You’d be hard pressed to find a better beer festival experience than Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. Without blowing too much smoke, it can be easily summarized as to why this is so. It’s the perfect mix of location, crowd size, food, price point, and most importantly, interesting, cutting-edge beer. When I say cutting-edge beer, I’m referring to a few dozen of the newer, buzzworthy beer from brewers that have not delved into regional or national distribution, as well as established cult favorites.
Over the past five years, the event has rapidly sold out, and fest goers plot their day in terms of what breweries they want to try. With the exception of Three Floyds and Side Project, there aren’t insane lines, and you can try just about any beer listed within the first three hours of the event.
As a spectator, I look at the lineup each year and think about breweries that are exciting and then I see some more mature breweries that are good, but strongly contrast up against the buzzworthy. Then there are some breweries that fall in the middle, and it’s obvious there is a bond between the inviter and the invitee.
We have a good hunch how the process of being invited works based on following Firestone Walker for so many years, and what they present on social media. It would seem that it all starts with a relationship with Brewmaster Matt Brynildson and Head Brewer Dustin Kral and another brewery plays the major factor in who gets invited. Matt travels all around the world meeting other like-minded brewers, building relationships and tasting great beers along the way.
Some might wonder how more mature brands fit in, like Stone, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada. While all three make world-class beer, they definitely don’t have the buzz surrounding them like Side Project, Trillium Brewing or Three Floyds. The well-established brands are included for a few reasons. They most likely have a great relationship with Firestone Walker, they make exceptionally high quality beer, and they will be able to carry the load the last hour or two of the festival when some of the smaller, more hyped breweries have run out of beer.
We put all the invitees on a spreadsheet to take a look at a few things. You’ll notice that the invited brewers number has slowly grown over the years, you’ll notice who has a pretty tight relationship with Firestone Walker, and you will be able to make your own inferences as to when a brewery dropped out of the festival (not invited or declined invitation).
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