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Kicking Off Festival Season in Paso

Due to a beer schedule conflict, we missed the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival last year. Hearing many good reports from the first edition, Merideth and I didn’t want to miss the second installment. Mainly because we would never hear the end of it from Fran.

Glass waiting to be grabbed.

On a very warm early Saturday afternoon, Merideth and I, plus our friend Carlo, climbed out of our comfortable, air-condtioned vehicle at the Paso Robles Event Center. As we walked the length of the long line to find our spot at the back, we stopped and chatted with a few friends along the way. Despite the heat, the crowd was animated and chipper, patiently waiting for the opening bell.

These days, Merideth and I appreciate more and more a well-run, well-organized festival. For us, a hallmark of such a festival is how quickly the eager beer drinkers get to drink beer. About a half-hour before opening, the gates were opened, tickets were checked, programs and glasses were handed out. Once through we were held in a pen waiting for the top of the hour.

Like many people, we perused the program while waiting to be freed. With the heat, Merideth and I knew we were going to drink as much session beer as possible. Flipping the pages, we identified all the sub 5% ABV beers we might want to try.

The line for Dark Lord

A few minutes early, the festival opened. Like Christmas shopping mothers after cabbage patch dolls at Walmart, the crowd surged towards the Three Floyd’s booth at the back of the festival grounds. OK. I exaggerate a bit. It was more of a calm rush with an orderly queue forming. By the time we walked in, it stretched across the festival grounds.

I have to admit, I don’t get the Dark Lord mania (Yes, I have tried it). With so many great beers to drink, waiting in a long line in 100° heat for close to a fifth of the festival for one beer doesn’t make sense to me. There was one positive aspect of the Dark Lord craze for the rest of the festival goers. It kept a large number of people out of circulation. Once it blew, queues appeared for food and breweries that didn’t exist previously.

A lot good beer at
the Firestone Walker Invitational…

While in the pen, we also identified our first beer, Nebraska Brewing’s Apricot au Poivre Saison. Conveniently one of first booths, we quickly each had a pour of what would be my beer of the day. I love beers brewed with black pepper and spiciness of the Saison played very well with the pepper bite.

We spent the next couple of hours doing laps in the expansive festival grounds, coveting shade, misters and the big vineyard fans. Eating and drinking along the way, we would occasionally halt our wanderings to talk with friends. Recommendations for food and beer were usually exchanged and the typical response was “Is there a line?”

Here are some of my favorites beers at the festival:

  • Apricot au Poivre Saison / Nebraska Brewing
  • Zwickelbier / Trumer Brauerei
  • Paradise Road Pilsner /Figueroa Mountain Brewing
  • Saison / Funkwerks
  • Cabrillo Kölsch / Golden Road Brewing
  • Small Talk / Triple Rock Brewery
mmmm….. cupcakes….

The food maybe was the highlight of the day. Included in the price, the fare wasn’t your normal festival deep-fried and sugar-laden food. Local restaurants and caterers provided a cornucopia of wonderful small plates to enjoy while sampling the beers. Highlights included avocado ice cream, pull-porked sandwich, beer-infused gelato, Moroccan chicken lettuce wraps, and a yummy Paella. But the stars were the beer cupcakes, four flavors to choose from. Merideth and I tried all four, several times each I think.

A little past the half way point of the festival, we decided to call it a day. We were enjoying the beers, the food and seeing friends, but the heat was getting to us a bit. Admittedly, I was also tired of rubbing elbows with so many sweaty people. We traded the bustle of festival for the cool and quiet Barrelhouse Brewery tasting room.

We heard a lot of hype about the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and kudos to Firestone Walker for living up to it.

View all the images from our day in Paso Robles…

What is a Beer Geek?

In the 90’s we started referring to ourselves as ‘beer geeks’. Back then, the moniker for us had nothing to do with being able to discern and describe the subtle nuances of beer. Heck, we can’t even do that now. It was more a way to convey the lengths to which we would go for good beer. Living in Oakland, it was commonplace for us to travel to some far off brewpub, such as Anderson Valley, have a few beers and head back home.

Enjoying a White Ale at Telegraph Brewing Company
Enjoying a Golden Wheat Ale at Telegraph Brewing Company

Our Independence Day mini beer tour stirred up in me feelings of nostalgia about our early gonzo travels for beer. We had been wanting to visit Telegraph Brewing in Santa Barbara for quite some time but hadn’t had a chance to fit it into our schedule. Then, a beer release made for an imperative trip.

At the end of June, Firestone Walker released their Double IPA, Double Jack. Offered  in limited quantities, I knew I would have to seek out Double Jack somewhere else because it would most likely not make it to the Monterey Peninsula. A visit to the brewery seemed to be the best bet. Armed with a reason to head south on Hwy 101, we decided to go all the way to Santa Barbara first, then hit Paso Robles on the way home. Voila!… our July 4th beer tour was born.

Stout wowing the beach goers in Santa Barbara
Stout wowing the beach goers in Santa Barbara

Early on July 4th, we loaded Porter and Stout into the car  and were soon zooming south. We welcomed the cool weather on this holiday because we wanted to bring the dogs. Going away in a couple of weeks, quality time with the pups was important. After four hours of driving, we found ourselves on a beach in beautiful sunny Santa Barbara. The dogs were pleased to get out of the car and Stout was soon catching the frisbee while Porter did his normal hound dog thing. But we weren’t in Santa Barbara to go to the beach. So after a quick walk, it was time to try some beer.

Telegraph Brewing
Telegraph Brewing

I’ll admit I am a sucker for breweries that are really casual and laid back. I love the roll up the door, ”c’mon in and have a beer” attitude,  a seemingly simple concept not grasped by all breweries.  Telegraph Brewing gives off that exact vibe.  Arriving a half hour after they opened, we joined a small crowd in the tasting area of their industrial space to try a few beers.

Tasters at Telegraph Brewing
Tasting beer at Telegraph Brewing

There were four beers to try: White Ale, Golden Wheat Ale, California Ale and Stock Porter. We both ordered the $6 taster set which included a sample of all four beers plus a 10 ounce pour of our favorite. Telegraph also sells 10 oz  glass and 16 oz pints, plus growlers, bottles and kegs to go.

The beers were worth the four hour drive. I liked all four with the White Ale and the Stock Porter being the standouts for me. The White Ale, a Belgian-style Wit, was a perfect accompaniment for the sunny Santa Barbara weather. And the Stock Porter, a blend of fresh and barrel aged beer, hit the spot with its chocolaty, roasted flavor and 5.7% ABV. Merideth’s star was the Golden Wheat Ale.

We could have hung out all afternoon, but we needed to head back north. Buying a few bottles for home, we rejoined the dogs and started back up Hwy 101 to find some Double Jack.

Enjoying a Double Jack at Firestone Walker in Paso Robles
Enjoying a Double Jack at Firestone Walker in Paso Robles

A couple hours later we reached our halfway home point, the Firestone Walker tasting room in Paso Robles. And I was drinking a Double Jack.

What a wonderful beer! I am a huge fan of Pliny the Elder but I might like Double Jack a little better. It has a little more malt balance to go with the hop bomb characteristics. My only fault with Double Jack is that it might be a little too easy to drink for a 9.5% beer.

Firestone Walker was a quick visit. Despite our early start, it was already getting late and the dogs were hungry.  Back on Hwy 101, we continued north for the last two hours home.

After almost 12 hours on the road, we were back at home relaxing in front of the TV and enjoying a brewery fresh Union Jack. What a perfect ending to a nice July 4th with the family.

Enjoying a Double Jack at Firestone Walker in Paso Robles
Enjoying a Double Jack at Firestone Walker in Paso Robles

I am a huge fan of Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA. So, when I heard they were making a Double IPA version, Double Jack, I had to try it. Recently released and only in limited quantities, I knew I would have to seek out Double Jack as it wouldn’t be coming to the Monterey Peninsula. Visiting the brewery in Paso seemed to be the best bet.