The Best Beerfest in the West Gets Better

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is all whales and pils.
Three Floyds Brewing out of Indiana is a usual crowd favorite. Photos, Nagel

A wise man once said, “a beer festival can be measured in fun per second.” That wise man was me. Driving home from the Central Coast after Firestone Walker’s sixth Invitational, I’m pretty sure I had so much fun, my funometer broke, probably sometime around 2 P.M. when I was dancing to live music with a group of complete strangers.

Sure, there are scientific methods of truly breaking down a beer festival and all its triumphs and failures. Things like how quickly the festival sells out, what the realfeel™ temperature is, how many places there are to sit, how many people per line, ratings of the beers served, and the number of actual brewers present per pouring station. At Firestone Walker’s fest, all of these things are meticulously planned down to such minutia, the only thing they can’t fix is the balmy Paso Robles weather, but with chill-filtered water stations, NFL sideline fans, and a misting village to counteract that? Flawless victory.

The misting village proved to be good at rinsing glassware.

After all, this is a beer fest, and there are easily the top twenty breweries in the world here. Old favorites like Russian River and Sierra Nevada were joined with the hotness of Trillium (Boston area), Side Project (Missouri), and Creature Comforts Brewing (Georgia) just to name a few. Amongst my favorites here, Jester King (Texas) continues to make my favorite brand of wild, dry, and terroir-driven beer, but my goal every time I’m at this fest is to find my new favorite, and this year was no different. The hunt is on!

My favorite beer of the festival, Fonta Flora’s Carolina Custard

Fonta Flora Brewing would be worthy of the “Nagel Nod” this year, coming out of North Carolina, the brewery stole my heart with Carolina Custard, a beer so indescribably different it felt like I crossed my taste bud wires. Somewhat sweet-smelling with notes of creamy papaya, overripe banana, and a tropical mango finish. Weirdly satisfying and quirky.

Two O.C. breweries made the trip up: The Bruery + Terreux had its fill of nonstop lines and Beachwood Brewing saw a healthy queue with a full spread including Amalgamator, barrel-aged Mocha Machine, and a slew of Beachwood Blendery beers. Although it’s nice to see local friends, I’m here for the hard to find out of town brews.

Jeremy Grinky of local Bruery Terreux cools of with the NFL sideline fans

The international beer tent was by far the hottest place at the festival, but it didn’t stop healthy lines for Garage Project out of New Zealand. The brewery started distribution out here last year, mostly thanks in part to their popularity at this festival. Being a rosy-cheeked German boy, my favorites from across the pond include Braufactum from Frankfurt (who beat me handily playing cornhole), and smoky beer experts Bamberg Bier which came out for the first time.

I’ve been to four out of six of these festivals, and hope to go to every year despite the four-hour drive and $500 for a two-night stay in Paso Robles. This festival is THAT good. Do yourself a solid and make it out to the next one, who knows, maybe we can bump butts while dancing and break our funometers?

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival happens early June every year, tickets go on sale usually the Monday morning after Super Bowl at 6A.M.

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