It is said that “beer runs deeper than blood.” And after an all-access media weekend to Firestone Walker’s Invitational Beer Fest, beer truly is our community’s lifeblood. The 48 hour journey into beer nirvana was a beautiful (and rare) blend of collaboration and camaraderie, all in the spirit of the Central Coast. Get ready to get thirsty…
Private Brewery Tour With David Walker, 805’s Lion
Among the first to see the just-completed brewery extension, David Walker greeted us with a cold one outside the $15 million dollar expansion. The expansion will allow the brewery a long term foundation, adding several new brewing vessels developed by Huppmann of Kitzingen, Germany. Starting in the new visitor center, we made our way to the beautiful tank room, a high-ceilinged space with a 200-barrel tank dedicated entirely to brewing 805. This wildly popular blonde ale was the reason behind the expansion, with nearly half of their production in 805.
Offering two tour options, the basic tour starts in the tasting lounge and continues upstairs over a new catwalk into the brewhouse. The more in depth tour also includes a trip to the Barrel Room where Firestone Walker’s barrel-aged beers are matured. Hoping to produce nearly 600,000 barrels annually, the new facility is a milestone, deepening their local roots for the next 20 years. As the tour commenced in the barrel room, our favorite beertender, Mr. Walker himself, poured media the rare and delightful Sucaba 19, a big and boozy barrel-aged English barley wine. FWIBF…off to a great start!
Ending in the new educational tasting space, we sampled from Firestone’s library of tried and true brews and experimental favorites. For the cult classic DBA, try the unfiltered version (UDBA) for enhanced oak expression or the mighty Helldorado, a blonde barley wine ale brewed solely with English and American pale malts. For tart fans, look no further than Krieky Bones, a sour cherry gift for David Walker’s 50th birthday. This fermented creation begins as a Flanders Red style beer, with sour Montmorency cherries added during second fermentation. Funky cherry pie…with bright carbonation.
Beer Media Bowlapalooza – Beer. Bowl. Repeat.
Buzzed bowling…is an excellent idea. Bringing together media from all across the country, the competition was fierce at Paso Bowl, an institution since 1972. The war of the writers was on, a healthy competition of boozy writers paired with a cold one. Like an adult pizza party, it was a great throwback and an incredible way to kick start Invitational. Followed by the Brewers BBQ and Concert, we were fueled up and ready for Saturday’s adventures in hops, barely, yeast…and some water.
There’s An App for That – Drinking Around the World at the Invitational
Tasting over 30 beers (fine…maybe 40), beers ranged from the tropical to the toasty. The international tent is always a conceptual treat, a sweaty haven for innovation, creativity, and LONG lines. A diehard fan of the always quirky Mikkeller, their rare Spontancherry Frederiksdal is an oak aged sour, brewed from the Frederiskadal estate where they source their cherries. Moving next door to Belgium, my applause goes out to Oud Beersel, and their Lambic Oud Beersel, aged on wooden wine barrels for a refreshing take on the oldest traditional style of Belgian beer.
New Zealand…you are killing the landscape of beer right now, thanks in part to the country’s major hop variety, Nelson Sauvin and its juicy, tropical bouquet. I followed the Rising Sun (and lines), to Wellington’s quirky and ever evolving Garage Project Brewery, pouring Yuzu Rising Sun, an incredible two-layered blend of Yuzu beer topped with a raspberry sour beer. Next door, 8 Wired Brewing from Warkworth, NZ poured their Wild Feijoa Sour, a beautiful tart and funky blend utilizing a tonne of fresh local feijoas, aka pineapple guava. Stellar mate.
Here are a few of my other favorite things…from the United States of ABV…
Side Project Brewing, Saint Louis, Missouri – Apple Brandy Derivation
This barrel-aged imperial stout, coming in at an easy 15% ABV, is a rich and massive delight on the palate. No need for dessert, aged in 8- and 12-year-old bourbon barrels for 16 and 28 months with freshly ground cinnamon, cacao nibs, and Ugandan vanilla beans.
The Bruery, Plancentia, California – Guava Libre!
I cannot say enough great things about this brewery (thanks for letting us drink all your Black Tuesday imperial stout at camp!). This beer, made in collaboration with Florida’s Funky Buddha is like savoring a Cuban guava pastry. Start with an imperial cream ale, add lactose and vanilla, custard-like ribbons, and guava for a truly unique and tasty treat.
Avery Brewing, Boulder, Colorado – Black Eye
Yo ho, yo ho…this beer is meant for a pirate. The Imperial Stout, aged in fresh rum barrels is at a cool 18.82% ABV…and wicked good. Savor the rich caramel and toffee flavors, like a toasty marshmallow. Good luck remembering any other beers.
Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, Indiana – Sicario Pina
This muscat barrel aged pineapple Brettanomyces saison is seriously juicy, with aromas of fresh cut pineapple. Enjoy your tropical trip, balanced by oak, citrus, and fruity/earthy Brettanomyces character.
Creature Comforts Brewing, Athens, Georgia – Tritonia
Cucumber, lime, and everything fine. This beer is seriously sessionable, a tart gose brewed with a touch of coriander and sea salt. The tartness of the beer and addition of lime is perfectly balanced by the cool freshness of cucumber. Love. LOVE.
Brewer’s Camp, Properly Chill…
Basically summer camp…with lots more beards, brews, and Bloody Marys. The brewer’s lounge was the exact definition of “properly chill” – an oasis of camaraderie, bottle shares, and a nice respite from the 100 degree heat. The camp is a magical formula of buzzed tastemakers and beek geekery to the max. Cornhole competitions. Late night dance parties with Rare Barrel. Burrito bars. Craft Coffee. The tradition of collaboration runs deep at Firestone, evident at Brewer’s camp and the friendships formed at camp.
As the Invitational Beer Fest commenced, we wandered back into the brewer’s lounge, where Firestone’s house band and folk duo Bear Market Riot played a killer set. One must wind down (before turning up). Naps were had, pie was consumed, and tacos devoured. The symphonic melody of popped bottles and clinking glasses echoed throughout the campground, celebrating the success of another fantastic FWIBF.
At the bewitching hour of midnight, a graveyard of bottles collected, signifying the end of our buzzed adventures. This is not your average beer festival. For the last five years, Firestone has been creating and building an intimate community, a family where beer really does run deeper than blood. The conversations, the camaraderie. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Until next year…HUGE thanks and applause to the Firestone staff and my brothers and sisters in this magical industry. Beer is Life. So stay thirsty.