It took all of 120 seconds for the 2000 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival tickets to sell out, the same amount of time it took me to speed walk to my first sip inside the fest: Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, here all the way from Florida.
240 seconds after that, two more elusive Russian Imperial Stout’s were poured into my four-ounce festival glass: Three Floyd’s Dark Lord based out of Indiana, and my local hero, The Bruery’s rum barrel aged Black Tuesday with macadamia and coconut. With a throbbing summer head cold, who knew these solid 100/100 Beer Advocate beers could clear the sinuses up like dayquil?
“FWIBF,” as it’s called, happens only once a year. A decent slice of the world’s best breweries are invited to the central coast of California; not for flowing wines and rustic scenery; they’re personally invited by Firestone Walker’s decorated brewmaster, Matt Brynildson, to pour at their highly acclaimed Invitational Beer Festival.
51 weeks of planning, 53 breweries, 26 restaurants, 3 bands and 165 beers. Farthest brewery? Garage Project from New Zealand at 6,700 miles. The Bruery, (the only invited brewery from Orange County), made a snappy day trip out of the four hour drive from Anaheim.
“On the way up I visited friends at Herman Story Wines in Paso Robles”, says Jeremy Grinkey, production supervisor at Bruery Terreux and ex-vintner at Jason Stephens Winery. “I also got to introduce the Bruery-crew and we all had a blast!” he continued behind his flowing beard and cowboy-like smile.
“This is a great <effing> festival,” says David Walker, co-Founder of Firestone Walker with his charming British accent. “Our philosophy is to bring beers here that we haven’t tried by brewers that are really pushing the envelope.” Brewers are invited to camp, eat, tour, waterslide, and drink other brewery’s sought after beers. “The invitational is a way to create a family reunion of sorts with friends in the beer industry,” adds brewmaster Brynildson.
During the festival, The Bruery has a line stretched out, fifty beer-geeks long in the hot sun. Behind their booth, Carl Katz, The Bruery’s CFO, is shaking his grass hula skirt, pouring beers behind his cheshire smile, no doubt full of glee to be out of the office, connecting with avid craft beer fans.
As the winners of the people’s choice award at FWIBF 2014 and invitee of all four festivals Firestone Walker has put on, The Bruery certainly feels at home pitching tents and getting involved in creating a better beer festival. Sadly, Three Floyd’s managed to steal the award this year, despite their best EZ-up decorating efforts.
The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is definitely a “greatest hits mixtape” of all big beer events throughout the country. The worst part is it goes too fast, and your stomach is only so big. 120 seconds before last call, I look around for one last dance partner to sip. The dust settles, the band finishes, and the crowd funnels out to keep the party going as the big, dusty Paso Robles sun sets. Next year, I’ll have to up my game like Nicholas Cage, as I’m sure tickets will be gone in 60 seconds.