Written by Tom Becham
An interesting history here. Firestone Walker holds a special place In my heart for a couple of reasons. First, it is reasonably local to me (about a 2 hour drive). Second, it has been a fixture in craft beer since the second wave of craft in recent years. Finally, they’ve won the “Best Mid-Size Brewery” Award several years now at the GABF. Clearly, they have the chops.
Firestone’s Velvet Merlin, their mass-marketed Oatmeal Stout, has a storied history. It originated in an Imperial Stout called Velvet Merkin, which they’ve used for years as a blend in their anniversary ales, in their taproom, and just recently released in bottles. There was a bit of an uproar about the name (You may want to pause and Google “merkin”. NO, SERIOUSLY, DO IT.). And according to a brief conversation I had with FW Brewmaster Matt Brynildson at a beer festival a few years back, the good folks at Firestone weren’t too aware of the meaning of merkin when they named that beer.
In any case, when FW chose to mass market their Oatmeal Stout at reduced strength, they altered the name to Velvet Merlin, so it would be more acceptable on store shelves.
As session strength stouts go, Velvet Merlin has an incredibly creamy mouthfeel, nice roasty chocolate and coffee flavors, and is one of my absolute favorite stouts.
So, when FW recently released a Winter Bundle with 3 of their regular release brews, along with the limited Velvet Mocha Merlin, I had to give it a try. I assumed that the already-wonderful Velvet Merlin would be even more intriguing with the addition of coffee beans.
Well, it was damned good, but not quite up to my expectations. The aroma and flavors were completely on par with what I’ve come to expect from regular Velvet Merlin. But, I’m not sure if the coffee thinned out the mouthfeel too much, or what it was, exactly. But this beer wound up being basically a thinner bodied, lower alcohol version of Alesmith Speedway Stout or Ballast Point Victory at Sea. Now, those are both amazing beers in their own right. But I feel the overall effect on Velvet Mocha Merlin was not a salutary one.
Still, it is probably one of the better low strength coffee stouts I’ve tried. I recommend it to anyone who likes the style, or may be curious about it.
Tom Becham is a two foot beer troll who escapes occasionally from his fermentation tank to grace our pages with his magnificent beer rants.
Nah, he lives in Oxnard, CA which by no means means he has an…
OX… to grind!