A Pilgrimage to Firestone Walker

A Pilgrimage to Firestone Walker
Firestone Walker Brewery
1400 Ramada Dr. | Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 225-5911 ext. 2
www.firestonebeer.com

I’ve been to a lot of breweries. A lot. After completing a “beerventure,” it’s often hard to choose a favorite brewery from a trip. While there was something awesome about each and every brewery we visited during our California “beerventure,” the brewery that left the biggest impression was Firestone Walker.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company, founded by brothers-in-law David Walker and Adam Firestone, is located in Paso Robles, California. It is the 16th largest craft brewery in the United States.

Exterior-2

Adam (the bear) grew up on the Central Coast among vineyards and winemaking. He became interested in brewing at an early age, and his pipe dream of opening a brewery was realized when he persuaded David, the Englishman who married his sister, to join him on the journey.

David (the lion) brought a European twist, and together they built a brewery that combines the authentic Old World craft with the innovative spirit of California.

Wayne and I had the pleasure of meeting David Walker at Memphis Taproom during Philly Beer Week in 2013. David talked to us for some time, quite passionately about brewing and about his company. Ever since that moment, I knew I had to tour Firestone Walker.

PBW-2013

We booked our tour about a month an half ahead of time. When we arrived, we headed to the Visitor’s Center where we checked in. Guided tours of the brewhouse and cellar are available daily from 10:30AM to 3:30PM. Tours last about 30-45 minutes, and space is limited. You can reserve a spot on the brewery tour webpage.

During the week, tours are free. On Saturday and Sunday there is a $3 per person charge. Don’t worry, you’ll receive some delicious beer samples during the tour. It’s well worth the $3.

While we waited for our tour to begin, we hung out in the tasting room. The brewery tasting room is located in the Visitor’s Center. Open daily at 10AM, the tasting room offers tasters of several Firestone Walker beers, including many hard to find barrel aged beers and a sour or two. Tasters range from $1.50 to $3.25 each depending on beer style.

Beer-1

I enjoyed samples of Double Jack, the dangerously drinkable Imperial IPA; Stickee Monkee, the barrel aged Belgian Quad; Parabola, the aggressive Russian Imperial Stout; and Velvet Merkin, the Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout.

While every one of those beers was spectacular, it was the sample of Agrestic that was most memorable. Batch #2 of this American Wild Ale began as DBA, then transformed into Agrestic by a “chrysalis” process involving 85% French and 15% American oak barrels and the proprietary collection of microflora. Aromas include toasted oak, lemon pith, and rosewood with flavors of vanilla, coconut, Earl Grey tea, dark cherries and spice.

The tour began with a walk upstairs past the offices of the brewers including Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. During the tour we learned a brief history of the company, including an interesting story about how Matt Brynildson joined the Firestone Walker team.

Equip

Matt had brewed for the SLO Brewing Company where he revitalized the company’s brewing program and earned broad industry acclaim. After Adam Firestone and David Walker purchased the former SLO Brewing facility in Paso Robles in 2001, they discovered Matt’s passion for brewing when they learned he was breaking into the facility to check on the SLO Brewing beers left behind.

Matt joined the Firestone Walker team and is the brain behind such award-winning beers as DBA or Double Barrel Ale, Union Jack, and Pale 31. We enjoyed samples of Pale 31 on the tour. The California Pale Ale is a tribute to California, the 31st state added to the Union.

Matt graduated from Kalamazoo College with a degree in chemistry, worked as a hop chemist for KALSEC Inc., attended the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology, and worked for Goose Island Brewing Company where he became head brewer.

The tour continued into the brewhouse where we discussed the brewing process. We peaked through the glass on the doors of the brewing vessels to see the mashing and boiling processes.

Next we headed to the cellar where we learned about fermentation and the magic of Firestone Walker barrels.

Barrels

Something very unique about the brewing process at Firestone Walker is the inspiration from the old Burton Union system of British beer making in the 1800s. This process produces bright, clear beers with a firm, satisfying bite. Firestone Walker is the only brewery in the United States using this union brewing method.

Firestone Walker’s union of barrels incorporates 60-gallon heavy or medium toast American oak barrels into a brewing process that creates complex beers with improved fullness of the palate, enhanced hop maturity, and a clean finish. The toasted oak also imparts hints of smokiness, vanilla, and a subtle fruitiness to the flavor profile.

The barrels are used for about 20 weeks then are retired into the barrel aging program. After 6 days in the barrel, the wort is racked into stainless steel for a week of secondary fermentation. Visitors can enjoy a 100% oak barrel fermented and unfiltered version of the DBA at the taproom.

Beer-2

After the tour we enjoyed lunch at the Taproom Restaurant. The Taproom specializes in brewhouse bistro cooking with an emphasis on local flavor. The Taproom is open daily from 11AM to 9PM.

The Taproom features 16 beers on draft as well as a collection of library beers from past vintage releases. Be sure to try the 100% oak barrel fermented DBA. This was the first beer brewed by Firestone Walker back in 1996 in a small facility rented from the FIrestone Vineyard estate in Santa Barbara County.

In addition to the 100% oak barrel fermented DBA, I enjoyed samples of Pivo Pils, the delicious hoppy pilsner; Taproom Brown; Hammersmith IPA; and Bretta Weisse.

The food menu offers appetizers like Taproom Skillet Mac & Cheese, Pale 31 Prawns, and Spicy Chicken Drumettes. There’s sandwiches like the DBA Bratwurst and BBQ Smoked Brisket or pizzas including Merlin’s Margherita and Rustica Carne Pizza.

Entrees include Sirloin Coulotte Steak, Herb Crusted Pork Chop, Double Jack Fish & Chips, and Mesquite Pork Ribs. The dessert menu includes a High Gravity Sticky Chocolate Walnut Pie and 805 Beer Float.

Clock

Before heading out, we walked on the campus past the Beer Traffic Control tower to the Brewery Store. Open daily from 10AM to 6PM, the Brewery Story is located on the northeast side of the Paso Robles campus. You can purchase homebrew set-ups, education materials, apparel, and of course, beer.

The walk-in cooler at the Brewery Store is stocked with a selection of Firestone Walker beers in bottles and kegs to go. I picked up a few bottles from the Barrelworks collection. Check out the webpage for the Brewery Store to see what beers are currently available.

Just a few days after our visit, Firestone Walker announced the the full-scale, long-term collaboration with Duvel Moortgat by combining, but not integrating their organizations.

Firestone Walker will continue to make their own beers and operate independently. The merge with Duvel Moortgat will allow Firestone Walker to broaden their capacity and scope as brewers.

Duvel Moortgat acquired Boulevard Brewing Company from Kansas City, MO in 2013 and Brewery Ommegang from Cooperstown, NY in 2003.

Exterior

Firestone Walker continues to grow as a new establishment is expected to open on Washington Boulevard in Venice in late 2015. The taproom restaurant, pilot brewhouse and craft beer hub will act as a satellite brewery outpost where the focus will be on R&D beers and one-off brews.

There will also be a discovery center at the Venice location offering a retail space and training room for education opportunities like hop seminars and blending sessions.

Firestone Walker also has the Barrelworks location in Buellton, CA where the focus is their wild beer program. The taproom at the location is open Monday to Thursday 2 to 7PM and Friday to Sunday 11AM to 8PM.

The Buellton Taproom restaurant and bar are open daily Monday to Thursday from 11:30AM to 8:30PM and Friday to Sunday from 11AM to 9PM. Click here to learn more about the Buellton location.

Regardless of which location you choose to visit (though I highly recommend the Paso Robles campus), don’t miss out on experiencing Firestone Walker first hand next time you find yourself in California.

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