Friday, August 17, 2007

A TRIP TO FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING

As I understand it, “no trip to California’s Central Coast can be complete without a visit to FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING”. So on my recent trip down south, I accordingly packed up the family and veered off the 101 freeway into their Buellton brewery and taproom for a nip or two. FIRESTONE WALKER is a brewery I have only minor experience with. In Central and Southern California, as I learned this past week, their beers are ubiquitous, particularly the DOUBLE BARREL ALE that I find so mediocre. It seemed to be on every tap handle I saw in the area, and it has even made its way up to Northern CA in recent months as well. Only 4 Firestone beers are bottled, with the addition of their boxed wild-ass superstar 10th anniversary beer FIRESTONE WALKER “10” that blew everyone away, myself included, last year. Those are all gone now, and did I seriously hear or read somewhere that bottles of “10” are changing hands for upwards of $100? Are you kidding me? Well, it was a pretty special beverage, one that I even got to try on cask at this year’s BOONVILLE BEER FEST. The one I really wanted to try out from these guys was their PALE ALE, which has the distinction of being crowned the United States’ finest beer by no less a beer authority than Men’s Journal magazine. I did that – and more.

The Buellton taproom is a large, cavernous restaurant with lots of staff on hand and some cool decorations, like huge boars’ heads popping out of the walls. They’ve got a vast barrel of pretzels on hand to dip your bowl into, and thusly increase your thirst for their beer products. I got to try five of their beers in one sitting – unfortunately not five pints, but enough so that I had to hire out a designated driver (my wife) for the next leg of our trip. Here’s the rundown, in the order in which I consumed them:

FIRESTONE WALKER HONEY BLONDE – A great start to the festivities. This straw-blonde refresher truly lives up to its name, with a sweet, carbonated, unfiltered taste. A quintessential summer ale, and one I hope they start bottling soon. 8.5/10.

FIRESTONE WALKER PALE ALE – Just about everything I’d heard it was. This is the absolute most juicy pale ale I’ve had since the infamous THREE FLOYDS ALPHA KING, and one that’ll be a standard-bearer in my home for years to come – that is if I can ever find a bottle of it. This pale ale was medium-bodied, floral, and just a bit hoppy. Totally in balance and delicious. 9/10.

FIRESTONE WALKER DOUBLE BARREL ALE (on cask!) – Unfortunately, the cask-conditioned version of this really didn’t add a whole lot to the mix. This is a plain American Amber, with an unusual mildly acidic bite to it that at the end of the day is completely harmless, just unusual. I didn’t taste anything different with this one, just a more “still” version of the beer that’s apparently sweeping SoCal by storm. 6/10.

FIRESTONE WALKER WALKER’S RESERVE – I remember only that this porter was fairly ordinary and moderately tasty, nothing more. Good enough, as they say. I did remember to rate it a 6.5/10.

FIRESTONE NECTAR ALES IPA - Strange story on this one, but I couldn’t quite get the straight deal from the waitress. It is brewed in Paso Robles, another Firestone Walker location, but is marketed as a HUMBOLDT ALES product as part of their “Nectar” line (along with the underrated HEMP ALE). So what’s the deal? Is this a Firestone beer or not? The good news is that it’s outstanding, a truly winning west coast IPA bursting with hops and sweetness, and loads of pine taste as well. Everything I’m looking for in an IPA, to be frank. I’m dying to have this one again – and I guess it’s regularly available in bottles so that should be fairly soon. 9/10.

3 comments:

Steve said...

I think the Nectar line is just Firestone contract brewing for Humboldt brewing company. Kinda like how Gordon Biersch brews for Trader Joe's. Anyway, I loved that Nectar IPA too. I have basically the same analysis of all those beers, except I haven't tried the Honey Blonde. Good Stuff. A lot better than Island Brewing it sounds :)

Rick Sellers said...

Jay, man, this write-up is inspiring. I simply need to make my way down there, hard to believe I haven't yet. Thanks.

Dave Turner said...

On a recent visit to California taking in a liesurly meander down highway 1 I sampled many good Ales and on the pier in Santa Barbara had draught Firestone which was one of the best beers I have ever enjoyed-I even got used to the temperature you guys like your beer at!Thank you-I only wish you exported.
Dave Turner. Bristol. England