Highlights From the 8th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest

Matt Brynildson presenting the 2019 People's Choice Award to Fish Gaucho at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Brynildson presenting the 2019 People’s Choice Award to Fish Gaucho at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.

This past weekend we spent it in California’s Central Coast at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest (FWIBF). Eight years strong, this year’s annual sold out event once again did not disappoint.

Each year on the Saturday following Memorial Day Weekend over 2,500 craft beer fans converge on Paso Robles, a city of 31,000 residents in San Luis Obispo County. This is smack dab in the middle of Central Coast Wine Country as beer is not the beverage of choice in this rural area. And it’s not that easy to get to as it’s halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

However, Paso Robles is also home to Firestone Walker Brewing, the nearly 23-year-old brewery that is part of the Duvel Moortgat Brewery. This brewery group that includes both Brewery Ommegang and Boulevard Brewing in the United States was ranked the #5 largest U.S. Craft Brewer in 2018.

Now in the festival’s eighth year, as other beer festivals seem to be waning in popularity, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest seem to show no sign of losing its momentum.

The Dirty RIver Boys headlined the music stage at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The Dirty River Boys headlined the music stage at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.

As it’s been in years past the 2019 FWIBF was no exception as all 2,500 tickets sold out within minutes when they went on sale on February 7, 2019. For a $90 General Admission ticket a festival attendee receives unlimited beer and food samples, plus live music for five hours. The festival also sells a VIP ticket for $200, as $115 of it goes to the festival’s beneficiary, Paso Robles Pioneer Day. Plus the VIP ticket allows for entry one hour earlier at 11:00am where lines are almost non-existent.

2012-2018 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest Recaps:
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2012

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2013
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2014
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2015
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2016
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2017
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest 2018

A few years ago when we spoke to Tom Madden, it was him that got Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing interested in a fundraiser for his adopted hometown’s annual festival. “I’m the idiot that went to Matt and said let’s have a beer fest!” recounted Madden. His idea was to host a beer fest that was less “snobby” than the wine fests that have been held in the area. This idea has proven to be a huge success!

We approached this year’s FWIBF with as much anticipation as we have with each of the eight years that we’ve attended. It’s best to plan ahead early and grab a hotel room, even before tickets go on-sale to grab a good price. As for traveling to Paso Robles, fortunately for us its only about a 2-1/2 hour drive from the San Jose Airport down US 101. Plus, flights in and out of San Jose are quite reasonable.

Unlike in years past, the 2019 FWIBF was a more pleasurable one to attend. Temperatures were much cooler on Saturday than in year’s past when it’s been consistently in the upper 90s and has event topped 100 degrees. A pleasant 81-degree day made for a great day in the California sun that kept you warm, but also allowed for better enjoyment of some of the big, bold barrel-aged beers.

For this year’s FWIBF, over 60 breweries converged upon Paso Robles on Saturday. This is the largest number of breweries to attend the annual fest where Matt Brynildson hand selects each of the invited breweries. Its good thing that Matt has plenty of friends in the brewing industry as other brewers treasure the invite to this highly regarded beer festival. It’s at the FWIBF that you will most likely have the brewmaster pouring you your beer sample, not a volunteer. Therefore if you have any questions about the beer it’ll be answered!

Attendees also vote for their favorite brewery and favorite restaurant at the FWIBF. The 2019 winners of the People’s Choice Award were The Bruery and Fish Gaucho. No wonder The Bruery won as it poured Black Tuesday variants all afternoon!

Matt Brynildson congratulates The Bruery on winning the People's Choice Award at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Brynildson congratulates The Bruery on winning the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.

Some of our takeaways from the FWIBF are not having a single bad beer all day. This year’s collaboration beer was quite impressive. Firestone Walker invited Cigar City Brewing to brew Los Leñadores, an imperial brown ale aged in high rye bourbon barrels and infused with African and Brazilian hardwood spirals. This beer was released in a very small bottle run only available at Firestone Walker locations.

Since the brewers that are invited to this fest all one to one up one another, many jeroboams make their way to Paso Robles. This year was no exception as our local brewer, Hair of the Dog Brewing poured a 15-year-old Fred from a 3-liter jeroboam. Best of all, it’s just part of the unlimited tastings, so no special or multiple ticket was need to get this historic beer that honors the late Fred Eckhardt. And for 15 years, it has held up quite well with just slight hints of oxidation.

Alan Sprints pouring a 15 year old jeroboam of Fred at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. What a treat! (photo courtesy of Niki Ganong)
Alan Sprints pouring a 15 year old jeroboam of Fred at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. What a treat! (photo courtesy of Niki Ganong)

Our other highlights from the Invitational in no particular order includes the following:

  • Garage Project – Boysenberry Ripple,
  • Side Project – Saison du Ble
  • Trillium – BA Macaroon
  • Boulevard – Pear Grisette
  • 3 Floyds Brewing – Dark Lord
  • Birrificio Italliano – Tipopils
  • Other Half – Broccoli Special Reserve DIPA (unfortunately no broccoli was used)
  • New Belgium – Mural Agua Fresca Cerveza
  • Firestone Walker Barrelworks – Nec Bones / UnderCurrants / Brains on the Table / Violet Underground
  • Half Acre Beer – Bon Hut
  • Bell’s Brewery – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Third Coast Old Ale
  • Allagash Brewing – Saison Gratis

One of our other favorite pours was pFriem Family Brewers using its new Gravity Fed Keg, similar to the ones used in Germany. pFriem now has an arsenal of these mini kegs and at the FWIBF the Hood River brewer poured its pFriem Kölsch from it. Quite delicious. Look for these to begin being used at its tap room in the coming weeks.

pFriem Family Brewers debuted its gravity fed keg that poured its Kölsch-Style Ale at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
pFriem Family Brewers debuted its gravity fed keg that poured its Kölsch-Style Ale at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Having a fresh pour of Kölsch from pFreim and its new gravity fed keg at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Having a fresh pour of Kölsch from pFreim and its new gravity fed keg at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.

Beyond the beers, this year’s FWIBF was a nice one on the personal side as Portland’s beer community has seen a few of its members relocate from the Rose City as of late. It was great to run into a few of these friends this past weekend.

Bill Murnighan, former manager at Bailey’s Taproom, was at the fest as he now lives in Northern California and works for Lime Ventures, a beer distributor. And it’s this distributor that many of the out of market breweries use to get their beer legally into California for the Invitational.

Tom Fischer who relocated to Austin, Texas was in attendance pouring beer from his current brewery, Pinthouse, where he is part of the brew team. Travis Sandoval, the former bartender at The Commons Brewery recently started working for Beachwood Blendery, but ended up pouring at the Invitational for Jester King Brewery. We also ran into David Chappell who recently relocated to San Luis Obispo after being promoted in his sales role at Elysian Brewing.

As it goes to begin preparing for next year’s FWIBF, our “highly educated” guess is that tickets to the 9th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest will go on-sale on February 9, 2020. Regardless, we’ll keep you posted!

Here’s our photo recap of the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.

Tom Madden and David Walker at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Tom Madden and David Walker surrounded by a few of the support staff at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Almost Noon at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest and the rush of the crowd is about to take place.
Approaching Noon at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest and the rush of the crowd is about to take place.
Gigantic Brewing made a return visit to the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest in Paso Robles, California.
Gigantic Brewing made a return visit to the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest in Paso Robles, California.
Garage Project from New Zealand impressed the massed once again at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Garage Project from New Zealand impressed the masses once again at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Joel Winn and Dick Cantwell pouring New Belgium beers at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. Really enjoyed the Mural Aqua Fresca Cerveza.
Joel Winn and Dick Cantwell pouring New Belgium beers at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. Really enjoyed the Mural Aqua Fresca Cerveza.
Trillium Brewery kept a consisten line all afternoon at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest as it poured a Barrel Aged Macaroon.
Trillium Brewery kept a consistent line all afternoon at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest as it poured a Barrel Aged Macaroon.
Travis Sandoval attends his first Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest volunteering for Jester King.
Travis Sandoval attends his first Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest volunteering for Jester King.
The crew from pFriem Family Brewers at their debut at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crew from pFriem Family Brewers at their debut at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crew from Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crew from Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crew from Birrificio Italiano that traveled from Italy at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crew from Birrificio Italiano that traveled from Italy at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Isaac Sprints pouring for Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Isaac Sprints pouring for Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Jeff Alworth interviewing Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Jeff Alworth interviewing Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Polly Walker pouring beers at the Firestone Barrelworks booth during the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Polly Walker pouring beers at the Firestone Barrelworks booth during the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The taps at the Firestone Walker Barrelworks booth during the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The taps at the Firestone Walker Barrelworks booth during the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The Dirty River Boys helped closer out the 8th annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The Dirty River Boys helped close out the 8th annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Bonney tribute from Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Bonney tribute from Hair of the Dog Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Even fans of Barry Manilow attend the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Even fans of Barry Manilow attend the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Duing the VIP session 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, the line for Side Project was quite long.
During the VIP session 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, the line for Side Project was quite long.
Being served a Dark Lord from 3 Floyds Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Being served a Dark Lord from 3 Floyds Brewing at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Boulevard Brewing pouring at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Boulevard Brewing pouring at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Brynildson taking is annual selfie at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Matt Brynildson taking is annual selfie at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crowd during the People's Choice Award ceremony at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The crowd during the People’s Choice Award ceremony at the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The cheese and meat platters were part of admission into the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The cheese and meat platters were part of admission into the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Jos Ruffell from Garage Project traveled from New Zealand to be part of the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Jos Ruffell from Garage Project traveled from New Zealand to be part of the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Brewpublic's D.J. Paul, New Belgium's Joel Winn and beer writer Brian Yaeger prefunking the night before the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Brewpublic’s D.J. Paul, New Belgium’s Joel Winn and beer writer Brian Yaeger prefunking the night before the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
Los Leñadores, the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest collaboration beer from Firestone Walker Brewing and Cigar City Brewing
Los Leñadores, the 2019 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest collaboration beer from Firestone Walker Brewing and Cigar City Brewing

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