#FWIBF 2014 Upholds Premier Beer Fest Tradition
In the course of nearly 7 years of The Full Pint, we have had the pleasure and privilege of watching craft beer brands rise and fall; expand and soar. Firestone Walker Brewing Company has been a constant source of news for us here with distribution expansions, a slew of new beers annually, engaging marketing initiatives, and the build-out of their Barrelworks program in Buellton. But if there is one other element that has instilled our alliance with FW, it’s their well-executed lineup of events every year. Firestone Walker’s known for events like their sour ale trail Walker’s Wild Ride and their luxurious From the Barrel, but it wasn’t until they launched their Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival in 2012 that they reached a higher echelon in defining what a “beer festival” can be.
Expectations were high after FW had set such a high bar in FWIBF’s first two years, and we’re happy to say that they were once again able to uphold their reputation for producing one of the finest beer festivals in the country. Tickets sold out in record time both in its Black Friday pre-sale and again earlier this year — in under an hour, from what we have heard. In order to keep the festival comfortable, the FW did not expand the number of guests for the event, but did invite roughly a dozen more breweries to satiate the masses with unlimited tastes of some of the most beloved and rare beers around. The event featured 50+ breweries and 20+ food vendors from all over the Central Coast who congregated once again to the unique Paso Robles Event Center; home of Paso’s beloved, Pioneer Day (the non-profit committee who benefits from a portion of fest proceeds).
There were many stand-outs to this festival which undoubtedly features the cream of the crop in terms of breweries. There was a great mix in styles this year to vary from the uber-rare barrel-aged offerings and the sea of hoppy California IPAs we see at every fest; sours and sessionable styles provided a mellow reprieve and was much appreciated in the warm (but not as warm as years’ past) sun. While Moonlight Brewing did not end up bringing their Death & Pinot, we were more than pleased with their 3 offerings; Death & Taxes, Reality Czech, and a very interesting 4-grain lager called Old Combine. While Kern River Brewing Co. had hop fanatics in a tizzy with the line for their popular Citra, it was their Gravity Check SIPA, Cigar City’s Tangerine-Orange Berliner Weisse, and Alesmith’s Lil Devil w/ Ginger that helped me beat the heat in between some (delicious) high gravity brews.
We don’t need to tell you that the lines for fan favorites like 3 Floyds, Beachwood, Russian River, and The Bruery were long throughout the duration of the fest. Placentia’s The Bruery actually ended up taking home the Peoples’ Choice for this year after bringing out the big guns with Humulus Lager and a special Black Tuesday w/ Pistachio and Vanilla on tap in addition to bottle pours of their rarest offerings including Grey Monday, Rue d’ Floyd, and Sans Pagaie. The beers I’m still dreaming about are ones not easily available in California. Jester King’s stunning Nocturne Chrysalis was vibrant with blackberries while two New Zealand breweries 8 Wired and Garage Project wowed new fans with their Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Saison and Pernicious Weed IPA respectively. Full fest taplist here, if you’re curious. Perhaps we’ll see some new faces next year in the form of The Rare Barrel, Noble Ale Works, or Prairie Artisan Ales?
It’s no surprise that the food at FWIBF is just as big of a deal as the beer itself. Paso Robles and its neighboring areas are keen on the finer things; cheese and fine purveyors of farm-to-table and organic foods are just a stone’s throw away. The People’s Choice Restaurant Award for food went to the folks at Eureka this year; a company that over the past couple of years has expanded all over California while championing craft beer as a major partner in their brand. Particular bites that pleased my palate and my tummy included Thomas Hill Organics‘ paella (easily a crowd favorite) and the impeccably fresh (and refreshing) ceviche from Pier 46 Seafood. My only gripe? There seemed to be much more of a demand for food this year as many vendors began closing up shop by the 3 o’clock hour. A few more vegetarian or vegan options would be a good idea, too for those who couldn’t partake much in the dining. If you ran for the beer without making a stop for a bite or two, you definitely didn’t get the full FWIBF experience.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is an exceptionally organized event. The beer list, food, and entertainment are top tier. Beyond that, fest goers are guaranteed a premier beer festival experience in a unique locale with ample water stations, shaded areas, security, and functional indoor restrooms; amenities I’m sure we all take for granted in this high season of fest after fest. Over the years, FW has kept to their tradition of making this a special and comfortable experience adding misters last year and maintaining the integrity of the event by keeping tickets sales stagnant at around 3,000 attendees. Live music from The Mother Corn Shuckers and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers provided a great ambiance while the space utilized in the venues AT&T Pavilion provided guests with a chance to wind down in air conditioning while perusing merch and grabbing a special taste of Ol’ Longhorn, the latest collaboration release from FW and 3 Floyds. Breakout sessions featuring talks with brewers including Funkwerks, Garage Project, and FW’s Matt Brynildson himself were also documented by The Brewing Network. We can’t wait until next year.
Photos by Franny Fullpint & Herbie Homebrew.