Sep 4, 2012

Will it blend?

Blending the Firestone Walker Sixteenth Anniversary Ale. Tanned wrists weighed heavy with bling, but the more appropriate machinery was on my team, with winemaker Matt Trevisan, who sat down, turned his sweat-stained ball cap backwards, unwrapped a China marker, and asked for a calculator. We blended by the numbers. With 186 barrels of Bravo available to use and only 20 of P.N.C., our blend got just a touch of P.N.C.’s tequila-aged tannins (9%, according to our TI-30x), and was heavy on Bravo’s buttery, barleywine sweetness (40%). Too heavy, for my tastes. A dash of Helldorado, a little less Velvet Merkin, perfect: bitter citrus rind, light but fire-y — hot pepper honey, maybe?

The truth was, all blends worked. A double IPA and an oatmeal stout seem as discordant as can be, but together, unexpectedly harmonious. Not every mix was a Reese’s-quality epiphany, but none was trashed. The brewers encouraged experiment; no beer is sacred, Matt Brynildson said, shrugging. “It all works.” I first tried blended beers at Great Lakes Brewing, where we had to mix on the sly. But blending is traditional, going back at least to Restoration-era England. The 18th-century London pub directory, “A Guide for Malt Worms” (today’s hop heads, I suppose), listed the best mild-and-bitter blends in town; in 1790, Joseph Bramah, inventor of the hinged toilet-bowl valve and a padlock that took 16 days to pick, patented a two-handled tap to mix kegs right at the bar. Today, the best you’ll get at most bars is a black and tan. So make your own. Read about my previous experiments here and here.

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