The weather gods really do not like the Firestone Walker Invitational. The forecast for the Thursday before was 77, Friday, in the mid-80’s and then for Fest Day? 98! WTF?!
That did not spoil the fun for beer lovers who descended on Paso Robles to drink in the sun and a bounty of tremendous beers. It seems redundant to say that this is the premier West Coast festival. It sells out in minutes, attendees chomp at the bit for the 12pm entry time, and favored breweries have lines where people happily wait.
This year, I will instead talk about the two California breweries that really are going gangbusters and should be on your travel radar next time you venture north. Then I will go on to unveil my Best of Show and Worst of Show and the weirdest beer.
First is The Rare Barrel. I had two of their beers at the fest. One of the few that I returned to multiple times. Raging Waters was a golden sour with watermelon and it was amazing and not just for a hot day or first beer of the fest. The watermelon was sweet and watery and balanced out the sour. I thought that it was a cocktail at first. The other winner goes by the name of Alchemy and Magic. It is that same golden sour, but given the full gin treatment with juniper berries and cucumber and spiced to the perfect degree.
Second is Alvarado Street Brewery, who poured beers from a jet ski. Literally, there were taps on the side of an actual jet ski! Numerous beer aficionados raved about their German pilsner, Peninsula. I zigged over to their hazy IPA, Vengeful Barbarian, that was also excellent. Soft without the cloying fruit notes that some beers of this style exhibit.
The weirdest beer goes to Space Cookie from our own Monkish Brewing. This beer is a slightly hazed golden color, but smells like someone opened a bottle of vanilla extract. You take a sip and then you get a restrained touch of bitterness and a mini burst of citrus. One sip I was confused, another was Wow, and then I had to ask other people what they thought.
My least favorite beer came from the much lauded Trillium Brewing. They had a sour peach beer that sounded delightful when the server poured it, but it was neither sour nor peachy. It was just slightly funky and farmhouse-y. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it was not to my liking.
My absolute favorite was a 10+% beer from North Carolina. Fonta Flora brought five beers to the festival from lager to wit to saisons to this stout. Urban Monk – Carrot Cake tasted like a bite of spice cake. I almost expected raisins and carrots to be floating in the beer. It was decadent and rich and just alive with so many different flavor components. FF was my favorite brewery in 2017’s festival and I think I should just bring a chair and sit in the sun drinking their beers.
This festival must be on your beer bucket list. The cost is well worth it and even with some long lines you will find special breweries and rare beers that you can walk up and try. Add in the food that is available and the educational sessions and the location and you will be satisfied at the end of the day. Now if the sun would just cooperate.
This week let’s Compare and Contrast Paso Robles to Buellton and the special Fest beer, Mother’s Milk, to Pixie Dusted from Barrelworks division of FW.
Mother’s Milk was made in collaboration with Creature Comforts Brewing from Georgia. The beer was aged for close to a year in rye whiskey barrels and includes oats, lactose, and a dash of sea salt. This is one heck of smooth and balanced beer. Take the 12-ounce bottle and share amongst friends at the end of a long day or with the most chocolate dessert that you can find.
Pixie Dusted at first doesn’t seem like it is going to be the tangerine dream that the name suggests. But after a couple of sips this beautiful sour becomes super citrus. Tangerine juice starts to coat the tongue and the beer becomes more spirited. The sour and the acidity are both dialed in to levels that won’t have you puckering, but give you a touch of bite.
You had better already put this next event on your beer-ified calendar. It is THE L.A. beer event and the only place to see and taste all Los Angeles beers in one place without racking up some serious Lyft charges. The 10th Annual L.A. Beer Week lights up with the Kickoff Festival on Saturday, June 16, at Los Angeles Center Studios. Not only can you catch your favorite local brewery, but 19 “friends of the family” breweries guest star as well. Lest I forget, this is a great time to try the official Unity beer(s)* that the group collaborated on at Hawthorne’s Los Angeles Ale Works.
Tickets are $50 for General Admission and $75 for VIP entrance. Not bad for over 200 beers.
*There is a Unity West Coast IPA and a Unity NE Hazy IPA.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.