HIGH MARKS: Firestone Walker’s "10" is a blend of 10 beers and aged in wooden barrels.
HIGH MARKS: Firestone Walker's "10" is a blend of 10 beers and aged in wooden barrels.
OUR Beer of the Week is easily one of the most unusual beers any of us will encounter this year. It's Firestone Walker Brewing's "10" +, which commemorates the Paso Robles brewery's 10th anniversary.

In a sense, it's a back-to-the-past beer. Before the modern era, beer was fermented and aged in wooden barrels and it was common to blend several brews together to achieve a desired taste. It's the way a lot of wine is still made.

Firestone Walker's "10" was made that way with a couple of modern twists.

It's a blend of 10 batches of strong beers of various kinds, most fermented and aged in a variety of wooden barrels which had been used in Kentucky to make Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey, Heaven Hill Bourbon and Heaven Hill Brandy.

The brewers also used new oak barrels, the wood toasted to their specifications. In all, the project involved beer in 80 barrels.

As an added wrinkle, Central Coast winemakers, experienced in blending wine, helped the Firestone Walker brew crew produce the beer.

"A number of amazing people had a hand in crafting '10'," head brewer Matt Brynildson said. But it was Brynildson who did the research.

Beers in the blend included Abacus, a strong English-style barley wine; Parabola Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Ruby American Style Barley wine, and Bravo Imperial Brown Ale, each aged in a variety of barrels; plus Walker's Reserve, Humboldt Hemp Ale and Double Barrel Ale, which also is aged in oak. More kinds of hops and malts went into these beers

Brynildson said that when it came time to blend the beers into "10," winemakers and brewers had differing opinions.

The brew crew favored a rock-your-socks blend emphasizing the Parabola Imperial Stout and the Bourbon barrel flavor.

Winemakers — perhaps thinking ahead five years when "10" has matured — wanted complexity and balance.

In the end, "10" was blended much like a wine, with a bit of Abacus providing the dominant flavor and Parabola providing cherry and chocolate.

There's a lot more.

It's a wild conclusion, I know, but at this point, "10" is a very young beer. It's very much a digestif, a beer to enjoy after dinner in a brandy glass, perhaps, Brynildson suggests, with an assortment of fine chocolates.

I taste vanilla and oak and other mysterious notes. This is a great beer today and without a doubt a world class beer in a year or two.

There's so much more to say about this beer that I've posted Brynildson's notes on my blogs at http://www.ibabuzz.com/beer and http://www.beernewsletter.com.

It comes in a 22-ounce bottle for $9.99, meant to share with friends.

-Can't find this beer? E-mail me at whatson tap@sbcglobal.net or call (510) 915-1180 and ask for our "10" beer store list.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. — world classic; — outstanding; — excellent; — good; — average.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.