What can I say..California is beautiful. The sun, the ocean, the landscape and of course, the beer. I was given the chance to attend the first annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest earlier this month in Paso Robles, CA as a guest of Southern Tier Brewing Company, one of only two east coast breweries at the festival. Southern Tier brought a couple heavy hitters with their excellent new unfiltered APA called “LIVE” and an Oak-Aged version of their Backburner Barleywine. Yum!! Here goes the rest.
The Lineup – Full Lineup Here To say the least, very impressive with 40 breweries bringing a minimum of two beers each. Each brewery was asked to bring a sessionable beer and something special. It would take me days to review all the beer I had throughout the festival so I’ll share just a few. The Bruery – Hottenroth Berlinner Weisse – a perfect style for the day having been 90+ degrees and bright sun. It was tart but not overbearing, soft underlying malt base, lacto and brett in perfect balance, uber refreshing. Boulevard – Tank 7 – I’ve had it several times before but couldn’t resist the goodness. When it comes to Saisons / Farmhouse Ales, Boulevard has it down. A wonderful grapefuit-like nose wandering into and spicy and sweet malt body, finishing crackly and dry. Just the way I like it. To finish the brief reviews I’ll take it to Bell’s – The Wild One Ale – apparently a combination of various beers all fermented in oak, each pitched with a different yeast, then blended to taste. A slightly acidic nose sits atop the amber shoulders of this native Michigander. He (or she) is wearing an oaken t-shirt thats was at a camp fire the night before..funky, sweet fruit notes abound and in a second, you ask yourself…where did he (or she) go? Be abstract on an abstract beer.
The Setup – Room!!! Situated on what seems to be a multi-use fairgrounds, the Paso Robles Event Center held more than enough room for all event goers. In typical fashion – the geek lines (Three Floyds, Russian River, Bell’s, Mikkeller) we’re packed all day, for good reason. I chose to stay away and instead hit the tables with less people in line and then made (what seemed like) the wise choice of going back to the more populated lines later in the day. For a New Yorker (Buffalo proud!), being in the middle of California at a beer festival consisting of some of the highest rated breweries in the country, I was extremely pleased. Adjacent to every brewery was also a local food vendor..a very nice addition with some outstanding food. There were plenty of water dispensers, dump buckets, shady spots and great music by The Mother Hips to make this all around a great first time festival. I plan on going back next year, after all, its only ~2,200 miles from my house.
The Exit – Our hotel was roughly 2 miles from the festival grounds…not a fun walk after you’ve been drinking beer all day. To ensure that everyone who had come in to town got to and from the festival safely, Firestone hired a couple shuttle busses (the big ones!) to make the rounds and get us home. By 7PM, I was sound asleep, most likely snoring with horrendous beer breath. For anyone considering going to next years fest, June 1 BTW, do it. It’s a model festival that will only get better year after year. Cheers to Matt Brynildson and crew at Firestone Walker for having the vision and know how to throw a kick-butt party for the love and craft of beer.