Reviewed: Firestone Walker Parabola 2021
Official description: Of all the beers in our Proprietor’s Vintage Series, Parabola is the most notorious. It is always a beast of a beer, with intense flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate and roasted coffee—yet each annual release also bears its own subtle imprint. For the first time ever, this year’s edition was aged for 12 months in an equal mix of bourbon, rye and wheat whiskey barrels, accentuating the beer’s signature richness and intensity with vintage-specific hints of black pepper and cereal grain.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co. – Firestone Walker Parabola 2021 – 12oz bottle served in Rastal Harmony glass – 13.6% ABV
Parabola is one of the most iconic bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts. Brewed as far back as 2006, Parabola was the beer that first put Firestone Walker on my radar. It quickly rose to mythical status and remains one of the most anticipated releases of the year. For the 2021 release, Parabola was aged for 12 months in an equal mix of bourbon, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey barrels. In previous years, it was aged for 12 months in bourbon barrels only. Though the exact barrels are not known, the distilleries that Firestone has sourced barrels from in the past include Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig, Four Roses, Pappy Van Winkle, Woodford Reserve, and Buﬀalo Trace.
I’m sampling Parabola 2021 from a 12oz bottle that comes in its own fancy paper box. The retail price for this beer hovers around $10-$13 for the single bottle. It used to come exclusively in 22oz bombers, which made it both pricier and more difficult to crack open without a tasting group. The new, smaller format is a welcome change.
Cracking this open and pouring it into my glass, my first mistake is thinking that Parabola is like other BA stouts with low carbonation and pitiful head formation. Wrong. Parabola generates an absolute monster of a head that slowly rises way over the edges of the glass like a chocolate soufflé. Its gorgeous, dark brown foam sticks around for several minutes – refusing to collapse.
Bringing up the glass, Parabola rewards you with a spectacular aroma of s’mores with toasted marshmallow, melted chocolate bar, and graham cracker all there. Caramel truffles, freshly baked brownies, and German chocolate cake add to an already stellar symphony. As it warms, honey roasted figs and Chambord liqueur sneak in. I can’t remember Parabola ever smelling this good. Either it’s been too long since I’ve indulged with this beer or this vintage is exceptionally aromatic. I wish Yankee Candle had a Parabola fragrance.
Flavor-wise, Parabola delivers on its promises. It’s spirit forward with high-quality bourbon front and center. The actual barrel part (tannic, spicy wood) isn’t as pronounced. Rather, Parabola remains focused on the toasted coconut, caramel, and vanilla flavors of the spirit. The base imperial stout brings a silky oatmeal-driven mouthfeel, bitter coffee, and dark chocolate. Despite Parabola’s mid-range bitterness, there’s enough in combination between the barrel tannins, roasted barley, and background hoppiness to balance out what is essentially a sweeter, dessert profile. Thanks to that balance, you can really dig in and enjoy its decadent flavors of German chocolate cake, Irish coffee, and caramel truffle without the beer becoming cloying. Despite the monster 13.6% ABV, there’s no spicy white alcohol, only soft warming alcohol like you’d find with high-end bourbon.
Firestone Walker recommends drinking Parabola out of a Glencairn glass, which is normally for Scotch. After spending some time with the beer, that seems like the right call to enjoy everything it has to offer without going overboard. It’s a fireside sipping beer for sure.
Perceived Specs for Firestone Walker Parabola 2021
Parabola 2021 is an incredible vintage of an already incredible beer. This year’s barrel treatment is the best in memory with the rye and wheat whiskey barrels illuminating its decadent dessert notes of caramel, vanilla, and toasted coconut. Layering in the imperial stout base beer creates those wondrous flavors of caramel truffle, German chocolate cake, and Irish coffee. But despite its monster specs, Parabola 2021 is incredibly soft around the edges – essentially perfect with no further cellaring needed. It’s a masterpiece.
VERDICT: 99 pts (SUPERLATIVE)
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