Here at The Manual, we believe in working hard, and rewarding yourself for a job well done. Firestone Walker put in the hours and the reward for their work is Opal, a thoughtful, balanced farmhouse ale that takes the style to a new level by dry hopping for added aromas and West Coast flavor. Although Firestone Walker is known for it’s barrel aged and specialty beers, “We’ve been playing around with farmhouse ales for years, exploring and fine tuning all sorts of variations,” expressed Brewmaster Matt Brynildson, but “with Opal, we are finally ready to make the jump to our first-ever bottled saison.”
Farmhouse ales were originally brewed in the spring as a beverage to satisfy workers’ hunger and thirst after a long day of manual labor. The beer was brewed with whatever happened to be around on the farm, from berries and fruit to rye or spices. As brewers picked up on the blend of floral herbs and freedom to experiment with composition, they found new ways to refine the natural fermentation of the wild yeasts. The modern farmhouse ale preserves the intent of this tradition by bringing together strong, estery yeast with spicy floral notes, sometimes incorporating orange, lemon, or other fruits to compliment these natural flavors. It’s also a wonderfully smart beer to refresh with after a few too many hours at the office.
Firestone Walker follows through all the way on the Opal farmhouse ale, emphasizing all the traditional notes while allowing modern West Coast style to influence their process. When brewing beer, the hops can be added at a number of different points for different effects; hops added early lose most of their flavor, but add bitterness, while hops added later don’t make a beer as bitter, but contribute a variety of flavors. Dry hopping is a popular technique where hops are added at an even later point in the brewing process, imparting flavor and aromas while adding very little bitterness. Firestone Walker brewers open up Opal with a bigger aroma and hop profile by adding the hops very late in the process, leaving the smooth texture and drinkability untouched. As Brynildson puts it, “don’t expect a lot of bitterness, the dry-hopping is geared toward creating this zesty, lemony floral sauv Blanc aroma, which provides an intriguing complement to the estery clove character of the saison yeast.”
Peaches, tea, and honey all grace the aroma, but to get a good whiff you’ll have to be careful not to dip your nose into the most beautiful head a beer from a bottle could pour. Thick and lingering, the beer lights up the heavy carbonation with a bright yellow to match the unfiltered golden hue of the liquid below. At the very end, there’s a hint of the sour tinge of the Belgian yeast, a reminder of the origins of the drink, and the smell that will linger on your nose after the others have faded.
The Opal exhibits just a hint of acidity, like the first sip of a glass of white wine, before the other flavors come crashing over the tongue. Peppery, floral notes swim and smooth out the bright tartness of the yeast, leaving room for the hops to do their work. The same grapefruit and pineapple flavors that define the loud, West Coast IPA are more subtle here, making room for apricot and the grape flavor that ties the body together.
With the blending of acidic grape, hoppy pineapple, and Belgian yeast, Opal might sound like it’s best enjoyed in a wine glass, but the truth is that it’s one of Firestone Walker’s smoothest beers. Even with the alcohol content, which is likely to have you feeling quite merry, the 22-ounce bottles are perfect for sharing or enjoying over an entire evening.
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