Parabola Clone Review

Over a year ago, I took a shot at brewing a clone of Firestone Walker’s Parabola. According to Firestone Walker, Parabola is characterized by:

Bold bourbon, tobacco and espresso aromas and a hint of American oak greet the nose. Rich, chewy roasted malts, charred oak and bourbon-like vanilla fill the palate and create a seamless finish.

The recipe was derived from a combination of information compiled from Firestone Walker’s website, and my own tasting notes. Unfortunately, my beer missed the spec pretty badly in terms of fermentability. That said, it is still a pretty nice beer.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP Category 22C. Wood Aged Beer.

Half of the batch was aged with Larceny (wheated bourbon) soaked oak. Half of the batch was aged with Rittenhouse Rye soaked oak.

Half of the batch was aged with Larceny (wheated bourbon) soaked oak with the rest aged on Rittenhouse Rye soaked oak. The overall differences between the two batches were extremely subtle with the Larceny exhibiting slightly more caramelly notes, and the Rye version showcasing a subtle background spicy note.

Aroma (8/12):
Initially there is a impression of sweet vanilla oakiness. Additionally there is a mellow roasty character with notes of bittersweet cocoa  and a slight hint of coffee. Roasty impression increases as the beer warms in the glass. Under the roast is a caramelly toffee malt character. A slight hint of oxidized malt (dried cherry, fig) gives a hint to the beer’s age. Below the vanilla oakiness is an aroma of raw sawdust that hints at the oak cubes which were used. Some warm alcohol is apparent.

Appearance (3/3):
Jet black with a low tan head consisting of tight bubbles that persist. Beer pours with a readily apparent viscosity.

Flavor (10/20):
Flavors are round and fill the mouth with intensity. Heavy amounts of roasted coffee are apparent as is a substantial amount of chocolatey roast malt. Creamy and smooth with only a hint of hot alcohol. Bitterness is high but balanced against a high level of residual sweetness. There are some pleasant burnt sugar toffee flavors on the finish. A bit too sweet and filling to be drinkable in any quantity more than 8-10 ounces.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
This is a huge beer with a luscious mouth-coating viscosity. Carbonation is medium. Roast character is slightly astringent.

Overall Impression (5/10):
This is a massive beer that falls short in terms of balance compared to its inspiration, Parabola. The bourbon and oak character in Parabola is much more integrated and rich, whereas the oak in this beer comes off a bit artificial tasting. This beer is like a  big, rich chocolate milkshake – luscious, but only consumable in restrained quantities. Additional attenuation would be a welcome addition to this beer.

(28/50) – Good


Reviewing My King Henry Clone Attempt


Goose Island Bourbon County Barley Wine on the left, homebrew variations in the middle and right.

Late in September 2013, I took a shot at brewing a clone of Goose Island’s King Henry barrel aged barley wine. The beer was left to rest on oak cubes which had been soaked in different spirits (Weller 12 Bourbon and Christian Drouin Calvados). After about 3 months on oak, I packaged the beer in individual bottles and decided to taste them blindly against Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine — the closest beer I could track down that would resemble King Henry.

Rather than do an extensive review of each beer, I’d like to focus on the elements that are clearly different. The recipe I used came directly from Goose Island’s brewsheet for King Henry, so I am relatively confident in the grist make-up and hopping. That being said, I definitely did not achieve a clone due to the various reasons outlined below.

vertBarrel Character
The biggest thing separating my beers from the commercial example was the dramatic difference in barrel character. The Goose Island beer is extremely rich, with robust amounts of vanilla, toffee, and even a bit of sweetness coming from the barrel. Comparatively, the homebrew was almost thin, with a one-dimensional raw woody character that was dramatically different. I went through an exercise of adding slight amounts of bourbon back to the homebrewed beer, and while it helped, the character it imparted was more spirit-like in its booziness and lacked the depth and roundness of barrel notes the commercial beer contains. I’ve always been aware of the dramatic differences between simulated barrel aging, and actual barrel aging. Having these two beers side-by-side made this difference extremely obvious.

The only real omission from the brew sheets I formulated my recipe off had to do with yeast selection. I ended up using Wyeast 1098 British Ale which left my beer with a distinct ester character, not found in Goose Island’s beer. My beer had much more British character than the Goose Island product. For the next iteration of this I brew, I will definitely be revisiting my yeast choice.

The commercial example I am comparing my homebrew against is considerably darker in color. Previously I had discounted the statement I’ve heard in the past that the commercial beer picks up some color from the imperial stout which previously resided within the aging barrels. It’s tough for me to explain the color difference, so perhaps there is some truth to this.

While I wasn’t able to clone the beer, I still ended up with a really nice brew. It is somewhat one-dimensional in its oak character which I hope will evolve a bit with some age. The biggest take-away for me is that there truly is no substitute for genuine barrel aging. For my next iteration, I plan to obtain a 5-gallon whiskey barrel and see if I can get closer to the barrel character that Goose Island is able to achieve.

Firestone Walker Parabola Clone Attempt

My Parabola clone fermenting side-by-side my King Henry clone.

My Parabola clone explosively fermenting away.

One of the greatest things about homebrewing is that it enables you to dissect commercial beers and make your own attempts at brewing beers of a similar nature. Precise replication is rare, even when you’re working from a proven recipe, but the exercise in itself is enjoyable, and the beers typically turn out quite tasty.

Back in 2011, I was inspired to take a shot at cloning Firestone Walker’s Parabola, and posted a quickly cobbled together recipe on HomebrewTalk. Now, a couple years later I’ve finally gotten around to taking a shot at it.

The recipe below was put together while carefully tasting the commercial beer and reading through the information published on both bottles of Parabola and on Firestone Walker’s website. The information that is out there indicates a very complex malt bill; something that makes determining the precise percentages of each malt somewhat of a shot in the dark. That being said, I’ve based the recipe on typical uses of those grains and what I’ve been able to taste in the commercial beer. The actual brewday was quite uneventful, and the beer is happily fermenting away. My plan is to transfer it onto oak in secondary and to let it rest until next April, which happens to coincide with the annual commercial release of Parabola. Stay tuned for future posts reviewing the beer and indicating how close this recipe replicates the commercial beer.


Size: 2.74 gal
Efficiency: 60%
Attenuation: 73.0%

Original Gravity: 1.127 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.034 SG (projected)
Color: 53.12 SRM
Alcohol: 12.42% ABV
Bitterness: 79.6 IBUs

10.5 lb (64.1%) Maris Otter (Crisp)
1.75 lb (10.7%) Munich TYPE II (Weyermann)
14 oz (5.3%) Chocolate (Crisp)
8 oz (3.1%) Roast Barley (Crisp)
8 oz (3.1%) Carafa Special® TYPE III (Weyermann)
12 oz (4.6%) Flaked Oats (Briess)
8 oz (3.1%) Carahell® (Weyermann)
8 oz (3.1%) Crystal 120 (Crisp)
8 oz (3.1%) Crystal 45 (Crisp)

22 g Columbus (15.0% AA) – boiled 60 m
1/2 tablet Whirlfloc – boiled 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – boiled 10 m
1 oz Hallertauer Hersbrucker (4.5% AA) – Whirlpool Rest 15m

Fermentis Safale US-05

148 °F – 60m
170.0 °F – 10m

1. Chill to 62°F and keep at 64°F until activity slows
2. Raise temp to 72°F 3 days
3. Crash to 32°F 3 days

Split into 1-gallon vessels with oak soaked in bourbon.

Vessel 1: 0.25 oz. American Heavy Toast + 2oz. Larceny Wheated Bourbon
Vessel 2: 0.25 oz. American Heavy Toast + 2oz. Rittenhouse Rye 101


The beer has unfortunately stopped fermenting at 1.044. The taste is quite nice and is by no means cloying. The high gravity however makes me slightly nervous as my eventual plan is to bottle condition the beer. I pulled a sample and preformed a force ferment test on it. The force ferment test confirms that there is no residual fermentable sugars left in the beer. Next round, I will likely lower the mash temperature and decrease the crystal malts to achieve a more fermentable wort. In the mean time, this beer tastes quite good and is aging on bourbon soaked oak cubes.

Goose Island King Henry Clone Attempt

For those of you not immersed in the world of commercial beer geekery, let me tell you a story. This is the tale of a noble and regal beer. King Henry as he was called began his life as a massive English Barley Wine from the Goose Island brewery. Once fermented, he was left to rest inside oak casks which began their life holding Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and later the Rare variant of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. After an extended slumber, the sweet nectar was packaged and released to the masses for enthusiastic consumption and hoarding within dark cellars. King Henry became well-known throughout the land and developed a reputation of mythical stature.

Goose Island last released King Henry in 2011. Now that Goose Island is an AB-InBev owned and produced brand, it is pretty unlikely that it will ever be brewed again.

Beautiful viscous wort recirculating during my mash-out step. My new cobbled together  recirculation diffuser worked well.

Beautiful viscous wort recirculating during my mash-out step. My new cobbled together recirculation diffuser worked well.

Now some bad news — I’m not going to publish the recipe for this clone.

A homebrewing friend of mine was able to obtain the precise recipe from which the commercial beer was produced. With this information in hand, I was able to accurately formulate a scaled down homebrew recipe. This information was given to me with the caveat of not sharing it with the world.

As much as I wish that I could publish the recipe, Goose Island’s website actually gives some good information which can be used to formulate a recipe. Key metrics such as ABV and IBUs are listed, as are the malts and hops used. I can verify that my recipe is very much in line with the ingredients listed on the Goose Island website. The signature malt in this beer is a seasonal product called Caracrystal from by Briess Malting — something that the recipe formulation should account for.

I built up a massive pitch of yeast with the hope of fermenting out this extremely high gravity beer. Violent fermentation ensued, which is only now tapering down a week later. Once terminal gravity is hit, I intend to rack the beer into split secondaries containing oak cubes treated with varying spirits. With some luck, this beer will be finished and packaged sometime in February or March 2014. Stay tuned for a full review then!