I recently had the pleasure of profiling the new Barrelworks facility at Firestone Walker’s taproom in Buellton for the life section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Unfortunately, I don’t own the rights to that story any more, so I can’t put it up here – but I can say that it was a pretty glowing review. I got a couple emails after it was published from the PR guy at F-W who thanked me for it.
I’m certainly not trying to brag, and I certainly wasn’t trying to act as a mouthpiece for Firestone-Walker. I strive to be as professional as possible, and I did not write the piece with the intention of making F-W look good. It only turned out that way because the place is awesome. Most visitors probably won’t make it back into the dimly-lit barrel room that feels as though you’ve walked into an old European monastery. Many others won’t bother chatting with the server behind the bar – chances are good it’s barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson (he was also Firestone-Walker’s first brewmaster, but they parted ways before bringing him back to head up the Live Barrel Program). His wealth of knowledge makes for an edifying experience at a taproom. But even if you just sit down at the bar and get a sampler – the beer does enough for itself. The only downfall: the price (about $1/ounce of beer).
My wife and I went back this previous weekend to get a taste of SLOambic – Firestone’s version of a Lambic Ale. I’m not going to try to describe it in too much detail because I don’t have the palate to do it justice and I wasn’t taking notes, but it’s very good. I had a couple of six-ounce pours – one at the beginning of the session and another at the end – and it was a great way to start and finish. It is tart, but not in a cheek-puckering way. The fruit flavors and aromas pop out, and it has a nice, crisp feel to it. It’s one of those all-season beers in that it has enough flavor for cold, gray days – and it’s bright and crisp for warm sunny ones.
SLOambic was a highlight for sure, but one of just many in this beerdrinker’s playground. The Barrelworks consistently has single-barrel offerings of its component beers (beers that go into blends such as their numerically-named Anniversary beers) that range from “hmmm, interesting” to “holy shit that’s good.” Some highlights in this regard were the Dry Stout (from Barrel #22 I believe – but like I wrote earlier, I didn’t take notes) and the #64 Rufus enjoyed side-by-side with the Rufus-Brett. Both have characteristics of beers that come in contact with brettanomyces yeast, but #64 (again, could be wrong on the #) was from a single barrel and the Rufus-Brett was a blend. Oddly enough, I found the #64 to be more enjoyable, as it had less alcohol heat and a more rounded flavor – which struck me as peculiar because I expected a more balanced and nuance approach from the blended beer (it’s quite possible I switched the glasses… again: notes – didn’t take them).
It’s been two days since I was there, and who knows what remains of Saturday’s tap list (a keg of 2012 Parabola kicked while I was at the bar. I took some sips of the last ones poured until it is brought back out for the 2013 release coming up). But the fun part about this place is that there’s always something unique on tap – and it’s usually pretty damn good.