, but his affinity for IPAs hasn't led him to neglect maltier beers and the Firestone Walker barrel-aging program is one of the best in the world. Case in point is Velvet Merkin, which took consecutive gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in the wood- and barrel-aged beer category.
While many brewers age only imperial-strength beers in bourbon barrels the Velvet Merkin begins it's life as the relatively svelte Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout at 5.5-percent alcohol. The barrel aging boosts the strength up to 8.5, but the beer stands up to the heat very well for it's size, expressing rich chocolate and coffee flavors and retaining a smooth creamy palette throughout.