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Paso Robles

The Road Back From the 5th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational

When we left Paso Robles on Sunday morning I was not really sure where we would stop throughout the day; I had planned on visiting a brewery that shall remain nameless, but due to their only having two brews available it was decided to skip them. Two beers after three years just did not do it for me. The backup destination was an easy choice since I had been thinking it since I got my tickets on Wednesday, BarrelHouse Brewing Company.

Tanya and I first visited BarrelHouse Brewing in February 2014 when they were just announcing their first anniversary was coming up. We were both impressed with what we tried; so much so that our beer stash from that trip consisted of several bottles from BarrelHouse.

A couple weeks ago I was covering the South Bay Beer & Wine Festival and ran into Mathew Jacobs, lead brewer for BarrelHouse, and Billy Thompson, their sales manager. I told them how much I enjoyed everything about our experience two plus years ago when Jacobs expressed that I really should return to see how much they have progressed. Judging by the Curly Wolf they were pouring at the event, I totally agreed. Continue reading

5th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Photos: FWIBF16

These photos are from the 5th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival (FWIBF16) which was held this past Saturday afternoon at the Paso Robles Event Center and featured about 50 breweries and 200 craft beers from around the world as well as foods from 33 local area restaurants.

The Firestone Invitational is one of, if not the best run craft beer events I have ever attended. I remember attending last year’s Invitational and being quite surprised to learn that it was only the fourth one as it was run so smoothly; from ensuring ticketed attendees were in the gates and ready to go by the time the event officially started, to making sure water was readily available no matter where you happened to be in the venue. If I did not know better, I would have guessed that they had to be doing it for 10 years instead of four.

Since this was my second opportunity to attend the Firestone Walker Invitational, I used my experience from last year to make this year’s event even more fun. Continue reading

Photos from the 4th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

These photos are from Saturday at the 4th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival (FWIBF15) which was held at the Paso Robles Event Center. The festival included craft beer of 53 breweries from all over the United States, Europe and beyond. This was my first opportunity to attend and I did not attend as any type of “official media” so my experience was probably similar to that of any other first time attendee; except I probably waited in line longer to get in. On Friday night I had heard stories of lines just to get in reaching down the street and around the block, so I walked over to the event center and was there before 9:00 AM. If you are taking notes, the event did not start until noon and there was nothing to be gained by being among the first 20 to be there. If you get there at noon you will be fine.

To be honest, I was not aware that this was only the fourth Invitational and it is definitely run like they have been doing it a lot longer. I had the opportunity to speak with individuals that had attended multiple times before and the one thing that became obvious is that Firestone Walker listened to the feedback they received after each event. For example, in the beginning, attendees had to buy food and water. As the event evolved it now has free food from 26 restaurants and multiple free water stations with enough filtered water to hydrate the 3,000 plus attendees. Now, I have to say, I am not really sure how many tickets were sold but between comments I heard, articles I read and a personal guess, I would guess between 3,000 and 4,000. The thing is, the location can hold a lot more than that and when you divide them between 80 booths there was not much in the way of lines. Naturally, there were some breweries like Three Floyds and Alchemist that had long lines all day; and when breweries like Beachwood or The Bruery had their special pours people started waiting; but most of the lines that I experienced moved rather quickly. Continue reading

Road to the Firestone Walker Invitational

This past Friday morning I decided to start working my way north for the 4th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival in Paso Robles. I left a little early as I was going to take the 101 and try to find a brewery that I had yet to visit. I had posted on the Craft Beer Guy Facebook page asking for suggestions and one of my followers and personal acquaintances, Charles Mumford, recommended a few, but the one that I knew would be open at the same time I was in the area was Rincon Brewery, a brewpub located in Carpinteria.

I arrived just before noon and their outside patio seemed packed with customers enjoying the warm sunshine. As I entered I noticed that they had about 10 of their own brews and several guest taps. It was a nice looking room with a surfer vibe, which should probably be expected considering the name Rincon and its proximity to the beach. To the left I noticed a large window that displayed the brewery on the other side. Since I was traveling solo this trip, I decided I would just get one flight and ordered their Bates Blond Belgian Style Blond, Indicator IPA, 17 @17 IPA and Rivermouth Stout. All four were solid beers and made me think they must have been open for years because things seem pretty dialed in, especially considering they were offering 10 varieties.

The beertender, who happened to be co-owner Alma Billgren, noticed I was taking photos and asked who I was shooting for. When I told her she suggested I meet their brewer, another co-owner, Shaun Crowley. He invited me back to the brewhouse and told me a little of their history and his own. Apparently they have only been open a little more than six months, which really surprised me. Crowley later informed me that he and Billgren had met while working at Island Brewing Company where he was the head brewer. While there, he took home medals at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival and got the desire to open his own place. Continue reading

Craft breweries along the 101: From Paso Robles to Agoura Hills

Day two of our craft beer tour started where we left off, Paso Robles. We knew that Firestone Walker would be a definite stop as the visitor’s center and brewery store would provide brews that we could not obtain at the taproom the previous night. Not wanting to appear too eager, we decided to see what else was available in Paso Robles that was open and new to us. We had places we wanted to revisit, like BarrelHouse Brewing, but no one seemed to open before 2:00 and I did not have that kind of time to spend in Paso that day. Tanya found the Downtown Brewing Company brewpub on her phone, so we headed over there only to discover that they were currently in a transition as far as brewing is concerned. Apparently they were brewing off-site but are preparing to begin brewing there; but that will not happen for another three months. They appeared to have a nice tap list but the same could be said for pretty much any bar I noticed in the area. We said farewell and headed back over to Firestone Walker’s visitor’s center.

While the Paso Taproom Restaurant offers many great options; we really wanted to pick up a few bottles that were not available at the taproom, such as XVII Anniversary, Parabola and Lil Opal. We were also able to sample a couple beers that we did not have time to try the night before. I do not think you can tell just how massive the Firestone Walker operation is after dark. The taproom/restaurant and the visitor’s center is maybe half of the operation. When walking around the facility we discovered several more large buildings including their Keg Shed, a shop for equipment repairs and hidden around the back, their brewery store. The store sells things like hats, shirts and home brewing equipment; it also houses a large cold box that is like the Holy Grail of Firestone Walker. Beers you cannot find elsewhere will be found back here; I highly recommend checking it out. We grabbed a couple bottles of Bretta Rose to bring home. Continue reading

Craft beer from Buellton to Paso Robles

Earlier this week my fiancee and I decided to take an overnight craft beer trip to visit some of the breweries and brewpubs that we missed when we did our tour back in February. The reason was two-fold; one was that I had some reward points from La Quinta Inns that were going to expire and my fiancee has developed an affinity for barrel-aged beers and there were a lot at Firestone Walker that she wanted to sample and purchase. Who am I to deprive her of such deliciousness; after all, happy wife, happy life.

We started off by heading to Solvang Brewing Company, a brewpub located in downtown Solvang. It has been a couple years since I went there but at the time they were just opening and were not yet brewing their own beer. I figured it would be a good stop because we could try some new brews while getting some food at the same time. When we do these craft beer tours we rely a lot on the Internet and there is nothing that irritates me more than to discover that a brewery has ignored the importance of the Internet. Especially since California is a craft beer destination; simple matters like ensuring the correct information is listed on Google Places as well as correct information on their websites. The reason I mention this with Solvang Brewing is that Google Places said they did not open until 5:00 PM whereas the Solvang Brewing website clearly stated that they are open seven days a week from 11:00 AM until 2:00 AM. I was more than a little irritated when we arrived around 1:00 PM to discover that on Wednesdays they do not open until 4:00 PM! It will probably be a while before I give them another chance. Continue reading

Breweries of California’s Central Coast

Sunday we arose to another drizzly morning and a desire to get home by day’s end. Since it was a Sunday the availability of brewpubs in the immediate area was limited and we did not feel like waiting around for them to open so we headed south. There were a lot of breweries to choose from in the area and we decided to check out BarrelHouse Brewing Company, a microbrewery in Paso Robles. I have to say, of the 19 breweries and brewpubs we visited over the course of five days, BarrelHouse was the nicest aesthetically; and they had some wonderful brews.

BarrelHouse Brewing is getting ready to celebrate their first year of business, but the quality of their brews certainly seems to indicate that they have had lots of practice. We ordered a flight of all eight beers, ranging from their BarrelHouse Templeton Session Style Ale Kölsch to their BarrelHouse Harvest Ale Spiced Brown Porter. I have to say, all of their beers were well done with their unfiltered IPA being my personal favorite. Tanya liked them all so much that she purchased bottles of everything they had available. When I looked at the information about their upcoming one year celebration I am tempted to head back up there. We had a very nice time there.

After loading the beers in the trunk and the dogs in the car we headed off to Dunbar Brewing, a microbrewery in Santa Margarita. One of my cousins has a nephew that works there and I was looking forward to trying out their brews. As it turns out, Dunbar Brewing recently went through some renovation and they had none of their brews available. Luckily, they had a pretty nice guest tap list in the interim so I got a Matt’s Burning Rosids, an Imperial Saison created by Stone Brewing Company in honor of Matt Courtright, an employee that recently died due to an accident at the brewery. It was quite tasty, I am sure Matt would have enjoyed it. Everyone at Dunbar seemed quite friendly, but this trip was about sampling beers brewed at the brewery itself, so we will have to return later. Continue reading

Two Mid-Size Champions Party at Beachwood BBQ & Brewing

As you undoubtedly know, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) was held again last October and California craft breweries pulled in close to 50 medals. More locally, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing out of Long Beach won five medals which made it Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year. A couple hundred miles north in Paso Robles, Firestone-Walker won four medals which made them Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. Last night they held a Colossal Party for Two Mid-Size Champions at Beachwood BBQ & Brewing featuring 10 Firestone-Walker taps, including three of the four medal winners; Wookey Jack, Union Jack and Pivo. Of course, Beachwood had their standard multitude of house brews available, including three of their five medal winners; Foam Top, Kilgore Stout and Udder Love.

In addition to the great beer, Beachwood smoked up some of their delicious barbecue on wood from retired Firestone-Walker barrels. It was a great way to spend an evening and their fans were not going to let a little rain get in the way of the fun. Congratulations to Beachwood BBQ & Brewing and Firestone-Walker Brewing; we look forward to next year’s party. Cheers! Continue reading

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