Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival.
Just read that again and ponder it for a moment.
Now that I’ve attended FWIBF, that’s how much reverence I’ve attached to FWIBF. The name of FWIBF can only be spoken or read with a brief pause in order to reflect on the fact that it’s The Single Greatest Goddamn Beer Event In The Western Hemisphere.
I’ve never attended this gathering, and I didn’t do much research on it. I briefly scanned the list of brewers, knew it would be awesome, and put it out of my mind. What didn’t occur to me until I got there was this cross-section of breweries represented The Best Of The Best. The recent LA area brewfests I’ve attended we’re most likely just free rein to whoever wanted to pay for a booth. And as unmatched as Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival is, and as competitive as it is for breweries to even get a table at GABF, there is still a lacking element of meticulous quality control. This is the upper hand of the FWIBF. It’s not just an open casting call. It’s like GABF, pared down to manageable size, with the riff raff weeded out. Participating breweries have been invited by Firestone Walker. They are the upper echelon of not only Domestic, but International brewers as well.
When geeks get extra geeky about their beer, who do they name drop? Fifty/Fifty? Three Floyds? Surly? Mikkeller? Cigar City? They’re all here! And not until I arrived did I get the full impact of what a treasure trove of geekdom this was.
|Sure, you guys are cute and all, but wine? WTF?|
At this tent was a plethora of beers I’ve never heard of, but each one was better than the previous. At that tent was a beer I had only heard about from friends or read about online, and here it was, freely flowing on tap for unlimited pours. I’m never going to make it to Tampa, FL for Cigar City’s annual release party for the highly sought after Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. But here it was in my home state. In arm's reach, to enjoy without restriction until the keg runs dry.
The wife & I ventured North through the featureless Central Valley of California, turning West on Hwy 46, past Brown Material Road, past the death site of James Dean, to the uppity booze mecca of Paso Robles. We convinced our wine-addicted friends The Beckers to trek to Paso the same weekend. The Mrs. would have enjoyed FWIBF for about two hours, then would have tugged at my shirt tails for the next four hours begging to leave. There was no way I was leaving this event until they kicked me out (which is what ultimately happened), so I pawned her off on The Beckers for a day of wine tasting adventures, while I indulged in my hobby/passion/obsession for the day.
My pal Barnaby Struve, VP of Three Floyds Brewing, was kind enough to comp my entry, so I was allowed to partake in the Brewer’s VIP early entrance privileges. This gathering was tightly organized, with every detail given attention. Not only was each beer geek issued a tasting glass, but also a small tray for food samples, as well as a booklet listing all breweries alphabetically and noting what they were pouring… even calling out specific kegs as “Rare Beer”. They even gave us miniature golf pencils to take notes. There was plenty of elbow room, plenty of free water for hydration, multiple vendors plating up free food samples. And center stage, a generous sampling of the finest beer on the planet, many of which are not otherwise available in Califonia.
|Sockeye fans are dumb.|
True to form, and determined not to conform, Barnaby from Three Floyds sported a Bastard Noise T-shirt while pouring at their booth. Since he got me in, I repayed him with a super shitty CDR copy the Sockeye “Barf On A Globe” collection of songs from compilations and split records. Nobody knows who Sockeye is (including you), and out of the few people who do know Sockeye, even fewer are actually fans of Sockeye. But Barnaby is that rare off-kilter type of gentleman who actually is a fan, and was genuinely happy to receive it. I got in early on 3F’s stellar Yum Yum Pale Ale (which they describe as “pale ale-ish”), their Barrel Aged Blot Out The Sun Imperial Stout which nearly made me weep at its perfection, and I was lucky enough to be present when they opened their only two available bottles of the Ol Leghorn Barleywine, a collaboration brew with Firestone Walker that I have yet to find on a shelf, even at Firestone.
|Rubbin elbows with this Surly couple|
I schmoozed by way across the event center to greet a few more old pals, most notably Todd & Linda Haug, the power couple in charge of the mighty Surly Brewing out of Minnesota. Thanks to US Air, the Haug’s luggage was lost, and therefore, they had to buy clean clothes for the day at a nearby Target. Also out there somewhere in their missing bags were the Surly banner, and accompanying Surly tchotchkes like stickers and beer can koozies. In spite of the setbacks and frustrations, they commandeered their tent with some of the finest brews known to mankind, and I happily sampled their legendary Darkness Stout and the long-awaited Pentagram dark sour.
I met up with Dustin Durrance, a friend of Dave Witte’s from Richmond, VA (then again, isn’t everyone a friend of Dave Witte’s?), and beer nerd who follows this stuff way more than I do. He’s a super cool dude and clued me in to some of the “must haves” I wasn’t even focused on, such as the Kern River Citra Double IPA. Then I ran into some old cohorts from the San Jose hardcore/grind/punk scene, the group of which are all mega beer nerds, and at several points throughout the day we connected and bonded over our mutual love of high quality brews and high speed bands.
|This is how they say "Cheers" in Richmond|
Bottom line, it was a mass of pleased humanity. We were all simultaneously tipsy, ecstatic, euphoric.
Unlike most other Fests I attend, on this day very few of my samples were poured out midway to make room for something different. The glass was small, and most pours were a third to half full, so I managed to make my way through an astounding 55 samples. A nice lead on trying this many beers was unexpectedly gaining access about 40 minutes before the main gates opened (Thank you again FFF!). Out of 55 total beers this day, maybe only 4-5 were “pretty good”, but even that description is likely reliant upon the fact that the bar had been raised to its highest point across the board. On a day when every brewer was exceptional, and bringing their A-Game, anything considered “decent” was still exceptionally better than any day-to-day brau out there. Within the confines of this compound, the extravagance of high quality sudsery felt debaucherous. With unlimited access to many of the greatest beers on the planet, I felt like Caligula, violating every keg within arm’s reach. Off the cuff I would have described each of these beers as “one of the best”, on a day when EVERYTHING was The Best.
|Exclusive Geek's-eye View!|
For now, I'm breathing deeply, relishing the memory, but keeping focused on my next conquest. Did someone say "quadruple digits"? Stay tuned!
The tally continues…
5/31 – The Single Greatest Goddamn Beer Event In The Western Hemisphere, plus a few nitecaps at the diviest bar in Morro Bay:
884 - THREE FLOYDS YUM YUM PALE ALE - Self-described "Pale Ale-ish", but “Yum Yum” describes it perfectly. Yum.
885 - FIRESTONE WALKER / THREE FLOYDS COLLABORATION OL LEGHORN BARLEY WINE - Hopped, barrel aged barley wine. As unreal as expected.
886 - THREE FLOYDS BLOT OUT THE SUN STOUT BARREL AGED - Holy. Eff. One of my favorites. Of all time. You're not allowed to try this. Don't even look at it. In fact, don't even read this.
887 - CIGAR CITY HUNAHPU'S IMPERIAL STOUT 2014 - Was beginning to think I'd never get to try this elusive behemoth. Massive, heavy cinnamon & cocoa, unique compared to other imperial stouts
888 – SURLY DARKNESS RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT - The legend continues.
889 – SURLY PENTAGRAM - Heavy cherry and "barnyard funk", dark, dank, tart, brilliant, and somewhat evil
890 – BOULEVARD GINGER LEMON RADLER - Melted frozen popsicle, lemon & ginger overload, I should be floating in an inner tube
891 - DOGFISH HEAD WINE BARREL AGED BLACK AND BLUE - A one-off? Damn, I got lucky. Major dark berry jammy powerhouse, mildly sour, mmhmmm
892 - MIKKELLER ORANGE YUZU GLAD I SAID PORTER GRAND MARNIER BARREL AGED - Aged in Grand Marnier barrels, subtle flavors, still can't rightfully say I know what yuzu tastes like
893 - MIKKELLER TENDERLOIN APA - Usually only available at their SF taproom, but sampled at FWIBF, love it, not overly hoppy, enough hop kick but still well balanced
894 - BRAUFACTUM ROOG RAUCHWEIZEN - Smoked beer that is thankfully mild on the smoke, fruity, floral, really unique, excellent
895 - BEAR REPUBLIC TARTARE ROUGE RED SOUR - Serious funk like a "corked" bottle of wine or a pungent bleu cheese, mildly & wonderfully moldy and weird sour. Great!
896 - BEACHWOOD DENVER JACKHAMMER – Creamy with a bite, listed at 100+ IBU. As Bon Scott would say, I’ve got The Jack.
897 - FIFTY FIFTY COFFEE-VANILLA ECLIPSE – Considering how crazy expensive all of their beers are, sampling their wares here was a golden opportunity. I avoided the mile long Russian River line and opted for the ¼ mile long Fifty Fifty line instead. This beer puts all other beer to shame. Aged in oak bourbon barrels, espresso, vanilla, coffee. Brought me to the verge of tears. Thank you Baby Jesus.
898 - PIZZA PORT SOUR BEER HUNTER 2013 – Heavy on the Rainier Cherries, not overly pucker, delicious, like a liquified Hostess Cherry Fruit Pie with a sh*t-ton of alcohol
899 - ODELL BREWING DR. ACULA BARREL AGED BLACK ALE – This makes me even more depressed that Odell isn’t distributed in California. This “coffin aged” ale is one of the finest on a day filled with exceptional beers.
900 - REVOLUTION BREWING STRAIGHT JACKET BOURBON BARREL AGED BARLEY WINE - Fruit, coconut, bourbon... in two words: Fucking insane!
901 - RAHR & SONS STORMCLOUD BRITISH STYLE IPA – Clearly not a West Coast style IPA, mild bitter bite almost like the world’s most mellow but still noticeable chile pepper, clean and tasty.
902 - RAHR & SONS BUCKING BOCK – They were supposed to be pouring a barrel aged version at the FWIBF, but received the wrong keg. No matter, this straight forward Helles Bock is still awesome. Solid. Floral without being flowery. You can still drink it like a man.
903 - ODELL BREWING 59ER OAK AGED GOLDEN ALE – One of my favorite sours to date. So drinkable I could go through a growler solo.
904 - KERN RIVER CITRA DIPA – Grapefruity, not too bitter but it has a ridiculous hop bite, in a good way. World class. Worth the wait in line.
905 - THE BRUERY HUMULUS LAGER WITH COCONUT – My favorite IPL from one of my favorite IPLs, given a brand new twist. Tastes like coconut weed.
906 - GOLDEN ROAD EL HEFE ANEJO – Hefeweizen aged in Anejo Tequila barrels. One of my previous favorites from Golden Road. This year’s batch is extra tequila-ey. Whoa! Serious.
907 - JESTER KING NOCTURN CHRYSALIS – Sour, barrel aged blackberry beer. Interesting. I like it, but I’m OK with just a taste.
908 - NEBRASKA BREWING ROMANCING THE CONE IPA - Nice sharp IPA with a grease slick of hop oils.
909 - BEACHWOOD SYSTEM OF A STOUT – Intensely concentrated Imperial Stout with Armenian coffee. One of the best beer names. Super duper good. And you don’t have to live in Glendale to enjoy it.
910 - FUNKWERKS SAISON – Refreshing saison, not super memorable, but I dug it
911 - FUNKWERKS RASPBERRY PROVINCIAL – Too wine-cooler-esque for me.
|ANOTHER selfie? Give it a rest, Bub!|
912 – BONEYARD NOTORIOUS TRIPLE IPA – Possibly the crunchiest mouthfeel of any IPA ever produced. Whoa! Pungent and delicious.
913 – LAGUNITAS NIGHT TIME BLACK IPA – Farckin’ stellar even in the daytime. I love hop-forward dark brews.
914 - SUN KING LONESOME DOVE BELGIAN TRIPEL AGED IN PAPPY VAN WINKLE BOURBON BARRELS - Vanilla-ey, creamy, fruity, rich... just kill me now.
915 - OMMEGANG GNOMEGANG – smooooth malt mouthfeel, fruity, yeasty. Your ceramic lawn decorations will approve.
916 - BELL'S OARSMAN – Decent, light, citrusy session beer
917 - REVOLUTION BREWING DOS OSOS IPA – So hoppy but not crunchy, one of my favorite IPAs of the year
918 - BEAVERTOWN HEAVY WATER IMPERIAL STOUT – Effin’ solid! Tastes like and American Imperial Stout. Black chocolate motor oil. Love it! 9 outta 10.
919 – TAPS REMY OOH LA LA RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT – Yet another 5 star beer today… too many to keep track of. Stout aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels. I’m home.
920 - ODELL BREWING LOOSE LEAF – Floral, light, sessionable, great everyday beer
921 - TRIPLE ROCK CELLARMAN SAISON BARREL AGED – Sour, aged in red wine barrels, distinct. Killer!
922 - ALPINE BEER COMPANY SAN DIEGO SURPRISE PALE ALE - Carries as much hop weight as any of their IPAs.
923 - FIRESTONE WALKER UDBA UNFILTERED BRITISH PALE ALE – floral, easy to drink, sessionable
924 - FIRESTONE WALKER DOUBLE JACK DOUBLE IPA – Great hop powerhouse, I’d have no issues drinking this 365 days a year.
925 - FIRESTONE WALKER PIVO HOPPY PILS – Loved it last year. Love it this year. Can it still fall in the Pils category with this much hoppiness? Don’t care. Gonna drink it regardless.
926 - FIFTY FIFTY OLD CONUNDRUM AGED ON PAPPY BARLEY WINE – Read the name and you already know this is incredible. Bourbon barrel barley wine that is beyond 5 stars. The only conundrum is whether or not I’ll ever enjoy this again.
927 - ALESMITH SPEEDWAY STOUT BARREL AGED WITH VIETNAMESE COFFEE – Proof there is a God in Heaven who made it possible for me to sample this beer again in my lifetime.
928 - TRIPLE ROCK CELLARMAN SAISON – Big citrus, but not tart. Really different. Really goddamn good! 4.5 stars.
929 - MOONLIGHT DEATH & TAXES BLACK ALE - Aggressively malt-forward, refreshing as hell
930 - DOGFISH HEAD NAMASTE WITBIER – spicey lighter beer, really nice
931 - ALESMITH GINGER LIL' DEVIL – So gingery it burns!
|San Ho, represent, Yo!|
932 - YO-HO TOKYO BLACK PORTER – One of the few rare Japanese beers I’ve had. A light porter compared to most American ones. Unfortunately my least fave of the day at FWIBF.
933 - PIZZA PORT AVA'S PALE ALE – Crazy hoppy, might as well be an IPA. Flawless like 99.9% of Pizza Port brews.
934 - SURLY OVERRATED WEST COAST STYLE IPA – Best name for an IPA ever. Best brewery as well.
935 - SURLY BITTER BREWER – Lovin’ it.
936 - SURLY HELL LAGER – Helles yes.
937 - BIRRIFICIO ITALIANO SPARROW PIT BARLEY WINE – Hoppy Italian barley wine, shared a bottle inside the fest with San Jose punx after The Man cut off the taps. Wow. Bad arse.
938 - SURLY FURIOUS IPA – The classic.
939 - MURPHY'S IRISH STOUT – Watered down, forgettable. At the divey Fuel Dock, Morro Bay, CA.
940 - NEW BELGIUM RANGER IPA – Also at the Fuel Dock. Not bad, but silly to even try after 55 world class beers at the FWIBF.
6/1 – Tasting at Firestone Walker Barrelworks, Buellton, then a tasting at the Telegraph tasting room in Santa Barbara:
|Barrelworks: The Promised Land|
941 - FIRESTONE WALKER ZIN SKIN – Experimental Barrelworks concoction using techniques from both beer and wine making. Bretta Weisse aged in oak with Zinfandel grape skins added. Like an acidic, mildly carbonated rose wine.
942 - FIRESTONE WALKER BCZAR BEANS – Russian Imperial Stout infused with coffee and aged in a single bourbon barrel for seven years! What? Who can wait that long? I’m glad they did. Unparalleled greatness.
943 - FIRESTONE WALKER STICKEE MONKEE (2014) – Belgian quad aged in spirits barrels with Mexican brown sugar added. As rich and complex as it sounds. A modern day classic beverage.
944 - FIRESTONE WALKER BRAVO BARREL AGED IMPERIAL BROWN ALE – Aged in spirits barrels, a real crusher. In a flight of four perfect Barrelworks beers, this one was my favorite.
945 - FIRESTONE WALKER TAPROOM BROWN – Lighter and roasty, hard act to follow after tasting in the Barrelworks room, but still damn good.
946 - FIRESTONE WALKER HAMMERSMITH IPA – Maltier, more mellow IPA
947 - FIRESTONE WALKER WOOKEY JACK BLACK RYE IPA – A favorite of mine, real bite and wheat field goodness mixed with a hop attack
948 - TELEGRAPH BREWING LOS PADRES SAISON – I tasted cookie dough yeast. My wife didn’t. I’m probably wrong. We both loved it though.
|Telegraph: Best brewery hangs in SB|
949 - TELEGRAPH BREWING PRIME MERIDIAN ALE – Mildly hoppy, mildly tropical
950 - TELEGRAPH BREWING RAVENA STOUT – Roasty, lighter dark beer, more like a porter in my book. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed it though. I’m unfairly comparing to the Firestone Walker Barrelworks stouts which are too dense to see any light source through.
951 - TELEGRAPH BREWING CALIFORNIA ALE – Mild esters, floral hints, their flagship Belgian style ale is a good ‘un.
952 - TELEGRAPH BREWING CIPHER KEY SESSION ALE – Mild, rye extra pale ale, s’good
953 - TELEGRAPH BREWING STOCK PORTER – Another standby
954 - TELEGRAPH BREWING WHITE ALE – Belgian wit, definitely getting some chamomile out of this.
955 - TELEGRAPH BREWING PACIFIC STANDARD TIME BELGIAN STYLE ALE – My fave of all 10 tasters. Very malty Belgian style with the fainted bit o’ pineapple, which isn’t very Belgian whatsoever.
956 - TELEGRAPH BREWING 1927 EXTRA PALE ALE – Heavy orange extra pale ale, really opens up at room temp.
957 - TELEGRAPH BREWING FLOTSAM LAGER - nice
958 - BUTTE CREEK ORGANIC PORTER – Capping of this amazing weekend at home. Even though “organic” scares me, this beer did not. Roasted & comforting.
|Insect Porn is real.|