There are two events that I especially look forward to during the year. One is the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, coming up on May 30th, and the other is the annual LA Beer Blogger (LABB) pilgrimage to Firestone Walker. The LABB pilgrimage has been going for three years strong and it’s been a great opportunity to learn about an exceptional area outside of the LA bubble, Paso Robles. Each visit is a mix of visual and sensory immersion, which features not only the Firestone Walker brewery, but the town surrounding it.
So here’s the thing, I’m going to go over, in separate posts, four specific activities we participated in over the weekend, but your takeaway really is to go check out Paso Robles for yourself. Enjoy!
From the Barrel
There are so many beer festivals these days. Knowing what you want and what to expect from the festival you are going to is pretty important. For me, I go for fests that include food in their lineup, and I’m not talking about an army of food trucks stationed outside. Local restaurants have a lot to offer and, if wisely selected, can add tremendous value to your event. Including the price of food in an event is even more important because nobody wants to riffle through their wallet while holding their camera, beer, plate, and sobriety.
From the Barrel, which is now enjoying it’s 5th year, is one Firestone Walkers premier beer fests. It’s currently one of their best kept secrets. Hey, maybe I shouldn’t even be writing about this. Touted as the festival for locals, From the Barrel enjoys the company of some 400 guests who are urged to dress up in 1920-30’s prohibition garb – and ambiance is everything. It’s one thing to go to a festival were some people dress up and another to go to a festival where, literally, everyone does.
Located in the Historic Santa Margarita Ranch, a beautifully restored barn built over the site of an old mission, From the Barrel showcases not only craft beer, but also craft spirits and local food. If whiskey, whiskey barrel aged beer, and smoked tri-tip with whiskey barbeque sauce sounds like your jam, you should probably put this on your calendar for 2016 because missing it would just be wrong. You’ll also find vintners and various oak aged wild beers at this event so there really is something for everyone.
One especially intriguing feature for me was the presence of RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits (AKA Villicana Winery), the featured distillery from last years LABB pilgrimage, as well as vintner/owner Alex Villicana. At that event we tasted a young white whiskey that had been distilled from Firestone Walker 805. That very same whiskey made an appearance at this event, but with one added element, oak. The spirit had been aged in a barrel for a year, which mellowed out the aggressiveness lending some very nice woody and vanillin notes. Hopefully I’ll get to try it again at a later day because I’m looking forward to seeing how the flavor changes with more time in the barrel. RE:FIND/ Villicana Winery is yet another must visit location in Paso Robles and it’s two for one.
San Diego based brewery, Societe Brewing, was also in attendance bringing with them Highbinder a 6.2% ABV feral ale w/ raspberries. The brewery’s Asst. Exec. Officer Mike Sardina who explained that the keg of Highbinder being showcased was the last one they had, for the time being. Societe’s barrel aging program generates considerable buzz as it focuses primarily on sour and wild ales, which are released on a very limited basis. They poured next to apropos sour king Russian River and had no problem holding up their own against Sanctification and Beautification. Obviously different styles, but the craft behind was were the comparison could be made.
On tap behind the Firestone Walker booth was, of course, Parabola and a few Barrelworks offerings. Barrelhouse, another local brewery, had a wild red ale on cask along with a barrel aged imperial stout. The focus being barrel aging, most breweries either brought wild/sours or spirit barrel aged beers so those looking for “danksauce whales bro” may have been disappointed, but then again thats why event planners write descriptions for their events.
There are many reasons to attend this festival so far away from Los Angeles, but the most important and perhaps simplest reason, is that it’s just a really good fest. Like many other Firestone Walker events, they aren’t half baked. You’ll leave having experienced something truly rare with the lasting memories that follow. So don your suspenders, collect your drinks, sample some food, and revel in the speakeasy feel of it all, From the Barrel is about as unique and special as festivals get.