A precap of the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and La Piccola Collaboration Beer

FWIBF logo

Christmas doesn’t make me this happy. Birthdays don’t even come close. Few things get me as excited as the last weekend in May and the fourth Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival.

I won’t go into too much detail about all the great beers that will be at this year’s festival (if you’re curious, you can find the list here). I’ll have a little more info about that in my column in the Santa Barbara News-Press that will run on June 4. But suffice to say there’s a lot of good stuff.

But what makes the FWIBF stand out is not the amount of whalez(!) flowing from the best brewers in the world, it’s the overall high quality of beer. You can wander the aisles of the Great American Beer Festival and find some truly amazing beer, but you can also find a bunch of duds and a few outright stinkers. At FWIBF, the vast majority of beers poured are in the “world-class” category — so don’t expect me to be standing in lines for the popular beers while hidden gems lay waiting to be discovered.

However, there is one beer that I will gladly be lining up for — La Piccola Dark Saison, a collaboration beer brewed alongside Agostino Arioli of Birrifico Italiano. There will be three versions of this beer available at the festival — two from Firestone Walker Barrelworks, and one from Birrificio Italiano. Firestone brewmaster Matt Brynildson explained the collaboration process in a recent press release.

“With most collaborations, you start the beer together at one brewery, and it gets finished there, resulting in one beer,” Brynildson said. “Agostino and I decided to do something different. We sat down and designed the recipe together, then went back to our respective breweries to brew them on our own. We’ve been emailing back and forth for a year now, trying to replicate what the other was doing.”

LaPiccolaAfter Brynildson produced the wort in Paso Robles and pitched the brewery’s saison yeast, it was shipped down to Buellton where mad fermentationists Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks got to doing their thing with the barrels and bugs.

They inoculated the beer with a blend of brettanomyces lambicus and lactobacillus (better known as Brett and Lacto) and let those wild strains do their thing for eight months inside French oak puncheons.

The plan was always to add some black pepper to the brew, but after tasting the base product it was hard to avoid not releasing that as well.

“Once that finished we started tasting it and everyone really appreciated the version we created,” Crooks said. “That’s when we started thinking we wanted to do one called (La Piccola) Virtuosa which was without peppercorns.”

Another version was dosed with Sichuan peppercorns, which Richardson and Crooks agreed were quite the pepper.

“It’s like putting your tongue on a nine-volt battery,” Crooks said.

“It’s that feeling you get at the dentist’s office when the Novocain wears off,” Richardson added.

The result was two similar, yet distinctive beers.

“They’re both fantastic beers,” Richardson said. “The difference is you get this citrus rind, depth from the peppercorn beer…. it’s really quite pleasant. The amount blended in worked quite nicely. It will be really fun to compare and contrast with Birrifico Italiano.”

Both versions will be available at the festival and for sale at the Paso Robles Brewery and the Barrelworks facility starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday. However, the only place to taste the Birrifico Italiano version will be at the festival. Nobody this side of the Atlantic has had that yet, but Richardson speculated that it would likely be less sour than what they created.

For a little insight, Brynildson described Arioli’s style a bit in that same press release.

“Like many Italians, Agostino is a true gourmet, and he takes a chef’s approach to brewing,” Brynildson said. “He’s really into exotic spices and he wanted to play around with these Sichuan peppercorns, which are really weird and unique. We had to contact a spice hunter in Italy to get our hands on them.”

So skip the lines on Saturday, but don’t skip La Piccola.

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What it Means to be a Community Brewery

pure order board

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a short speech at Blue Box 2015 — a conference hosted by First Beverage Group in Boulder, Colorado. It was a great opportunity to mingle with some movers and shakers in the beverage world, but I took it as a chance to talk about what it means to be part of a brewing community, and a collaborator within that community.

I believe video from that conference will be up soon, and I’ll post a link when that happens. But rather than laboring through a video of me nervously addressing strangers, you need look no further than one of our own local breweries to see what it means to be part of a brewing community.

Pure Order Brewing Company on 410 Quarantina Street is the epitome of the neighborhood brewery. They, along with Telegraph Brewing on Salsipuedes Street, are where the locals go for a drink when the crowds of visitors in the Funk Zone get a bit outside of comfort range. And for good reason — both breweries are making incredible beer.

Pure Order was recently among the winners at the Casa Pacifica in Ventura along with Institution Ales from Camarillo and The LAB in Agoura. While those other two are both great breweries, Pure Order was the only one in the winner list with a beer off its standard and regular production line — the Santa Barbara Pale. That beer will also be part of the upcoming Cost Plus World Market Summer Seasonal Variety Pack, which will be available nationwide. That’s a pretty big deal.

And yet, it’s Pure Order’s ability to keep things small and local that sets them apart. Recently, they’ve been helping me out by loaning their time, space and some equipment to help me brew 60 gallons of beer for a friend’s upcoming June wedding (and yes, full disclosure, this help is greatly appreciated and I’m sure impacts my favorable bias toward them. They also carry my book, We Make Beer, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt either. I’m only human, but I like to believe that my opinions can remain relatively objective). This isn’t just because I write a beer column in the local newspaper or because I run this blog. James Burge and Pure Order are willing to help me out because I’m part of the local brewing community — the same way I’ve seen them help out home brewers who come in looking for advice and perhaps experience.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I've brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I’ve brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

More and more often I hear locals tell me that Pure Order is their favorite brewery in town. I don’t think that’s a knock on any of the other breweries, as just about every brewery from Buellton to Carpinteria is producing high-quality beer right now (and one need look no further than the recent Dia de Los Obscuras to see how the beer community has embraced Telegraph). I think what that represents is how Pure Order has managed to capture Santa Barbara’s essence. Not just in the beer, but in the entire atmosphere provided at the brewery and its beer garden.

Beer isn’t just a business, at least it shouldn’t be. The best breweries aren’t just the ones pumping out the best liquid, they’re also the ones that represent and collaborate within the community (along those lines — there was a recent Instagram post from Kevin Ashford from Fig Mountain’s SB brewery showing a collaboration effort with Island Brewing’s Ryan Morrill, as well as both breweries’ brewing teams). Pure Order, certainly isn’t the only local brewery to embrace the community, but it’s embraced me, and I’m grateful.

edit: a previous version of this post misidentified Ryan Morrill as a brewer for Telegraph — he is the head brewer for Island Brewing in Carpinteria.

American Craft Beer Week at Island Brewing Company

American Craft Beer Week at Island Brewing Company

May 11-17, 2015

 

Carpinteria, CA — Island Brewing Company will again join forces with thousands of breweries across the country celebrating the culture and community of craft beer. Island Brewing Company will commemorate this year’s American Craft Beer Week with fun and frivolity, new, seasonal, and rare beer releases, community events, brewery tours, and more. Here’s the lineup:

Monday, May 11:  Activate the preschooler part of your brain, and prepare to lose yourself in the gluestick, glitter, magic markers of Crafting with Craft, while you spend an interesting evening coloring outside the lines (6-9). For one night only we’ll be pouring a limited release keg of the Russian Imperial Stout. At 11 % abv, it’s only the biggest beer we’ve ever brewed; huge chocolate notes, big malt character, sure to inspire.  Santa Barbara Food Connection will be serving up tortas and hamburgers on the patio 4-8.

Tuesday, May 12 It’s Beer Trivia (7-8:30) a great chance to impress your friends with your vast knowledge of all things beer without being showy, and take home some prizes to boot!  It’s also Customer Appreciation with $1 off pint coupons. On tap tonight for one night only: the return of our much loved big and bold Belgian Quad, 9.3% 27 IBU.  The French Food Truck will be serving up an authentic French food experience…. but with a twist (4-8).

Wednesday, May 13: The event that you’ve hopefully spent the last year training for: the 4th Annual Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament (6-8:30). You read that right and you already know the rules! But wait, there’s more.  Fire and Wine Catering will be on hand for some wood fired pizza! (4-8) and on tap for one night only: Belgian beer and hop lovers rejoice – We’ll be pouring a Belgian IPA 7.0 %, 62 IBUs.

Thursday, May 14: Brewer’s Appreciation Night, we will be celebrating the people that work so hard to brew the beer for you.  The brain trust that is our brewers in the back will be on hand for a guided tasting through our current beers starting at 6:30, as well as showing you and your crew around the brewery.   This is a great chance to tell them how much you love their work, probably learn a thing or two about beer, and have a few pints of deliciousness. Thursday sees the release of the 7th beer in our Variance IPA series.  The IPL, that’s an India Pale Lager, think hops, light body, and all good. Georgia’s Smokehouse will bring the Southern-style smokehouse BBQ (5-8).

Friday, May 15: Hold on to your hats. We will have Bourbon Barrel-aged Jubilee on tap. You read that right. This will not last long, so make it a point to convert your enthusiasm into action. This will also coincide with VIP Tasting $15 per tasting (ticketholders only, please) as we raid the barchives in amassing a tasting of some of yesteryear’s beers for a night not to be missed (6-8). Santa Barbara Food Connection fires up the grill from 4-8 for tacos and tortas and all things authentic.

Saturday, May 16: Excellence in sound and taste combine for Beerapalooza. We’re going to tap a cask of Chicory Vanilla Stout deliciousness for this  sun-soaked, all day, live music event featuring the soothing sounds of the Ben Wilmore Quartet (1 – 2:30), the groove of Sol Tree (3 – 4:30) and the one and only Pacific Haze (5 – 6:30). World Famous Franks parks on the patio 4-8 to deliver just what your palate is looking for.

Sunday, May 17: We’ll tap one more cask of amazingness to round out the week, a rum oaked Jubilee.  From 2-4 we’ll be conducting Hop Experiment tastings, adding different hops to the same beer for your education and the general progress of humanity. Who knows, you might end up on our sensory tasting panel. And we’ll have the always popular Beer Bingo (6 – 8). Confusion Catering will bring their unique blend of flavors to the patio from 2-6 and keep your hunger at bay.

Island Brewing Company is located at 5049 6th Street in Carpinteria, CA.  For more information about Island Brewing Company or American Craft Beer Week contact Laurie Matthews at (805)745-8272 or email laurie@islandbrewingcompany.com.  We hope you will join us in celebrating American Craft Beer Week!

Take Me Out to the Brewhouse

Just as wine experts do, beer experts love talking about beer pairings. And like wine experts, it’s hard for beer experts to not come off a little snobby when they point out that an IPA’s herbal aroma pairs nicely with a sharp goat cheese.

It also seems to me that most pairings are simply matters of personal taste and current moods. You might like a hoppy beer to go alongside your spicy buffalo wings — I prefer a robust porter.

But I hope we can all agree that nothing goes better with beer — any beer — than baseball.

And in Santa Barbara, no place puts the two together quite like The Brewhouse on Montecito Street.

Monday marks the first full day of baseball, and it also marks the release of one of my favorite seasonal beers, Baseball Saison. It’s a big and strong saison-style ale that has the bold aromas typical of the style, but the beer remains remarkably drinkable with a relatively thin body.

The beer dates back to 2008, and The Brewhouse’s founder and brewmaster, Pete Johnson, recalls that the introduction of the beer was greeted with positive reviews — from the consumers but perhaps also from divine forces.

“The baseball gods were so pleased that they delivered my Phillies to the World Series,” Johnson said.

Indeed, the Philadelphia transplant had the rare fortune of seeing his favorite team take home the title that season. The shortstop from that Phillies squad, Jimmy Rollins, signed to play with the Dodgers this past winter.

And while you won’t be able to catch Rollins and the Dodgers on TV until Time Warner Cable resolves some contract disputes with other cable carriers, you can catch the rest of the games on screen at The Brewhouse.

And if perhaps a beer isn’t strong enough to settle down the nerves of opening day, the brewpub is offering up a “Double Play” that includes the beer and a shot of whiskey from Santa Barbara’s own Cutler’s Artisan Spirits.

Mind you, this is no ordinary whiskey. The white liquor is a distilled version of the Baseball Saison, and some of those delicious aromas make it through into the whiskey — and still others are created or modified in the distilling process.

Ian Cutler, the man behind Cutler’s, will be on premise at The Brewhouse Monday to talk about the whiskey and answer questions.

And if you order a Double Play while wearing your favorite team’s jersey, hat or T-shirt, Pete will give your team a run on a scoreboard created precisely for the Baseball Saison release. The team that scores the most runs on Monday will have its logo adorn the tap handle for the rest of the year.

So Dodgers fans, please don’t avoid wearing your Yasiel Puig jersey on Monday just because he won’t be on TV around here until ESPN airs their game on Wednesday.

“If you don’t want to see that hated red and black SF, you better come in your jersey,” Pete warned.

And if a saison isn’t your beer of choice, The Brewhouse has several new beers that will go well with the start of baseball season.

I enjoy El Citra — a “session IPA” that has all the hop aromas and flavors of a regular IPA but is considerably lower in alcohol. The bitterness is also scaled back, as low alcohol typically means low malt, and a bitter beer without some caramel malt flavors to balance it out is not the kind of beer I’d like to quaff again and again while watching a game.

This may be the only time I ever say this, but Monday, and baseball season, can’t come soon enough.

Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press).

 

Telegraph Brewing Announces Dia de las Obscuras Rare Beer Festival

Note: The following is a press release from Telegraph Brewing Company. Tickets go on sale March 21

Telegraph

Santa Barbara craft brewery to host two-session sour-beer/wild-ale event on May 3

Santa Barbara, CA—Telegraph Brewing Company announced details today for their Dia de las Obscuras Rare Beer Festival, showcasing its barrel-aged and wild-fermented Obscura Line of experimental beers, to be held on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at the Telegraph tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara. The award-winning Santa Barbara brewery will celebrate in grand fashion with ten Obscura beers on tap, shining a spotlight on Telegraph’s renowned experimental brewing program.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity for craft beer lovers to explore our most highly sought-after and difficult-to-find beers,” said Telegraph Brewing founder Brian Thompson. “To have ten taps dedicated to these rare beers is a testament to the flexibility and increased capacity of our new brewery space; that we have as much capacity to dedicate to the Obscura Line of beers as we do, allows us to put events like this together.” At Telegraph’s first Obscura event, Noche de las Obscuras, held as a part of Santa Barbara Beer Week 2014, the brewery poured eight different wild ales.

Dia de Las Obscuras will delight craft beer connoisseurs in two separate Sunday sessions (12 pm to 3pm, and 4pm to 7pm) hosted at Telegraph’s tasting room. Tickets and additional details about specific beers are available at TelegraphBrewing.com/obscura.htm

“The Latin word ‘Obscura’ means dark or shadowy, obscure, from unknown origins,” explained Trevor Scoggins, Telegraph’s sales manager. “And each of our Obscura beers displays that element of the unknown and the mysterious; that makes seeking out them out lots of fun for the drinker.”

Telegraph’s Obscura Line of experimental beers includes both award-winning favorites like Gypsy Ale and Reserve Wheat Ale, but also includes many one-off projects that will never exist again. Dia de las Obscuras attendees will have an opportunity to try beers from both sides of the project. Barrel master Paul Rey said, “We make a variety of elegant, complex beers that deserve a day of their own.”

Telegraph Brewing, an award-winning craft brewery located  on downtown Santa Barbara’s Salsipuedes Street, specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers using 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible. The brewery strives to capture in its beers the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast.

For more information, including descriptions of beers brewed by Telegraph, visit TelegraphBrewing.com.

Pure Order begins bottling

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Pure Order Brewing Company is growing up. The brewery will be celebrating its one-year anniversary in the coming months, and there will be more on that at this space later, but the news coming out of Quarantina St. is that Pure Order is putting Santa Barbara in a bottle.

At least, Pure Order is putting Santa Barbara Pale Ale in bottles — along with Red Eye Wheat and Crooked Neck Hefeweizen.

The beer is the same as what’s available on draft, but it is now wrapped in a beautiful label. Designed by brewer James Burge’s friend, artist Hunter Damiani, the stylized label and six-pack holder depicts the beauty of Santa Barbara.

“When I started, I wanted our labels to be works of art,” Burge said. “I wanted it to be something that you could put on your wall. Santa Barbara is a beautiful place, and to have anything but beautiful art would be a shame.”

Some of Damiani’s artistic label designs are on display at the brewery, which is also the primary location to buy Pure Order six-packs for now. Burge said that the brewery is in the midst of expanding its market and sales force into Los Angeles, and that introducing bottles to bars and restaurants in that market is part of the brewery’s expansion plan.

“I think the bottles are going to be the driving force down there more than taps,” Burge said. “The way the market is now, the taps are local and the bottle selections come from other spots. And I think the six-pack gives us an edge over bombers.”

Pure Order will also be releasing a new beer on March 14, which Burge described as a Pi beer. The beer, a saison, comes in at 3.1 SRM (that’s a color measurement, and a pretty light one), it has 41 IBU and boasts a 5.9% ABV in homage of the first X digits of Pi (3.14159).

The small batch likely won’t last long when it’s released on Pi day, when the calendar is at 3/14/15.

Feral Me, Feral You; Feral One, Feral Two?

Feral One batches 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks.

Feral One batches 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks.

By now, Santa Barbara beer fans have likely already heard of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks liberation of Feral One, batch 2, on Valentine’s Day. About a year after the release of Feral One, Barrelworks’ first bottled beer, this liberation is something of an Anniversary beer and party for the boys at Barrelworks.

I recently sat down with barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson and blendmaster Jim Crooks with a bottle each of batch one and two to talk about the beer, the liberation and a few other things. A few issues were raised and addressed.

First of all, there’s the name. Originally, I believed that if there was ever a sequel to Feral One, a beer that Richardson describes as “a cuvee or blend of our best efforts,” that it would be called Feral Two. But Richardson and Crooks explained that the name is sort of a play on words — and while “one” was appropriate for the first beer released from Barrelworks, it also worked to describe it as The One that is Feral. In other words, the beer serves as a representation of everything that Richardson, Crooks and Barrelworks stand for.

So call it what you want — Feral One vintage 2015, Feral Two, Feral One 2.0 — just know that the official name is Feral One, batch 2.

My next concern was the price. The cheapest tickets for the liberation are $104 plus eventbrite fees. It’s a big barrier to entry for most of us, but it’s a good value. At $15.99 per bottle, the tickets get you six bottles ($95.94) and the other eight dollars and eventbrite fees go toward the other goodies available at the liberation and the chance to be able to say you tasted it before anybody else. Like previous liberations, there will be “feral foods” and rare beer tastings that more than make up for the eight dollar cost beyond the beer. Rumor had it that there might be a keg of the first batch of Feral One, now a year old, but that was not confirmed. In any case, it’s always fascinating to see what comes out of the barrels at Barrelworks.

Specifically, this new batch of Feral One picks up right where the first left off.

Feral One batch 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks. Notice the slightly darker shade to batch 2.

Feral One batch 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks. Notice the slightly darker shade to batch 2.

Richardson and Crooks sampled upwards of 80 barrels to find the right blend, and 23 ended up making the final blend. Like batch 1, the final beer has a pleasant tartness and lemon notes that accentuate a good, somewhat sweet background. It’s hard to recall exactly what Feral One tasted like a year ago, but this is reminiscent for sure — and that’s by design.

“This truly was a hedonistic approach,” Richardson said. “We didn’t have to recreate batch 1. We could create something else, but we really like batch 1.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is the color, which Crooks hypothesized came from the presence of Sour Solace, a beer that has aged in barrels at Barrelworks now for 48 months. After all that time in barrels, the relatively pale beer picked up color from the oak and oxygen. It also seemed to add a slightly more noticeable presence of vanilla and toffee, but it was faint enough that it could have been my mind affecting my palate, as those flavors tend to express themselves more in darker beers.

With any beer inoculated with lactobacillus, Feral One batch 2 certainly has a strong acidic character to it. But Crooks and Richardson argue that simply referring to the beer as a “sour” negates so much of what the beer has to offer.

“Acidity is the first thing people jump on,” Richardson said. “But they miss out on so much more if they’re doing that. What we’re trying to do, and the word we always use to describe it is ‘layers.’ We’re trying to make a beer with layers to it.”

Those layers come through in the sweetness of the malt, the wide array of slightly floral aromas underneath a slight yeast and sulfur note in the nose — and yes — in the tartness. Unlike some beers fermented with lacto though, Feral One batch 2, like the original, isn’t lip-puckeringly sour. It’s fizzy and tart enough to be refreshing, but not uninviting.

“A lot of people have gotten into beer because of (Pliny the Elder) and beers like that and ‘oh my gosh this is what hops are,'” Crooks said. “At Firestone, we’ve never been like that. Firestone and (brewmaster Matt Brynildson) have always been about balance and what’s drinkable.”

Batch 2 is certainly drinkable, but the real treat of the tasting session was a side-by-side comparison with a one-year-old version of Feral One batch 1. Batch 2 was slightly darker, and the edges of the flavors were somewhat sharper, so to speak, but there were more similarities than differences. And while batch 2 was a truly nice beer, there was no doubt that batch 1 provided a more enjoyable experience.

With that in mind, I asked Richardson and Crooks what the best way to age or cellar these beers was, since I’ll be coming home with 12 bottles on Valentine’s Day. Their recommendation was to store the bottles at room temperature, or cooler, but to avoid refrigerating them until you wanted to drink it. The reason was that the wide array of microflora that add to the complexity and character of Feral One go dormant at temperatures below 50 degrees, but continue to interact with the beer at cellar and room temperature. Storing the beer in warm (above 75 degrees or so) areas was not recommended, and the worst that could happen to a beer left in the refrigerator is that it would preserve it and its flavors as is — not a terrible outcome at all.

We also tasted a bottled version of Reginald Brett, which is essentially Double DBA given the Barrelworks treatment, and looked at plans for a future remodel of the Barrelworks facility to transform it from its current look into something more like an old-world abbey. Both that remodel and a possible release of Reginald Brett are little more than possibilities at the moment though.

Cilurzo and Walker discuss brewing Pliny at Firestone Walker

Firestone Pliny

Edit: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Firestone Walker was brewing Pliny the Younger. Firestone Walker is brewing Pliny the Elder.

If recent lawsuits tainted your view of camaraderie in craft beer, just think back to last year’s announcement from Russian River Brewing Company that it would be brewing its famous Pliny the Elder double IPA at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles while its new brewing system is installed.

Well, Russian River founder and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo have made the trek down to Paso Robles from Santa Rosa to brew his signature beer. Santa Barbara Beer caught up with Cilurzo and Firestone-Walker co-proprietor David Walker recently to discuss the venture. Below is a Q and A with Cilurzo and a response from Walker to the same questions. For those not interested in reading through it all, some of the main takeaways are that there are no immediate plans for a collaboration between Russian River and Firestone Walker, although neither said they were opposed to such an idea. Cilurzo also said that although Pliny is being brewed in Paso Robles, there are no immediate plans to distribute the highly sought-after beer to the area — although he did acknowledge that he would like to expand distribution to the 805.

Russian River co-founder and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo adds a load of hops to the kettle of a Pliny the Elder brew recently at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. Firestone Walker is brewing Pliny for draft accounts while Russian River's new brewhouse is installed in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Cilurzo.

Russian River co-founder and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo adds a load of hops to the kettle of a Pliny the Elder brew recently at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. Firestone Walker is brewing Pliny for draft accounts while Russian River’s new brewhouse is installed in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Cilurzo.

SB Beer: I’ve seen the press release about why you need to brew outside of your own facility, but what I wonder is: Why Firestone Walker? What do they provide that you chose them as a site to brew your beer?
Vinnie Cilurzo: When it became apparent to Natalie and I that we needed to replace our old, tired brewhouse we also knew that we couldn’t go without brewing during the shutdown and knew we’d have to find someone to temporarily brew for us.  Only a couple of brewer friends came to mind and Firestone Walker was the best fit as our brewing style is similar.  We are also extremely good friends with (brewmaster)Matt Brynildson and David Walker.  When we asked them if they could help us out we couldn’t even finish the question before they said yes.  It is humbling and gratifying to have such good friends in the business.

SBB: Is it just Pliny the Elder being brewed there, or are other beers like Blind Pig being brewed as well?
VC: It is just Pliny the Elder they are brewing for us and it is just draft Pliny.  When go into the shut down we’ll have all our fermenters full and all the Pliny coming from our tanks will be bottled.

SBB:  How many batches will be brewed at Firestone Walker and how long will Russian River be brewing there?

VC: It is just a temporary thing, it is something like 10 or 12 batches which sounds like a lot, but in the big picture a pretty small amount of beer for Firestone to brew.

SBB:  How do you compensate Firestone Walker for allowing Russian River to brew there — is it just a simple financial arrangement, or are there other concessions and agreements made?

VC: That is an interesting question, Adam (Firestone), David, and Matt are now members of the Russian River “beer for life” club.  We supply the hops from our hop supply and all other ingredients come from Firestone, when the beer is ready they fill our kegs.  It is actually a pretty simple arrangement.

(Note: Santa Barbara Beer would love to be a member of that club as well. Lucky.)

SBB: I know it’s been stated that there are no plans for a collaboration between RR and FW, but both breweries have a lot in common in terms of barrel-aging prowess and making beautiful hoppy beers. Is there any chance that a FW-RR collaboration could be in the near future?

VC: Honestly, this isn’t something that Matt and I have talked about.  Most important to both parties is to get an exact match on flavor profile.

Russian River co-founder and brewmaster Vinnie CIlurzo adds Dextrose to a batch of Pliny the Elder at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. The dextrose helps provide the double IPA with more alcohol while keeping the beer relatively dry. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Cilurzo.

Russian River co-founder and brewmaster Vinnie CIlurzo adds Dextrose to a batch of Pliny the Elder at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. The dextrose helps provide the double IPA with more alcohol while keeping the beer relatively dry. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Cilurzo.

SBB: Did brewing at Firestone’s facility impact the way you approach beer — be it business or brewing — in any way?

VC: We are very close to the shut down so we’ve already brewed some beer.  Aside from some collaborations we’ve done at Sierra Nevada this is the only time I’ve brewed on a more automated system.  So it is a great experience for me. Our new brewhouse won’t be quite this automated, so it gave me a chance to learn.  Working with Matt and his team of brewers has been great, it’s been a great challenge to match flavors.

SBB: I know a lot of beer geeks in the Central Coast would love to see Pliny the Elder on shelves here. Is there any chance any of the batches brewed at Firestone Walker find their way to the 805?

VC: Unfortunately at this time the answer is no.  Someday we’ll have distribution down in the 805 but for now this beer will cover our current accounts and distributors.

———

Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson pours in a load of hops from Russian River Brewing Company at Firestone's facility in Paso Robles. The Central Coast brewery is brewing Pliny the Elder for draft accounts while Russian River's new brewhouse is installed in Santa Rosa.

Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson pours in a load of hops from Russian River Brewing Company at Firestone’s facility in Paso Robles. The Central Coast brewery is brewing Pliny the Elder for draft accounts while Russian River’s new brewhouse is installed in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Cilurzo

Below is David Walker’s response to a similar set of questions. Both Walker’s and Cilurzo’s responses have been edited for clarity.

David Walker: The press release kicked out by Vinnie and Natalie last year sums up the relationship pretty well, so not sure I can add much. 

Our brewhouse is nicely sized for Vinnie’s needs but we don’t expect those to hinder our brewing calendar for the few months while he is need of a brewhouse. Although it’s a big deal to brew Pliny and these guys are mates, it’s not unusual for craft brewers to help each other out; in fact Vinnie lent us a compact portable  bottling line for our Wild Ales at the Barrelworks to help us get that program off the ground. I think if you dig around you’ll find a ton of similar stories in the craft community.

(Note: I’ve done that digging in the past for research for We Make Beer — and I agree that this kind of helping and assistance is pretty commonplace among smaller brewers. What makes it unique here is the scale of Firestone Walker and Russian River)

Collab! Hell yes! I just need to broach the subject with Matt and Vinnie….they are proud brewers, no guarantees.

In terms of distribution, I am sure there is no change to their existing plans, we are merely helping them brew beer over a small window of time, I can’t see that altering their plans for the future. Pliny will remain fresh and in demand.

FYI — Telegraph has an IPA

Note: This column originally appeared in the Dec. 4 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Telegraph’s IPA is still on tap and they have recently released an old favorite, Rhinoceros, as well.

For a Thursday night in mid-November, Telegraph Brewing Co. was unusually busy. The local taprooms are always a common gathering place for Santa Barbara’s beer drinkers, but the crowd at Telegraph was in for something specific.

For the first time in its nearly nine-year existence, Telegraph brewed an IPA.

And while the style is ubiquitous at just about every other brewery in the country, Telegraph had built a reputation for making more esoteric styles.

“Most of our beers are, if not yeast-centric, (of a) yeast character,” Telegraph brewmaster Paul Rey said. “Cipher Key Session Ale, 1927 and the Ravena Stout are all brewed with an English strain that we really like. The two lagers are Czech Pilsner yeasts, but most of the other beers are with our house Belgian strain.”

Telegraph founder Brian Thompson stressed that this was not a matter of caving to peer pressure or doing something they didn’t want to do. According to him, this IPA was long overdue.

“The reason we haven’t brewed an IPA until now is not because we don’t like IPAs,” he said. “Every one of us really appreciates a good IPA. But Telegraph has always been about doing things differently. Looking back over the last five or six years, as the popularity of IPA grew, it felt like every brewery in the country was making multiple IPAs, and a lot of them were very mediocre, and it felt like a lot of brewers were just chasing a trend.

“Now, though, it feels very different; there is a big percentage of craft beer drinkers who only drink IPA, especially younger drinkers and new craft beer drinkers. IPA isn’t a trend anymore; IPA just is. And the style isn’t waning in popularity anytime soon.”

Telegraph’s American IPA was fermented with a neutral yeast. The strain, made popular first by Sierra Nevada up in Chico, leaves few traces that it was ever there apart from a bright, crisp ale — thus the other ingredients in beer, such as hops, are allowed to shine.

In the case of Telegraph’s IPA, that means plenty of pine and a little bit of melon notes come through in the aroma. The flavor profile is well-balanced, and there is a suitable bitterness that helps even out the sweetness from the malt.

It might not be the best IPA in town, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable beer. Most importantly for Telegraph, it gives local drinkers another reason not to go anywhere else. Each of Santa Barbara’s breweries have their own pros and cons, and a big con at Telegraph was a lack of a real IPA — the most popular style of craft beer in America.

The recent American IPA is just the first in a series of beers for the brewery before Thompson and his team can finally settle on one brew that will become “Telegraph IPA.”

According to Rey, the ultimate goal will be to put that beer into cans — a project that will require continued growth of Telegraph’s infrastructure and is at least a year away, likely more.

In the meantime, the brewery that never made an IPA will be coming out with a few more iterations of the style — beginning with a Belgian IPA and an English IPA in early 2015.

Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press). His column appears the first Thursday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_M_Lewis.

Meet Mike Hastings, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s new director of brewing operations.

 

photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

It’s old news by now, but Figueroa Mountain’s award-winning brewmaster, A.J. Stoll, has departed for Ireland. Of course, Fig Mountain still goes on — and has no intention of taking a step back.

There’s no denying that Stoll was a great brewer. His collection of medals and well-crafted beers speak for themselves. And while the 30-year-old Stoll was a relatively young face in the brewing scene, Fig Mountain’s new lead guy, Mike Hastings, is a longtime brewing veteran.

Hastings began his career at Humboldt Brewing Company in 1989, and has spent the past 25 years brewing beer in California and Pennsylvania. He first arrived at Figueroa Mountain as the head brewer in December of 2011 — making this month the mark of his third year with the Buellton-based brewery.

“I was brought in to take A.J.’s spot to let him be more creative, go out in the public and do that sort of stuff,” Hastings said. “I was hired to do the day-to-day running of the show, making sure the product was consistent and that sort of stuff.”

As the head brewer, Hastings’ job included running the brewhouse and making sure the brewery’s stocks of hops and grain matched what was necessary for production. Stoll, meanwhile, was free to develop new beers, work on Anniversary Ale projects and do the kind of public relations and quality control jobs that come with the territory at a growing brewery like Fig Mountain.

And while those kind of tasks will fall to Hastings as the new director of brewing operations, the job of creating new beers will be delegated out to the entire brewing team. The brewery held its first “Brewers Roundtable” on Dec. 4*, as the team discussed what Fig should focus on for 2015.

“More heads are better than one. A.J. was an incredible recipe creator and a good leader, that’s for sure, but we might have been a little narrow-minded in terms of flavors we were looking for,” Hastings said. “Whereas if you bring in a broad range of palates, you might get something you never expected. A.J. and I had a little bit palate styles but he and I always came in the middle and said that’s a beautiful, beautiful beer. But nothing’s going to change at Fig, nothing’s going to drift. If anything, they’ll get a little better.”

It should be noted that Hastings’ previous quote was not a criticism of the former brewmaster, just that he believes a collaborative process might lead to more widely appealing beers.

And if you’re worried that Hastings will come in and change up your favorite beers at Fig, rest assured he says that won’t happen. After all, he was often the guy overseeing the production of much of those core beers up in Buellton.

“Those things are kind of set,” Hastings said. “You have to look at our success and what’s going on. Why mess with something that’s good? Hoppy Poppy is really successful, but we might look at modifying our Pale Ale a little bit. Pale Ales are a little blasé right now, so we might be looking to modify that or maybe make a session ale or something along those lines.”

If you’re looking for a beer that has more of Hastings’ stamp on it already, check out the 4th Anniversary beer. It’s a Belgian Quad-style beer brewed with fig extract (get it: quad for four years, figs for, well, Fig Mountain). The beer began with Stoll, but was finished and blended from barrels by Hastings and team.

“This beer had an excellent start,” Hastings said. “It was a great, great beer. The whole idea of our fourth anniversary and all the years of the hard work to bring it up to a high level, why not do a Belgian Quad?”

Hastings said that he’s already excited about beginning work on the 5th Anniversary beer, and suggested that he had some ideas already that he wasn’t ready to discuss. That beer will likely be the first real insight into what Hastings has to offer as the new head man in charge, while Fig fans in the meantime will be happy to know that not much will be changing for their favorite brewery.

Photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

Photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

 

* In a recent conversation with Fig’s CEO, Jaime Dietenhofer, he mentioned the hiring of several new brewers. Some of them will move into head brewing positions at the brewery’s satellite breweries and tasting rooms in Westlake Village and Arroyo Grande, both scheduled to open soon, as well as a brewer to take over the barrel-aging and mad-science aspects of the Liquamentum project which began under Stoll.