Firestone Walker and Parabola

In Pasa Robles, CA, sits what is without a doubt one of the best breweries in the country, if not the world. I had not heard of Firestone Walker until just a few years ago, and now I can’t imagine how they escaped my – and the world’s – radar for so long. Perhaps it’s because their beer only became available in Oregon about a year ago.
Firestone Walker uses a version of the classic brewing method Burton Union, a complex system of fermenting beer in oak barrels and blending them. For example, each year’s anniversary beer is a blend of various other beers they have aging in barrels.

If you’re a fan of low-alcohol and easy-drinking (yet complex) beers, seek out their DBA, an English-style pale ale, or Pale 31, an American pale ale. But if you ask me, the Union Jack IPA, with its huge hop quotient of some of my favorite varietals, including Simcoe, Cascade and Amarillo, among others, balanced by a chewy malt profile, is the way to go. Or, if you like dark beers, Firestone Walker’s partially barrel-aged oatmeal stout, the Velvet Merkin, is hard to beat. It’s beefy and complex yet low alcohol.

With Firestone Walker’s known mastery of barrel-aging and blending, it is with much anticipation that they finally have bottled Parabola. This is a beer some (including myself) may have tried at special events on draft in Portland, but I’ve never had a chance to really have some time with the beer…

On Friday, Bridgetown Beer in Portland received a small shipment of bottles that were sure to go quickly. Luckily, they were kind enough to hold a couple of bottles back for me. I would recommend checking your stores right now if you want to get some of this treat, I hear there are only about 20 cases available in PDX.

Parabola has been produced once a year and now in its 5th verision, it is finally being bottled (only 1000 cases). Details on the brewing process are scant, but my understanding is that this year’s is a blend of all the previous years, the original having aged in Heaven Hills bourbon barrels for 2 years (no info on other vintages).

Firestone Walker’s description of Parabola:

Parabola has been a major component of past anniversary blends and is one of our most aggressive offerings. This beer features bold bourbon and tobacco aromas and a rich dark chocolate, charred oak flavor.

Barrel Aged Russion Imperial Stout
ALC/VOL – 13%
O.G. – 30p
Color – 167L (Moonless Midnight Black)
IBU – 80 (High)

British Ale (House)

Multiple vintage blend aged in oak barrels

Crisp Maris Otter Pale
Munich, Cara-hell, Carafa
Dark & Light Crystal
Roast Barley

Bittering – Zeus
Late Kettle – Hallertau

My Parabola Review:
Pours forth with a milky latte head, barely able to muster a 1 finger foam by pouring straight down the middle, it quickly settles to almost non existence.
Color is pitch black, but looks more like a milk stout than anything. Immediately I smell Tootsie Rolls candy in the aroma, yes twizzlers and cream, that is it exactly.

The beer has a medium body, relatively light for an Imperial Stout. Wow, flavors are so right on in this beer. The first thing that comes to mind is a lightly sweetened cappuccino. There is a bit of Tootsie Roll in there again, and the roastiness is very dry and appears at the end of the gulp, not hitting you over the head. There is definitely a little toasted oak flavor, but it is subtle and blends in with the roastiness. Its not a very bitter beer. Very smooth drinking, toffee flavors dominate the flavor up front before the roast and oak dries on the tongue. It leaves a nice creamy foam in your mouth that really adds to the espresso characteristics that I can’t get out of my mind. This is a sweet beer, but it finishes nicely, semi-dry I would say, certainly not cloying. More like an after dinner sweetened coffee.
Very Very good.
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact:


  • goodbyeyojimbo
    Mon May 31, 2010 4:35 PM

    is that ‘pumping iron’ in the background???

    • Samurai Artist
      Samurai Artist
      Tue Jun 1, 2010 12:03 AM

      Fuck yes that is Pumping Iron. A damn good movie!

      • Anonymous
        Thu Dec 2, 2010 5:41 PM

        Where did the malt/hop list come from? FW lists the hops as 100% US grown Fuggles.