Firestone Walker With Me
It must be noted at first that my fellow blogging buddies here at The Evening Brews have been very patient in waiting for some feedback of my visit to the US of A and perhaps even more so for the souvenirs as proof of my travels. But we will indulge in these beery delights in the near future and promise to hand over the results of our tasting sessions not so long after that. In the meanwhile I will press on with recounting my epic journey, for I found myself two whole weeks sprawled, as if playing a drunken game of giant Twister, across the great North American continent (left foot Paso Robles; right hand, Los Angeles; right foot, San Diego; left hand, New York), trying to keep my balance with a heady cocktail of various time zones and some of the worlds best beers.
I’ve been back in blighty a while now, fully adjusted to our feeble weather after the sun soaked climes of the States. A particularly hot Autumn in fact (although they don’t really have seasons), if you consider that by late September and early October the temperature scaled heights of the mid 30s. As someone who has a particular aversion towards Air Conditioning, other cooling devices are required. One so happens to be a most ancient of such technologies – BEER.
One of the best places to find this stuff is in Paso Robles where I began my American beer pilgrimage. Paso Robles finds itself smack in the middle of Central Coast’s wine country and by no coincidence is home to Firestone Walker Brewing Company as well. Something to do with the spring water I assume (this was not confirmed). It was here that I had the great privilege of hanging out with the British Lion half of Firestone Walker, co-founder David Walker, which meant I got access to some equally incredible people at the brewery – from the brewers themselves to lab coats, marketing men and women, and sales reps.
I won’t bore you with all their history as it reaches quite far back (in American terms that is)… a whopping 16 years! Plus you can check it out on their website here. But in that time they’ve grown their business whilst producing consistently tasty tipples and in turn fully justify the accolade of “Mid-size Brewery of the Year” at the World Beer Cup, four times.
Before I go on about the current Brewmaster behind all these great beers, a man they call Merlin, it would be unfair not to mention Jeffers Richardson, Merlin’s predecessor. It was along with Adam Firestone and David that he first developed their DBA (for those that don’t know that is the Double Barrel Ale) which seeked to mimic the characteristics of a good English Style Bitter, namely Fuller’s London Pride. This is probably one of the most significant attributes that helps define the Firestone Walker identity because at a time when American craft beers in general were really aggressive with OTT flavours, Firestone Walker strived for a more balanced product. This is not to say that they don’t do exciting beers. Quite the contrary. What it does mean is that ‘balance’ is something that is firmly ingrained in their DNA.
So back to this Merlin chap. Hey! Who’s this mercurial man? Merlin a.k.a Matt Brynildson is Brew Master extraordinaire. He is many people’s God in the beer world and I’ve witnessed the fandom. In fact, on a tour whereby Firestone Walker took 5 kegs of 5 different sour beers to 5 different bar events in LA, I happened to gain my own groupie just by wearing a Firestone Walker T-Shirt. Perhaps more significantly he may have spotted me shake Matt’s hand thus rendering me one of his disciples. These bars would often be a highway drive away from each other, yet he would predictably appear as a face in the crowd before lurching toward me – by proxy of Merlin I presume. Oh how I mock this poor gentleman but I must admit I got a little giddy myself and started to play with my hair when Matt personally passed me an extremely limited Nitro Velvet Merlin Stout to share one afternoon in the laboratory, mmmmmmm…he didn’t get it back! Oh what a holy grail. The nitrogen creates a creaminess that is mostly associated with Guinness. Add a whiff of chocolate and coffee and you have a truly divine drink. Yum.
My good friend Per has already described the wondrous Wookey, Union Jack and Double Jack beers from his BrewDog outing in a previous post, so I won’t harp on about how good they are. There are some equally impressive beers to eulogise about. I must say though that I’m glad I didn’t drink as much as I feared whilst I was out there. I was a bit nervous the culture of brewers would be that of incessant drinking and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up and I’d get called a sissy, or worse, get arrested and become someone else’s sissy. However my worst fears were alleviated when I learnt of this misconception of brewers drinking habits. However there were a couple of occasions where I did let myself go.
After assaulting my taste buds with some serious tasting beer in their tap room, such as Oaktoberfest (a fabulous Marzen) and 805 (I’m not a massive fan of blonde beers but this had some lovely honey notes), I was ushered away to a food and beer pairing promotional event. At this point I can’t tell you anything about the food nor the beer for that matter, until dessert arrived with a beer that aroused all my senses and seemed to bring about some sort of miraculous composure. It was the much celebrated Parabola. It was very rich but sensational. You can’t drink a lot of it. You wouldn’t want to. It’s a dark, brooding, sexy drink. It has bourbon flavours imparted from the barrels it was aged in as well as a chocolatey taste that make it the perfect accompaniment to umm, whatever I had for dessert!
The other occasion of superfluous drinking was on the Sour Beer Tour I mentioned earlier. Along the way I sampled their Sours in their various incarnations. You have their Sloambic, Sour Opal, Lil’ Opal and Agrestic Ale (the last of the five escapes me). From what I gather these beers are existing Firestone Walker beers such as the DDBA or the Double Jack which have been exposed to wild yeast. I remember trying one which I was told was the sour version of the DDBA and remarked how the sourness actually makes it a better drink. For some the DDBA is slightly too sweet as it is, but the sour version mellows this sweetness and turns it into something a bit more zingy. Again, great stuff. As the night progressed we ended up at a bar called Blue Palms which has a pretty extensive menu but when you’re with a travelling posse who have brought their own selection of library beer, it would be rude not to dive straight in.
Drum rolls please…Firestone Walker Anniversary Beer 10 is brought to the table…then 11…whoops I must of missed 12 (darn)…phew, back in time for 13. At this point, due to the state I was in I could have been drinking a bucket of horse piss. But whatever, it’s nice to feel loved and brought into the fold of elite drinkers knowing that I’ve sampled some of the classiest and rarest blended beer around. Having said that I had enough wits about me to recognise that they were all superb and I liked 11 more than 10 but I’ll be damned if I can’t tell you exactly why. Oh well. Perhaps someone who was there and was sound of mind could compile some tasting notes for me. (We did in fact end that night in a Thai karaoke bar drinking none other than horse piss.)
There is certainly an element of guilt and regret that within this post I happen to reference and boast of some of the best beer you’ll probably never taste because quite frankly the only place you can get it is in California. But hey, I made the fucking effort to get there, alright? And I’m a whole lot poorer for it and by consequence ‘This week I ave been mostly eating Rasssberry Poppp Tarrts’
Week 2 and San Diego to continue…