ESPRESSO- AND OATMEAL- lavished stouts are truly nothing, not at all, not the least bit new. Nor is Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin, truthfully. But as with most Firestone beers it still says its piece eloquently and clearly amidst the maddening crowd, alluding to English precedent without mimicking it.
Merlin is designed to be an inviting stout, substantial though not sticky, with generous aromas of chocolate and coffee underpinned by caramel. The beer is mostly black, as expected (65 SRM), yet with an intriguing cola corona that frames the head. Appropriately, that tight fist of foam is the color of lightly toasted oatmeal, which comprises 15% of the grain bill—enough to smooth the mouthfeel without compromising its complexity. Beyond the aforementioned caramel other malts include the hearty Maris Otter for a toasted character and Carafa as a stand-in for chocolate.
The sweet aromas on the nose are confirmed by loads of espresso and cocoa in the midpalate, though the substantial carbonation and attenuation maintain a high drinkability that doesn’t need much dwell time between sips. The finish is creamy with a medium amount of dry dissipation and some caramel to balance a growing sensation of toast. Fuggle hops contribute 27 IBU—low for the style and virtually indistinguishable in the flavor. They do enough in the background to given Merlin enough balance, though, and keep it from tilting over into sweet stout territory. No alcohol is discernible in the aftertaste, and Merlin’s final impression on the palate is a couple notches fuller than the ubiquitous Guinness touchstone. Aye, and about that much better.
Served: 12 oz bottled 2/23/13