last weekend I accompanied my fellow LA beer bloggers up to los olivos, buellton, and paso robles for another unforgettable blogger’s weekend held by firestone walker.
- the event was a follow up to last year’s journey to the center of the barrel, a whirlwind of barrel-aging, winemaking, beer blending, and local-focused fine dining that left me humble and grateful for the opportunity to participate. honestly, I felt that last year’s experience was too over-the-top to be matched, much less bested, by any subsequent event.
- I couldn’t have been more wrong – FW doubled down and pulled out all the stops to create an experience unlike any other. upon our arrival david walker ushered us to FW’s original grassroots brewing facility, which is now the home of andrew murray vineyards. andrew himself poured us a glass of his recent harvest and ran through some winemaking 101 before we all headed back to a luxe campsite for some amazing santa maria-style barbeque and some breaking news.
- the news had to do with my favorite topic – wild beer. DW and AM were joined by jeffers richardson and “sour jim” crooks from their barrelworks program, who poured samples of their upcoming (and very impressive) bretta rose and let it slip that many future wild projects were in the works. I was stoked to hear that these projects involved collaborating with andrew murray and aging on both grape juice and pomace – we tried samples of both techniques and I was excited to see the potential for pomace aging (it imparted a vivid strawberry character that was very unique). later that night I was able to share some bottles of cabrillo, vizcaino, and my kriek while talking shop with the whole crew.
- the next morning we cruised up to the paso robles facility where head brewer dustin kral gave us a comprehensive tour of FW’s latest developments, including massive fermentation space increases as well as intricate kegging and canning(!) lines, which should help streamline production and make it even easier to get fresh beer in your hands (I’m pumped for the possibility of some canned pivo pils in the future)! speaking of fresh beer, we also participated in a quality control tasting session, where we saw firsthand how age and warm temps warp fresh, hoppy beer into something less than desirable. I’ll have to bring the whole QC thing up the next time AP questions the three beer fridges humming along in the basement.
- the trip ended with a bang over at villicana winery, home to RE:FIND distillery. alex and monica villicana treated us like family, walking us through their four-run distillation process on their alembic still and talking us through a gin blending session that resulted in one-off custom gin and tonics. we finished the night with an amazing outdoor dinner provided by FW’s chef that was accompanied by outstanding custom cocktails and FW beers. before leaving, alex and monica presented us with bottles of writer’s blanc, a white whiskey commemorating the LABB weekend that was made by distilling a massive quantity of FW’s 805 blonde ale. I was humbled not only by the thoughtfulness and generosity of FW and RE:FIND, but also by the spirit itself – like their brandy, the whisky has wonderful character and body, especially when compared to many white/neutral spirits. the fact that they re-purpose an otherwise disposable juice cut to make their brandy is icing on the cake. I cannot overstate how cool this place was to visit.
- on the ride back to LA my head was spinning (and not because of the parabola JV cracked open to share on the blogger bus). collaboration, innovation, community pride/support, and local sourcing of high-quality ingredients to create a great product with a local identity are all ideas that FW champions, and those ideas make it easy to stand behind a brewery, regardless of whether they make a world-class product (which FW undoubtedly does). the weekend left me inspired and motivated to not only continuously strive to improve my own brewing/business processes, but to also appreciate and support an area for what makes it unique. thanks again for a great weekend!