|Firestone Walker Parabola. Just beer?
Earlier that very weekend I was in The Hanging Bat on Lothian Road and they had tapped one of only two kegs in existence of this years Magic Rock Bourbon Barrel Beaded Lady. This year Magic Rock have taken their superb imperial brown stout and aged it in Wild Turkey Barrels for ten months. Wild Turkey has always been a favourite of mine but it's a monster of a bourbon so I feared that the Bearded Lady would have been blasted into oblivion by this powerful beverage. This was not the case though, I may have been three sheets (plus a couple more, perhaps) to the wind when I took a sip but I was overwhelmed by how mellow and how smooth this initially intimidating stout was. I had nothing to fear, the vanilla rich bourbon notes intermingled perfectly with the flavours of rich roasted coffee and molasses from the beer. This vinous beer slid down the throat like liquid velvet, not a note was out of place and every flavour was in perfect harmony, it was quite simply wonderful. It straddled the line between beer and something else entirely, this was special no doubt but was it just beer and should it be treated as something different, more special? Or should I just open another bottle this afternoon just for the hell of it, it's just beer after all...
This August bank holiday weekend I was away with friends and on the last night of our stay I brought out the most prized bottle of beer in my collection, a 2012 Firestone Walker Parabola another mighty whisky barrel aged imperial stout. The fact that I'm even referring to the vintage of this bottle as if it was a wine is surely evidence to suggest that like the Bourbon Barrel Bearded lady this is more than just beer. It cost me fifteen dollars but I imagine if I kept it long enough I could sell it on for much more but that's not why I bought it, the sole purpose of it's existence is to get inside my belly so sod stashing it it away for aeons to come. There were ten of us present that evening, only one other person, my friend Dom was interested in giving it a taste. The others were tucking into a bottle of 2008 Sandeman LBV Port, I was disappointed by this (not by the Port, that's very good), I wanted to see peoples reactions as they tasted what is regarded as one of the best beers in the world. To them though, this was just one of my 'weird beers' and they were probably wishing that I'd just shut up and drink the damn thing. No matter, this meant there would be more of this special brew for my own consumption. Where the Magic Rock slid eleganty around the glass Parabola sat their like a quantum singularity, absorbing any light in its path. I stared into the oubliette and massive notes of booze and charred oak wrapped their tendrils around me. This 'beer' has been in wood for twelve months and boy can you tell with ridiculous amounts of oak in the finish, the bourbon notes are massive and overwhelming at first, it's a challenge to wrap your brain around the sheer ferocity of this beer. However a few sips in a you realise that this is a lion that is willing to be tamed if you have the courage. Despite being from the same genre of beer as the Magic Rock this is an entirely different creature and the fine line between beer and something else becomes even more blurred.
If I'm drinking beer, do I want to be challenged? Surely that defeats the object of drinking alcohol, it's a relaxant not a stimulant after all. Thinking back to my first taste of Cantillon Gueuze, that was a challenge but now it's an utter joy. Sadly it's unlikely I'll ever get to taste that particular vintage of Parabola again but if I did would it make that moment, that spectacular drunken brawl less special? I've asked myself more questions than I've answered but I think the answer is that it doesn't matter what you decide to call it or what you take from your experience of drinking it, what matters is that whatever's in your glass is always good.