What comes after 10?  11 of course.  And for Firestone Walker, their eleventh anniversary brew is something special and very limited. 

For those of you who heard, tasted and were wowed by 10, hold your socks...  11 is one number higher.  Like on a stereo that only goes to 10 and you wished the dial would go to 11.  Well this beer does just that. 
Blending Firestone Walker 11 with Matt Brynidlson
The idea behind 10 was to make a special blend of ten different Firestone Walker beers, to commemorate their 10th anniversary, supporting what Firestone is known for and using barrels, some from their Union system, others from a Bourbon distillery, creating a special blend that really can not be duplicated.  To help with this wild and crazy idea, Matt worked with four vintners and his staff.  After several tasting sessions and tons of notes, they ended up blending seven different barrel aged beers, creating a unique, special and very complex beer.  This in itself is an exercise many brewers have never even ventured near.  And the results…  Stunning!  To think about brewing one beer that could encapsulate so many different malt and hop flavors is not just possible.  So many different flavors coming from 7 different beers, wood flavors or vanilla, toasted oak, coconut, bourbon flavors of whiskey, vanilla, toffee; all working together, filling in gaps on the palate, creating a very special and wonderful beer.  
Then we come to 11.  With the knowledge of 10, the experience and the fore thought, we see a whole new beer.  The same principle idea as 10, but with the imagination of Brynidlson stewing on thoughts for over a year to brew beers especially for this next blend and to create the predecessor of 10.  Thinking more like a chef and creating new ingredients to have at one’s disposal: new beers were created, ideas expanded and years of brewing knowledge pushed to the limit.  From using different barrels, some used once to soften there impact, to others being brand new, putting the same batch of beer in these different vessels, results in different finished beers all together.  Taking the theme even further, beers like Bravo (Imperial Brown Ale), that was fermented and aged in new American Oak, only touched stainless for 24 hours; Parabola, an Imperial Stout brewed with heavy amounts of roasted barley and a touch of oats, let to aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for 20 months; and Rufus, an Imperial Amber Ale hopped with Centennial being brewed with Dark Candi Syrup and aged in just emptied Bourbon barrels, still having a pool of the famous Kentucky liquid inside were some of the blending beers at Matt’s disposal for this new creation. 
Matt points out these little tiny dark dots on some of the barrels. He calls them “Bourbon Dots”.  They are created by pressure, so much positive pressure that small particles of Bourbon, trapped in the grains of wood, are slowly  pushed out of the barrel.  With most barrel aging, the first quarter to half inch is where most of the flavor comes from, as the liquid never gets much deeper in the slave of the barrel.  The toasting of the barrel helps with the color and increases the surface area on the inside wooden surface, aiding in some of the flavor profile.  As the Bourbon passes deeper into the wood, the oak flavors intensify, making almost an extract of wood scented with Bourbon.  Through this process the "Bourbon Dots" are formed and make it to the outside surface of the barrel.  Removing this sticky dot reminded me of tar, thick, syrupy and dense.  It almost had the texture of caviar, a membrane with a liquid center.  As I popped it into my mouth, I was overwhelmed with intense oak.  It was like licking a barrel minus the splinters.  The strong presence of oak left vanilla, old sawdust, freshly cut lumber, tannin, then the Bourbon,  marshmallow, dark chocolate.  I am almost instantly paralyzed from sampling any other barrels.  The heavy flavors from the "Bourbon Dot" stay with me the rest of the tasting.  Even water, doesn’t completely wash these flavors from the grooves of my tongue.  What a treat!
Instead of four vintners, Matt had already worked with Matt Trevisan, a local winemaker at Linne Calodo Winery to aid in the blending process.  They had started by taking different percentages of Bravo, Rufus, Parabola and Velvet Merkin (a 6% Oatmeal Stout aged in new Bourbon Barrels) brews and came to a conclusion that will ultimately become the final blend.  The day of my visit, Matt selected barrels to be mixed together in the tank, I start to see the mastery in blending needed to create a not only drinkable beer, but a beer that shines above others.  Too much of one beer will throw the balance out of whack for the rest.  One beer has a lot of oak, were others only a touch.  Some heavy with Bourbon flavors, others hardly a whiff in the nose.  Some toasty, other beers more roasty.  All of this working together to enhance the base of the beers flavor.  Each component working with the other, create one beer, layered with complexity for the whole.  Each beer brings a special part of the puzzle that work in harmony over the tongue.  There are no gaps in the taste, no holes.  The final beer is smooth, at 11%, this is very impressive.  Flavors of roast, Bourbon, vanilla, hops, cherries, coconut, toffee, caramel, malt, oak all work together.  None of the flavors are fighting or over powering the palate.  Each flavor dances off the tongue, letting the next nuance take its place.  Each sip reveals new flavors.  Each taste lasts on the palate, to be savored.  And to think that this final blend hasn’t even been aged together yet, there is no carbonation and the liquid is at room temp.  Wow. 
Four different Bourbon Barrels of Rufus to compare,
side by side
After tasting all the barrels in Firestones Walkers cold room from several tasting sessions, Matt picks each barrel for the final blending of 11.  Removing ten barrels of assorted brews, the cleaning and preparation of tasting begins.  First, each barrel is washed, scrubbed and sanitized.  Some of the barrels have a negative pressure from the cold storage and CO2 is used to make sure there are no oxidation issues in the final brew.  Samples from each barrel are tasted, re-tasted and compared with other barrels of similar brew.  Yet, this is where it gets interesting.  We try 4 different barrels of Rufus and none are the same.  The same beer from the same brew went into 4 barrels from the same shipment and all four barrels taste different.  One barrel is very Bourbony with a heavy dose of alcohol.  Then next is smooth, showing the complexity of the brews Centennial hops.  The next is perfect; the malt backbone of the amber is balanced with the hops and the vanilla and Bourbon flavors.  The last is again, totally different, with more oak notes, less vanilla and a small amount of hops. 
Friday, November 30th is the release day for 11.  Only 500 cases were bottled.  The final beer came out with 42 IBU’s and a good 11% abv.  This is one to try fresh and age the rest for one of those special tasting that happen this time of year with good friends.  I hope you can get you hands on one!
For more information on 11, check out Stan Hieronymus' site Appellation Beer with his story "Firestone 11 and a 'Tale of Two Matts'"

For more inforamation on the blending of 10, Stan has a wonderful article published in Imbibe magazine.  Click here for pdf copy