Firestone Walker Brewing Parabola Imperial Stout

November 09 2011 - 4:59 PM

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 4.57.42 PMAs the craft beer market explodes violently in Big Bang-like fashion, forming galaxies of new breweries, and constellations of brews in Chicago and beyond, it has my mind wrapped around two thoughts that are not necessarily positive. 

1.  There are getting to be an excessive number of craft brewing choices out there.

2.  In 2009, there were a lot of great beers available in the Chicago market to which no one paid any attention. 

Regarding thought No. 1, it's good to see all the new entrants into the local craft beer market, some are  local fledglings, others are expanded lineups of more established locals, and others still are out of staters.  This is all creating increasing interest in craft brewing and driving demand.  My brother, a Chicago native himself, recently noted in the context of describing his new-found love for Great Lakes Nosferatu, that he's seeing craft beers popping up in bars and places he'd never expect them.  Rock It is a party bar. Sure it's styled as upscale but you would not expect to find a limited release Great Lakes beer there.  But it's there now.  At McGee's in 2005 I watched the White Sox slay every opponent thrown their way while probably drinking "premium" offering Sam Adams light.  They now feature drafts of Founders.  Establishments have captured the demand for craft brewing. 

From that follows thought No. 2, that quite a few high quality beers went ignored just two years ago.  Then, I could walk into Lush Wine and Spirits and buy as many Kentucky Breakfast Stouts as I wanted.  I could have poured them over my breakfast cereal without worry of depleting the supply (I didn't do this).  Those days are over.  There are simply too many people now paying attention, not to mention the profiteers. 

All of this leads me to the Firestone Walker Brewing Company, a California citizen, and its Parabola Imperial Stout.  FW arived in Chicago to minimal fanfare early this year, following in the footsteps of fellow Californian brewer Stone.  Its prized offering, the annually released Parabola was largely unnoticed.  A handful of bars have offered drafts of it and reports are that a substantial amount of it was available inside its exceedingly cool cardboard box containers on Binny's shelves a few weeks ago.  That's all well and good, but I don't expect such luck with the availability of future releases.

That's because this is a beer of remarkable quality, not far behind the Kentucky Breakfast Stout's class level, and very competitive with it.  Parabola's makeup is complex.  It's a vivid black, chewy oak and bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stout which, when properly revealed, displays bitter chocolate, char, roasted nuts, licorice, vanilla, and smoky bourbon.  You have to get past the tightness. That is,  it's very hot with alcohol. The hops and coffee are way strong.  So if you choose not to age it and, for whatever reason, drink it quickly, it's overwhelmingly bitter, biting, hot and not nearly as enjoyable.  It needs lots of taming.  If you indeed drink it now, sipping it, letting it warm, and slowing down your pacing to a crawl allows for the sweeter flavor profiles – the chocolate, licorice and vanilla – to emerge.  The real story with this beer is in its potential.  It's really going to be dynamite in a year and spectacular in 2 years. 

But talent like this doesn't last in secret.  Like the rest of the great beers, word will get out on this too and Chicago will make it scarce.   Next year you'll have to make runs up to Wisconsin or Indiana around the release date if you seek to accumulate a few bottles.  Its a grand new world of craft brewing out there but it's going to be a challenge finding beers of this quality until there are enough brewers bottling material at this level. 

–Mark Sheppard

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