10 Breweries Not to Miss at Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
For many die-hard beer fans in the California area, this weekend marks the return of the highly-acclaimed Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. This one-day event has been lauded by many (including us) for its epic list of breweries, local gourmet fare, and entertainment. Glancing at the list of invited brewers, we already know that lines will be constant for beers from the likes of The Alchemist, 3 Floyds, Jester King, Wicked Weed, and Russian River — but we wanted to make sure that you didn’t miss a couple of breweries who will be coming a long way from home to pour you some of their finest brews. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Maybe you haven’t! So before you start going off about how we didn’t include this brewery or that brewery, this is just a shortlist of some of the amazing beers fest-goers can look forward to this weekend. Got a favorite? Leave it in the comments!
8 Wired Brewing: Abandoning a career in biochemistry (after his wife gifted him with his first homebrew kit), Søren Eriksen has built a strong reputation in his native New Zealand as one of the most recognizable breweries in the southern hemisphere. You may have seen the brews from 8 Wired in their limited distribution stateside; most notably their Saison Sauvin, as well as standard offerings such as their IStout and Hopwired IPA. What to Try at FWIBF: Fresh Hopwire, Hippy Berliner, & Wild Feijoa (2014).
Garage Project: Born as a passion project among three longtime friends, Garage Project started out as a truly nano-sized brewing operation in Wellington, NZ. Known for breaking the rules and pushing the limits, the Garage Project team have created brews that hit every point on the flavor spectrum. Perhaps you have tried their Umami Monster (brewed with dried kelp, bonito flakes, and seawater)? Or perhaps their The Hop #IPA which takes the pure form of lupulin and creates a resinous concoction (much like hash) and uses it as a hop addition? Whichever the case, don’t miss them. While they are indeed growing and gaining more notoriety in our neck of the woods, they’re still hard-to-find. What to Try at FWIBF: 2 Pot Flat White, Bastard Rye, Bossa Nova Baby, & Venusian Pale Ale.
Across the Pond
Beavertown Brewery: Did you know that Robert Plant’s son owned a brewery? Yes, that Robert Plant. Did you also know that said brewery has been killing it with well-executed brews that break a little from the traditional English brewing mold? Founder & Brewer Logan Plant started Beavertown Brewery with a modest 4bbl operation and eventually built out a larger facility for his 30bbl operation in London. His branding and flavor direction offer a more contemporary perspective with American styles creeping into his solid lineup. What to Try at FWIBF: BA’Spresso, BA Bone King, Bloody ‘Ell, & Earl Phantom.
Birrificio del Ducato: If you’ve been reading my work over the years, you may have remembered me gushing about the burgeoning Italian craft beer scene. If you’ve never been able to get your hands on some of these Italian goodies, we hope that you’ll get a taste at FWIBF. Brewmaster Giovanni Campari has had his finger on the pulse of craft beer ever since they founded the brewery in 2008. With his business partner Michael Piccoli, they were able to grow their production of thoughtful brews into an award-winning beer program recognized all over Europe. What to Try at FWIBF: Beersel Morning, Brett Peat Daydream, Nuova Mattina, & Chrysopolis.
Birrificio Italiano: If you love Pivo Pils as much as we do, you won’t want to miss Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils! I first fell in love with this brewery while spending time in Rome in 2010. An older brewery (since 1996), these guys have seen their beer culture shift drastically in the past five years. Their story is compelling — coming from a homebrew background in their university days — and their beer just as much so. These guys shoot for crisp, clean, and consistent quality and are known for taking much pride in their craft; from the transparency in sourcing their ingredients to the conditions in which their beer is served. What to Try at FWIBF: La Polock, Scires, & of course, Tipopils.
Not Quite Our Backyard, But Close Enough
Bagby Beer Company: The Full Pint team grieved when we first heard of former Pizza Port Head Brewer Jeff Bagby’s departure, but the idea of him opening up his own joint kept us at the edge of our seats. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Not even a full year in, Bagby has made a significant comeback with his Oceanside brewery & restaurant (with his awesome wife Dande by his side). He walked into the 2014 GABF only a few months into brewery’s infancy and walked out with a medal. His brews are highly sought-after, including his Dork Squad IPA which was the first keg to blow at the 2014 L.A. IPA Festival. What to Try at FWIBF: Dork Squad, Of Kolsch!, Priscilla, & Struggle Bus.
Faction Brewing: Another much buzzed-about return was made by former Drake’s & Triple Rock Brewmaster Rodger Davis. His Alameda brewery, Faction Brewing, made a big splash in the bay area beer community — a dream realized with his other half Claudia Pamparana. Between them, over 15 years of experience in every facet of the beer industry. You cannot have been in the SF beer scene without crossing paths with either of them. Just don’t get him started on his opinions about session IPAs. What to Try at FWIBF: 2 Hop Pale, Faction Pilsner, NYX, & Faction Pale Ale.
Moonlight Brewing Company: Have you heard of that other amazing brewery in Santa Rosa? Kudos to you, if you have! Seeing as though Brian Hunt’s Death & Taxes falls under one of my most favorite beers ever, I needed to give this (very) small operation some love. He may not be a stranger up in northern California, but Hunt’s brews are hard to come by in our SoCal neck of the woods, and so it’s an extra special event if you see his name on the list. Balanced, nuanced, and never over-the-top. Moonlight has been doing what they do best since 1992. What to Try at FWIBF: Death & Taxes Black Beer & Mounting Evidence.
Side Project: Things start to get a little meta when talking about Cory King’s Side Project. As the thoughtfully curated side-project of the Perennial Ales Head Brewer, Side Project aims to bring a spectrum of experimental and barrel-aged beers to the table. With already over 100 barrels to play with in his arsenal, we’re certain that King’s efforts will reach much farther than their Missouri home-base and into the very eager hands of funky beer lovers across the country. What to Try at FWIBF: La Fosse, Saison du Fermier, Thicket, & Unlabeled #2.
Marble Brewery: Albuquerque’s Marble Brewing has kept a relatively low national profile since its 2008 inception, despite picking up a slew of medals at the Great American Beer Festival every year since 2011 including the 2014 award for Best Small Brewery and Small Brewery Brewer. Beer judges have taken notice of their portfolio, awarding them with medals for styles ranging from their Imperial Red to Pilsner. While they may be a little on the outskirts of everyone’s craft beer radar, Marble’s making solid brews, so give them a try if you’re ever near the ABQ. Fun L.A. beer fact — Smog City Brewing brews on Marble’s old system. You can still see the sticker on the brew deck’s steps. What to Try at FWIBF: Brett IPA, Double White, & Red Light Lager.
Tell us what breweries you’re looking forward to trying in the comments below! Got a tip on a beer we can’t miss? Let us know!