Paso Robles and the surrounding area is best known for wine, but maybe not for long. The brewery, which dates to 1996, is increasing production and points of excitement at a rapid clip, and on June 9, co-founders David Walker and Adam Firestone joined forces with brewmaster Matt Brynildson to host the brewery’s inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. Brynildson personally invited all 40 breweries, primarily from around the U.S. When the clock struck 1 p.m., more than 3000 people poured into Paso’s Pioneer Park to enjoy their products, along with local food and crafty camaraderie.
For the festival, bands played behind “fort” walls while brewers and brewery reps set up jockey boxes, bottles and cans under tents. They also had a stage, surrounded by picnic tables, where Taphunter and The Brewing Network staffers interviewed brewers, going “Behind the Beer.” I caught parts of interviews with Golden Road Brewing co-founder Meg Gill and Beachwood BBQ and Brewing brewmaster Julian Shrago.
Each brewery brought a sessionable beer and a rare beer, and some, more than that.
It was hot, so I primarily stuck with Pilsners, Pale Ales and IPAs, but some big beers proved impossible to resist. For instance: Bear Republic Altered Beast, an oak aged Imperial IPA. My wanderings also led to Hollister Hippie Kicker IPA and Trumer Pils.
Fifty-Fifty brought a few bottles of BART, a barrel aged version of their Totality imperial stout. Pizza Port brought Middle Man IPA from San Diego County.
Food options included Robert’s Restaurant, who made sausage sandwiches with roasted peppers and onions, McPhee’s Grill, who marinated ribs with Bohemia beer and honey, and F. McLintock’s Saloon, who treated pulled pork sandwiches to pepper sauce and cole slaw.
I went the distance at the Beer Fest, and drank Southern Tier Live, a pale ale brewed with four kinds of malts and an equal number of hops. TAPS brewmaster Victor Novak contributed Imperial Balinese Stout, an Imperial Russian Stout blended with Portola Coffee Lab‘s single origin Bali Kintamani coffee. I still had to drive back to L.A. after the fest, but since I just interviewed Boulevard brewmaster Steven Pauwels, I couldn’t resist one last taster. Two Jokers, a double wit with lavender, grains of paradise, coriander and clover, was well worth the sips.
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest didn’t feel like a first-time event, since crowds were under control, even with unlimited tasters, and lines rarely got very long, with a few barrel aged exceptions. Firestone Walker already set a date for 2013 – June 1 – and we’d recommend that people buy tickets now, if only they were available. The Invitational Beer Fest sold out two months in advance even though nobody had ever attended the event, and now that they have a proven track record, there should deservedly be even greater demand.
Note: Firestone Walker Brewing Co. hosted me at the Invitational Beer Fest.