Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

Yes, today I have another stout that was sitting in my fridge for the last 3 months that I needed to drink before the weather gets any warmer.  Though lately it seems like Arizona can’t make up its mind about what meteorological conditions it wants to present each day, seeing as it’s been so cold and rainy and windy.  If I had wanted to deal with weather like this, I would have stayed in Wisconsin, where it also likes to throw in some late spring snow, maybe a little hail, some thunderstorms and tornadoes if it’s feeling frisky.  Regardless of location though, I reserve stouts primarily for the cooler weather, as there’s usually something warming about them, something roasty and toasty…which is why Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin oatmeal stout surprised me somewhat.

The Velvet Merlin poured a velvety dark chocolate brown with no visible carbonation; sparkling ruby highlights shone from the liquid near the bottom of the glass when situated in front of the light. Through a tame pour, a nice 3-finger thick head of fallow colored foam built and held with great retention and slowly melted into a creamy softness.  It left minimal threads of clean beige lacing along the glass.

In the nose, there was a good amount of thick dark chocolate, lightly roasted coffee, gently toasted malts, hints of a dark caramel toffee, and dusty oatmeal. The aroma was slightly bitter, but also quite sweet, and a very faint vanilla aroma rose as it warmed and aided in keeping the overall scent on the smoother side.  There was nothing complex or intimidating about Merlin’s scent, and I found it to be much lighter than most other stouts, oatmeal or not.  With all of the bitter-sweetness and smoothness emanating from the nose, however, I was really looking forward to trying it.

Unfortunately, the first few sips tasted primarily of a chalky burnt coffee and were rather unappealing, but after a few more swallows, the chalkiness smoothed into a bittersweet chocolate covered in dusty oats. Toasted malts and something charred came up a little later in the background and lasted throughout the drink, hints of a caramel toffee and wood notes also became  present, but stayed fairly well hidden. The aroma was definitely more promising than the taste, what with the body being a little on the thinner side with a moderate amount of carbonation – which kept it creamy, but also slightly diluted in mouthfeel. There was virtually no aftertaste due to the thinness of the beer, and it left my mouth pretty dry and hoping for more. Overall, it was a little more acrid than I would have liked, especially after distinguishing all of the sweet smells, but I guess that comes with the territory. I also would have liked to see it with a little more body, but with the low alcohol (5.50%) and even lower IBUs (30) , it was a fairly quaffable stout…just not one of my favorites.  I’m a fan of many of Firestone Walker’s other delicious brews, so I’m a little disappointed that this wasn’t as good as I expected.  Perhaps next time I’ll have to try it during the fall or winter, as it may just be because it’s 3 months old and fading.

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6 thoughts on “Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

  1. Hi Lys-

    Of course it wasn’t as “good as expected”, it was a 6 month old bottle of 5.5% abv beer! Seems to me that the right thing to do is go get yourself a fresh bottle (I don’t think they’ve switched to Summer Solstice yet, but I could be wrong) and give them another shot. Maybe you still won’t like it, but at least you won’t be sharing an opinion based on an out-of-code product, amirite?

    Maybe this is a reasonable example of what the average consumer might potentially encounter in the market, but it certainly isn’t the beer that the brewery intended to put in the customer’s glass. Would you still review it if you left it in your trunk for 3 months?

    This is exactly why breweries should date code (and I’m pretty sure FW does).

    Ok. Rant over. Sorry about that. I like your blog… great pics and great writing. Always makes me thirsty!

    • Eric, thank you for catching my error on the last sentence. It was only 3 months, not 6 (not that that makes it any better, just for clarification). I absolutely understand your rant and there is no reason I would ever not try a beer a second time just because I didn’t like it once. I realize that the recipes are sensitive to everything from time to temperature, both before and after bottling, so in the same way I don’t believe in tossing a beer because it’s past its prime, I don’t believe in knocking something so dynamic after only one attempt. I am also aware of what the “average consumer” might encounter and why so many people feel more comfortable sticking to the “beer” that never goes bad and is perpetually served in large quantities. Thank you for your comment, and I want to mention that this is the 3rd or 4th Merlin I’ve had, but I just haven’t reviewed it up until now. I will try my best to stay on top of release/drink by dates.

  2. I can’t comment on that review for a really good (but really bad) reason: I’ve never had Velvet Merlin. Firestone-Walker has only recently become available in the Republic of South Jersey and only a small selection is currently on craft beer shelves. Fortunately, Double Jack is one of them along with their 14th Anniversary masterpiece (which does contain a small amount of Velvet Merlin so I guess I have had it…sort of).

    Anyway, I’ve been a fan of FW for many years. I was a year behind Adam Firestone in law school (but not nearly smart enough to be one of his friends) and I try to sample as many of their beers as I can whenever I’m in California or Arizona. I’ve come to expect everything they brew to be special or damn close and perhaps that’s where Velvet Merlin let you down. It may have fallen victim to high expectations. Or maybe it’s just a mediocre stout.

    I’m a huge fan of all brews Stone ( http://alemonger.wordpress.com/2008/10/21/the-crafting-of-a-craft-beer-geek/) and, up until a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have allowed myself to admit that they could turn out a beer that was anything short of world class. Until they did. Ironically, when I was in Scottsdale in early February I searched everywhere for Highway 78. It was released the day I got there but unfortunately I was gone before it made its way to the desert. Anyway, when I finally got my hands on one out here the unthinkable happened – I was massively disappointed. How could Stone, Green Flash & Pizza Port possibly turn out an average brew? But for the bottle and the pedigree it’s really just a forgettable scotch ale. At first I though I had merely set unreasonably high expectations and perhaps the beer was much better than I was giving it credit for. Then I had another. Then I had to admit that my rock star brewery (along with two equally capable rock star brewers) turned out a scotch ale that was average at best.

    So I’ve gotten a bit far afield… Thanks for posting the review – hopefully I’ll get a chance to sample it myself (probably still with high expectations).

    Cheers!

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve heard nothing but great things about FW (and Stone, for that matter) and have been a big fan of them due to my enjoying all of their regular brews. When I went online to see the reviews posted by other people on the beers that I enjoyed, they all fit pretty spot on, until I came to this one. I was reading short blurbs where many were mentioning that the beer was good for the style, but not what they expected, or that there was nothing special about it, but it was still drinkable. A lot of concessions were being made, or at least that’s what it looked like to me. I believe the brand has a lot to do with it in this case, and all the more power to FW for it, it just didn’t appeal to me the way I expected it to. And that’s my problem, I take full responsibility for my taste buds and their acceptance of flavor profiles. It’s the expectations that get me, which is why I try really hard to not go into any new experience looking for it to be good or bad, I try to just take it as it comes.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment, it’s nice to hear from people who have similar experiences!

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