The Mostly Rosy Recap of 2018 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
For the seventh year, Firestone Walker Brewing has carried the torch for a world class beer festival experience. We attended the festival this weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly. All the highlights of previous years were met, and the fest went off without a hitch. We spoke with some fellow beer media outlets with a real tough question: “What exactly do we say that hasn’t been said before?” The festival is always ran smoothly, there is plenty of space, plenty of great beer and plenty of good food. Firestone Walker even manages to make 97 degrees F tolerable. It’s kind of tough to keep writing the same recap each year, because the fest is flawless. Well, I’m going to run down the highlights and then I’m going to share some observations that only a person who has attended many of these may have noticed.
Two of the most popular breweries in attendance, Monkish Brewing and Side Project Brewing came prepared. They most likely anticipated the longest lines and had plenty of beer. Just like years past, Side Project took care of the line by walking down and handing out pours. Monkish did something similar with a collection of magnum bottles. This seems like an easy thing to execute and shows that they care.
Garage Project and Omnipollo brought an experience to the festival, when it would have been easy enough to just send a couple of kegs to pour. Garage Project performed an on the spot Steinbier with Hot Poker. With all the pastry stouts and hazy IPAs flowing, this was a nice distraction. Omnipollo brought their gadgets to execute their dessert like concoctions as well. I hope more breweries take a cue and add a new dimension to their presentation. I don’t need breweries to be gimmicky everyday, but this is a special occasion worthy of some fun tricks and treats.
The winner of the People’s Choice award for food, Eureka Burger SLO really was the best food vendor there in my opinion. They walked around mentioning 28 day dry-aged beef sliders, which helped sell you on trying it, and once you did you were amazed. They were juicy, flavorful and the perfect size.
Most booths were not decorated, but Alvarado Street Brewery had the best booth there. Their tap tower was a jet ski, and had a dance party going the entire time.
Not so rosy hot takes
This is one of the best ran festivals in the world. Being invited to this festival should be a very high honor for any brewery. Firestone Walker takes good care of their guests, the best in the business from what I can tell. If you go down the list of breweries you can safely divvy it up between longtime friends of Matt Brynildson / Firestone Walker and rockstar breweries that the fans nearly demand to be invited in order to remain a must attend event for the biggest of beer enthusiasts. With all that said, I feel that whichever column you fit into, rockstar or longtime friend, that you should put forth your best foot when participating in this festival. What am I getting at you might be wondering? Every brewery should be sending their figurehead representative and their A-team. If you are a mature brand on that list, you should be sending the most interesting beer you brew, or even better, make a beer that’s exclusive to this event. People look up to the rockstar brewers and look forward to meeting the people they feel connected to. Sending out your social media person, just because they know your product well doesn’t cut it. Sending the beer you can buy at Rite Aid or CVS is not only a slap in the face to your own brand, it’s a slap in the face of Firestone Walker. I can only imagine all of the hurt feelings each year when up-and-coming breweries eagerly wait for their invitation, and then see an invited brewery phoning it in. I also noticed some notable names were doing double duty that weekend, being billed at other big festivals and even I even saw the major names attending those festivals instead of FWIBF. Call me sensitive, but I think that was a bad look and a little disrespectful.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Monkish Brewing and Side Project Brewing were able to please the crowd. They brought the appropriate amount of beer to serve their super long lines. There were some very notable breweries that were out of beer before 3PM. If you know you are popular, bring enough beer next time.
This was another successful festival. I had some of the best bites of food in the world, drank some of the best beers in the world (Side Project Derivation 8, Green Cheek Beer Co Oak Aged Lager, Weldwork Extra Extra Juicy Bits, Highland Park America’s Preference, Monkish Space Cookies, Allagash Coolship Red, Revolution Cherry VSOJ, just to name a few) and got to see some of my favorite beer people all at the same time. I am only bringing some critique because I want to make sure this festival stays regal and doesn’t morph into every other festival out there.