Tomorrow @ 10AM

One of my favorite parts of the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival brewery announcement is finding the new invitees, seeing which foreign breweries are flying in and the number of my home state, Oregon breweries (7 this year!) in attendance.

There is not really a weak link in the bunch. But let me take a different tack this year, there are a few breweries that I would bench for a year to let in a few more fresh faces.

Revolution out of Chicago is great but I would love to see Funkytown or Turner Haus involved to bring a bit of diversity in.

Omnipollo and Garage Project garner big lines. I mean big lines but I would like to see some English or Scottish micros in California, The Kernel or Thornbridge come to mind.

I would also like to see a Mexican craft brewery involved as well, I think that would add a new dimension to the festival. Or maybe Bow & Arrow out of New Mexico.

I think removing the big line breweries would have the effect of creating more exploration. Instead of waiting 20-30 minutes for one beer, you might try two beers from breweries you don’t know much about plus a food sample.

This is, of course, the most nitpicky of posts you will read about FWIBF. It is such a fantastic festival that you have to resort to it so as not to repeat ones self.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow at 10am. If you haven’t been, try.

FWIBF – Paso Distilled

It is not really a trip to Paso Robles without visiting at least one distillery.

First up was CalWise Spirits just down Ramada Drive from Firestone Walker. That is important because they get their wash from them. CalWise does gin, rum, whiskey and liqueurs. I tasted a little bit of everything. Most impressive to me were the gins. Their flagship and their blood orange worked well for me. And I bought a bottle of their Vermut for cocktail use at home. Distiller and tasting tour guide Leo gave a lot of info about the distillery and what they liked and even played the new Ben Folds album was I was sipping.

Second was Bethel Rd. Distilling next to Castoro Cellars and Peachy Canyon. It is a lovely indoor / outdoor space with grapevine views. All of their spirits come from grapes and brandy is their forte. I sample three brandies from neutral to flagship to VSOP. I was quite surprised by the first, expecting a harsh vodka bite but it was delicate. The VSOP was another winner. The gin was great as well, enough for me to buy a bottle.

FWIBF 23 – The Day After

After a night spent with an unhappy tummy courtesy of the sour beers consumed on Saturday, I made a short hop from my bucolic Creekside Inn to the Booker Wines for the Wine Down brunch.

And it did not disappoint (except for one thing), the Booker compound is amazing. At the end of the road with multiple other wineries, the vineyards surrounding the hill.  The architecture was super fancy.  I can easily imagine an extra fancy wedding being held here.  All open air and great views. I hopped up when they said they were doing a cave tour but it was more a quiet walkthrough the cave which also had a special room with the limestone on one side. Food was great as usual but it was time to say goodbye, but not to Paso Robles just yet.

Then just down the road was Bethel Rd. Distillery. More on that in a distillery post in a day or two.

Next up was KiloKilo, where I eavesdropped on the owner expound on the beer industry and what makes a festival good. The Cold IPA was my choice, Frosty Little Nugget. It was what I needed before heading south.

I made two stops on the way home.  One to reacquaint myself with Figueroa Mountain in Buellton and two for a first visit of Bellringer Brew Co.

FigMtn has a lovely outdoor patio and the same weirdly situated indoor seating. A tiny little room with a cubby for taps overlooking the brew deck. Food pick-up in another room which is weird. Recommend the outdoor bar.

I drove further south to the somewhat new Bellringer Beer Co. I get worried when the brewing equipment is tucked tightly into a space as it is here. I had half pours of the Galaxy IPA and the Ringer Pilsner. The IPA tasted a little old, hop-wise. Murky in flavor but not in color. The Pilsner was better for sure so I hope the equipment is being dialed in.

I took a little walk around Ventura then has one last beer….

FWIBF 23 – The Day

The common talking point amongst beer scribes is, what is the angle when talking about this festival? You can talk best booth decor. To me Green Cheek with their photo frame and slushie machine was tops. Or you can talk amount of beers. Bagby brought a ton of stuff, all of which looked great. You can talk lines, which present wasn’t omnipresent this year compared to my last fest in 2019.

In the end, it comes down to the beer. And the beer, uniformly is fantastic. You can quibble about the breweries invited or the mix of light beers to big ABV beers but the choices are just great. Whatever you pick, it is not anywhere near mediocre.

That said, there were some beers that really, really stood out. So, I am going to highlight those. My best was a Green Cheek beer. Not one at their rightly crowded booth but a beer poured at a Thiol conversation just wowed me. Evan Price poured an IPA that was good, then a second beer was brought, Forcing Natures Hand. Damn, it was as if you cut a passion fruit under my nose. Price said that he liked a blend of one and two. I dis-concur.

Other winners was the Earl Grey lambic from Oud Beersel which compared to the blunt force of the lapsang souchong smoky version was an exercise in subtlety. I was excited to try FW Brewmasters Collective beers, and the best of my tasted trio was the Pirate Sour. Maybe too sweet for some but very tiki to me. I had two beers from Leeds based Northern Monk and both were my favorite hoppy beers, pils and hazy.

I spoke with a few people about their viewpoint on the day and each one was impressed by something different. That is the festival in a nutshell. Impressive.

FWIBF 2023 – The Day Before

When you go to the Firestone Walker Invitational, the day before can be a lot and if you sneak in a distillery visit, it becomes a day.

I drove up from June Gloom L.A. to bright and sunny Paso Robles and went to work with a stop at The Backyard for a beer (Wild Fields Cosmo Canyon Red) and a sandwich before heading to CalWise Spirits for a comprehensive tasting of their products, some of which were started at Firestone Walker. My favorite was the flagship gin with the orange liqueur second.

I moved north on Ramada Drive to pick up beers at the FW Emporium and then checked out the new barrel room and had some beers before taking a tour with scion Nick Firestone around some of the environmental initiatives at the brewery from solar panel fields to CO2 improvements,

From there, the Friday night water park dinner awaited where I nearly choked on some food before recovering to enjoy seeing luminaries like Bob from Highland Park and Henry from Monkish before crashing as I type this.

FWIBF 23 – How To

I have had the great fortune to attend the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival a few times now. And as a keen watcher of people, I have gleaned some tips for those attending for the first time or who want to up their experience.

  • Pore over the brewery list. Each year new breweries are welcomed to the Event Center and you should get to know those that you may not be familiar with whose beers you might not see again.
  • I will not tell you to avoid the hype beers but I will tell you that you can drink really well without standing in a line more than five deep. I remember picking a random fest goer who was at the back end of a hype line and recording what I did before that person got a beer. I had two beers, a nosh on ice cream and plotted out my next booths to visit before this person had a sip.
  • Food it up. Take advantage of it all. Not just because you will be having lots of beer but because it is really good stuff. No food truck lines and then more waiting for your name to be called.
  • Be on the lookout for special pours. They will be at certain posted times at booths and also over at the seminar stages. Many a time did beer get brought right to me while I sat in the shade learning about beer, brewers and the brewing process.
  • Do not sleep on the Firestone Walker beers. You may have already had the official festival beer, No Vacancy IPA but they bring a lot of other gems and who doesn’t like DBA.
  • Fred Eckhardt famously said “listen to your beer”. Addendum to that is to listen the the other fest goers. Don’t be creepy about it but overhear when people say out loud that something is great. And if you hear about a beer twice, start looking for it.
  • Be kind and an ally. It is 2023 and I should not have to write this but men act shitty and they need to stop. Right now, before you arrive in Paso Robles. Bring your best behavior and police others you know so that everyone can enjoy the fest.

Paso Wine Podcast

Paso Wine Podcast – Where Wine Takes You had a recent episode with guests from Firestone Walker and Re:Find Distilling. One cool section of the discussion is when they talk about a collaboration white dog that the two companies made for a bunch of us beer bloggers way back in the day. I still have my empty bottle in my office.

Another reason to take a listen is to hear about beer from a wine show’s perspective.