If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket to this weekend’s Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, you’re in for a treat. This will be my fourth year (out of four) and it’s an event I always look forward to. With brewers ready to shake your hand and talk your ear off about the beers they love to brew, this event for me has it all; thanks to the accessibility of the brewers and the consistent outstanding quality of the beers being poured. You’ll have beers you’ve never tried (and might never try again), make friends you never knew, and with any luck at all bask in the experience of a beautiful day in Paso Robles.
The FWIBF carries a particular weight for me, which is a big reason for my attachment to it. My book, California BrewMasters, debuted for the very first time, to anyone at all, at this festival just a year ago (it will also be available to purchase at the merch stand this year!). It was because of this festival that the idea for the book was executed at all – it was four year’s ago that I approached a number of brewers in attendance with my one-minute elevator pitch, asking to visit their breweries to interview and photograph them. Not a single brewer I approached turned me down, despite me having zero ties to the beer industry. Directly because of this festival I’ve made friends and connections that are priceless.
So to pay it forward, I offer some tips and tricks I’ve learned from three year’s of attendance at this, my favorite festival of the year: the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
This year Firestone has added something extra special, a mobile app with all the bells and whistles. Plan ahead and star the beers your most excited about, and keep an eye on your app for special notifications about surprise beer pourings. Check out the beer line up here. It’s a good way to stay on target during a day that’s so packed with amazing beers you can easily forget what you came for.
Beer Can Kick, Get it While You Can
If there’s a rare beer you’re after, go for it early. I’ve seen Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust and Dark Lord run out pretty quickly, so if there’s a target in mind – get after it! The laws of your palate be damned, working up to that coveted barrel aged stout might lead to an empty glass.
Also – it’s an easy path to try the “whalez” and breweries you’ve heard of, sticking to your favorites. But I implore you to check out some of the unknowns. As an “invitational,” brew master Matt Brynildson personally invites each brewery to attend – meaning that every beer being poured is one of absolute quality. 8 Wired, Faction Brewing, Garage Project, Moonlight, and Side Project are just a few on a long list of who I’m excited about.
Special releases will be poured at various times throughout the day, so again, check your mobile app for the big news. Gigantic bottles of Barrelworks beers are to be expected, oftentimes poured by the Lion, David Walker, himself.
Another treat this year is the collaboration brews of Firestone Walker and Italian brewery Birrificio Italiano. They’ll be pouring multiple versions of a dark saison wild ale called “La Piccola.” Aged at Barrelworks for 12 months in French oak, one version of this beer will feature peppercorns, while the other will not. This should be a real tasty treat, not to be missed.
An Invitational, Not a Drunk Fest
While we’re all obviously going to get pretty damn inebriated, keep in mind that this is not your standard drunk fest. You’re in Beer Mecca- surrounded by some of the best men and women in the biz – so act accordingly. Eat the amazing food that Paso has to offer, it’s free after all, and indulge in some of the finest beer in the world. Drink plenty of water, and pace yourself. And for the love of God, no drinking and driving afterwards! Make your plans accordingly.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, this is a great place to meet your fellow beer-fanatic and hop head. Be kind and courteous, line’s can get long, yes, but we’re all in this together. Discussing these great beers with our brethren is what this is all about.
A distinguishing factor of this fest is also that the brewers themselves are on hand to pour you beers and shoot the shit when they get bored. Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo will hand you a fresh glass of Pliny with a smile on his face. And really, what could be better than that?
Post Fest Bottle Shares
For those that haven’t had enough, the post-FWIBF bottle share is the thing to do. The guests of the Adelaide Inn have always hosted an impromptu affair spanning several motel rooms, so brings your best whalez and be ready to nerd out. Whether you’re in a big group or among a few solid friends, a bottle share is the perfect excuse to crack open those specialty beers you’ve been aging, and share them with those that appreciate such finery.
I look forward to seeing everyone there, this year I’ll be photographing the event for Firestone itself, which I’m incredibly pumped about. So if you see a slightly inebriated photographer decked out in Firestone gear (how many could there be?), be sure to say hello, and cheers. Have a great fest!
*Images courtesy of the FWIBF Facebook Page