Firestone Walker 1st Invitational Beer Fest

Posted by Darryl | Breweries & Alehouses, Craft Beer, Festivals, News, Tastings | Posted on June 16th, 2012

The beginning of June 2012 gave me the hope that it was going to be a great month, and didn’t disappoint! My Los Angeles Kings were in the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils (that turned out to be pretty fantastic!), and another beautiful Southern California summer was around the corner. But more significantly, Firestone Walker’s 1st Invitational Beer Fest was held June 9th, and turned out to be the best festival I’ve yet attended.

Most festivals will bring together those that enjoy drinking beer along with those that enjoying pouring and telling you about the brews. The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest was created to not just bring imbibers together with some craft beer, but to bring craft beer lovers and some the best craft brewers in the world themselves together for what turned out to be a truly exceptional event.

With beautiful wine country as the backdrop, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest was a benefit for the Pioneer Day committee, which is dedicated to the preservation of the unique history and culture of Paso Robles. With 100% of the net proceeds going to Pioneer Day (Oct. 6, 2012), the festival was held in Frontier Town at the Midstate Fairgrounds in Paso Robles, CA; just a few miles from Firestone’s brewery and Taproom restaurant. On hand at the event were craft beer breweries from around the world, each following the event’s simple ground rules: bring a session beer and a special/rare beer along with the brewer that created it. The event also featured music throughout the day with The Mother Hips headlining the music portion of the event.

For the experienced beer lover, this was an excellent opportunity to sample beers not normally available in California along with rare brews from local, favorite breweries, including some created specially for this event. For me, well… it reminded me of being a six-year-old and going to Disneyland for the first time; so many experiences that I’d never had before and as soon as I was done with one I wanted it again before heading to the next. Two big differences from Disneyland though: 1) MUCH less crowded, and 2) much better tasting beverages.

Great weather, wide open space, great people and attendees, tents of food vendors mixed in with the beer tents, and of course great beers and food, made this a great event!Frontier Town at the California Midstate Fairgrounds was the perfect size for the event. Everything was well spread out allowing people to move around easily. There was plenty of sunshine, along with plenty of shaded areas if you needed relief from the UV rays. Long lines — the longest that I experienced was for Three Floyds — were able to meander around other tents so that lines didn’t intersect and cause congestion. And the restaurants on-hand had their tents interspersed with the beer tents, so you didn’t have to go far to get something tasty to nosh on.

I’ve included the full list of breweries below, as well as the list of restaurants. Both lists were taken from the pocket festival guide that was handed out to all attendees, which also included a handy map to find your favorites quickly. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit each and every brewery, but I certainly had the chance to taste some damn good beer.

I decided to avoid the long lines to start with — everyone in the queue that I heard was talking about heading to Three Floyds — so we headed to the left instead. My first stop was Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse. The oldest operating brewpub in the United States, Triple Rock brought “She-Meridian” — An American Pale Ale. Single Hop Experience (SHE) is just American 2-row and one hop; Meridian. — and their Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout “BA Keyser Soze”. Both tasty examples for my first taste from this brewery, and my first beers of the day.

Jon Carpenter (brewmaster) and Meg Gill (co-founder) of Golden Road Brewing.Next, I visited the wonderful people at Golden Road Brewing. Jon Carpenter, Golden Road’s Brewmaster, had their Berliner Weisse (2.7% ABV) and Hudson Imperial Rye Porter (7.0% ABV) on tap, along with a cask of their Get Up Offa That Brown (5.5%). Being a fan of many of their brews I had to try them all. During my first visit to their tent the cask was my favorite, but later in the day I came round again and found the Berliner Weisse to be a delicious end to the day. (My apologizes to those working the tent for my manhandling of your taps after the pouring for the day stopped. It was wrong of me to do so, yet I regret nothing… the beer was good!)

The folks working the Dogfish Head tent were busy pouring samples of their session beer: Festina Peche — a “neo-Berliner” Weisse fermented with peaches. The rare beer they brought was specially made for this event: Two Blind Myces. A saison brewed with orange, cardamom, and calypso hops fermented in red wine barrels, then aged in oak with two brettanomyces strains. I was happy to be able to buy a four-pack of the Festina Peche when I got home, but I also hope that they make the Two Blind Myces available in some form again soon.

When we finally made it back over toward the Three Floyds booth the line was still long. Rather than wait longer and risk them running out of something that would be difficult to get ahold of we opted to wait. The line moved surprising fast; people received their pours and quickly and politely moved out of the way for the next person to step up. I opted for a glass of their “Zombie Dust” as my partner Joan (not a fan of the IPAs) got a pour of their “Dark Lord with Vanilla Bean”. Every once in awhile I get to taste a beer that is jaw-dropping fantastic, and the Dark Lord was exactly that. Joan tasted it and from the look on her face I knew I had to get back in line to get my own glass. The Zombie Dust is good, don’t get me wrong, but there was so much depth and expanse of richness of flavors in the Dark Lord it was hard to believe that it was a 15% ABV beer. (If you are near Munster, IN, get ahold of me… lets talk bottle exchange.)

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, co-founder and brewer at Mikkeller, pouring me a glass of the Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine.Also among the “OMG” beers we tried was Mikkeller. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, co-founder and brewer, was on hand to pour tasters of his “Zummer Zitra Top” (4.8% ABV) and “Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine (Red Wine Barrel Edition)” (12% ABV). The Big Worse is another big flavor beer, who’s flavorful taste hides its high alcohol content. Definitely another beverage that I wish I could see more of!

There were many, many breweries and their brewers that we had the chance to taste, along with the excellent restaurants. All-in-all, too many for me to fully cover here. You can check out my photo album for the event which includes a look at the event and more information about the breweries and restaurants that were on hand.

2012 was the 1st iteration of this event, and the second is planned for June 1, 2013. If next year is even 1/2 as good as this year’s, you’ll be sure to make your way to Paso Robles in 2013! Hats off to David Walker, Matthew Brynildson, and all the people at Firestone and the other breweries that put this together! See you in 2013!

BREWERIES (and their brewers) on-hand were:

  • Anderson Valley Brewing Co. — Boonville, CA
  • Ballast Point — San Diego, CA
  • Beachwood BBQ & Brewing — Long Beach, CA
  • Bear Republic Brewery — Healdsburg, CA
  • Bell’s Brewery — Kalamazoo, MI
  • Boneyard Brewing — Bend, OR
  • Boulevard Brewing Co. — Kansas City, MO
  • The Bruery — Placentia, CA
  • Dogfish Head — Milton, DE
  • FiftyFifty Brewing Co. — Truckee, CA
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Co. — Paso Robles, CA
  • Founders — Grand Rapids, MI
  • Full Sail Brewing Co. — Hood River, OR
  • Golden Road Brewing — Los Angeles, CA
  • Green Flash Brewing Co. — San Diego, CA
  • Hollister Brewing Co. — Goleta, CA
  • Kern River Brewing Co. — Kernville, CA
  • Lagunitas — Petaluma, CA
  • The Lost Abbey — San Marcos, CA
  • Mikkeller Brewing — Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Moonlight Brewing Co. — San Francisco, CA
  • Moylan’s Brewing Co. — Novato, CA
  • Nebraska Brewing Co. — Omaha, NE
  • New Belgium Brewing Co. — Fort Collins, CO
  • Odell Brewing Co. — Fort Collins, CO
  • Pizza Port — Solana Beach, CA
  • Revolution — Chicago, IL
  • Russian River — Santa Rosa, CA
  • Sierra Nevada — Chico, CA
  • Southern Tier — Lakewood, NY
  • Stone Brewing Co. — Escondido, CA
  • Sun King — Indianapolis, IN
  • TAPS Fish House & Brewery — Brea, CA
  • Three Floyds Brewing Co. — Munstrer, IN
  • Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse — Berkeley, CA
  • Trumer — Berkley, CA
  • Way Beer — Brazil
  • Yo-Ho Brewing — Karuizawa, Japan


  • 15 Degrees C
  • Berry Hill Bistro
  • Buona Tavola
  • Central City Market
  • Central Coast Cheese Lady
  • Chico’s Cafe
  • Crush Catering
  • Firestone Tap Room Restaurant
  • 10th Street Basque Cafe
  • Granada Bistro & Lounge
  • F. McLintock’s Saloon
  • McPhee’s Grill
  • RB’s Smokin’ BBQ
  • Chinos Rock & Tacos
  • Robin’s Restaurant
  • Rooney’s Irish Pub
  • Evo Revitalizing Waters
  • Thomas Hill Organics
  • Full of Life Flatbread
  • Robert’s Restaurant
  • Estrella Restaurant
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2 Responses to “Firestone Walker 1st Invitational Beer Fest”

  1. Samba says:

    I found it very odd that you would compare Zombie Dust, an APA (American Pale Ale), to a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. Of course the imperial stout is going to be more complex. I don’t know of a single person I’ve ever met who goes into drinking a pale ale expecting it to blow them out of the water with complexity. Zombie Dust is the best pale ale made in the US, bar none, but your comparison is apples to racecars – makes no sense and should never be compared to each other.

    • Darryl says:

      Thanks for the feedback!

      I didn’t intend to imply that I was comparing the two. Those just happened to be the two that Three Floyds were pouring. They were both excellent beers within their style, and the Dark Lord was my favorite between the two.

      With that said, I think it is completely reasonable to expect a pale ale to have a certain level of complexity. Not so much that it might blow a person out of the water, nor have I ever tasted a pale ale that comes close to the complexity of a stout. But there are certainly Pale Ales out there that my palate has found to be complex and flavorful, be they India (Double Jack), American (Pissy Pelican), Belgian (Pangaea), or other.

      If a beer can’t be brewed to have some flavor complexity and variety, then all you’re trying to do by brewing it is to get it right and make it like the others.

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