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.


Big Beer Geek? Win tickets to Firestone Walker Invitational

The following is a press release from Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Photo Credit: Roy Chavoya, Beers in Paradise

Photo Credit: Roy Chavoya, Beers in Paradise

Photo Credit: Bernie Wire

Photo Credit: Bernie Wire




“Ultimate Beer Geek” Contest Entries for VIP Fest Package

Paso Robles, CA—A wormhole of geekery opened up in the craft beer universe at the stroke of midnight last Friday when tickets to the 2014 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest on May 31 sold out in 22 minutes.

But what no one has known until now is that the geekiest tickets of them all remain unclaimed…

Starting on February 15, Firestone Walker Brewing Company will be on the lookout for the “Ultimate Beer Geek,” who shall sniff, sip and strut their way into the 2014 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest on a virtual red carpet of schwag—including four VIP early-entry tickets to the fest; a private brewery tour and tasting with The Lion (a.k.a. David Walker); complimentary overnight accommodations; and $100 to blow on food and merchandise at the Taproom restaurant and/or brewery store.

Beer enthusiasts are invited to throw their hat in the ring for this grand prize VIP package by unleashing their creativity and uploading an original video to YouTube® demonstrating why they are the ultimate beer geek. There are no creative parameters. However, video submissions will be judged on the basis of originality, creativity, ingenuity, cleverness, resourcefulness and pure entertainment.

The grand-prize winner will be chosen by brewery employees after the entry period closes on April 15, and will be announced on or before May 1. A runner-up prize will also be offered, consisting of two general admission tickets; a private brewery tour and tasting with The Lion; and a $100 gift certificate.

“We view the term ‘beer geek’ as a badge of honor,” said Jamie Smith, Firestone Walker’s marketing commander. “We have always been maniacally obsessed with making better beer, so we have great respect for those who are equally obsessed with craft beer. We’re looking forward to what our most fervent fans can produce with inspiration and a smartphone camera.”

In just two years, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest has established itself as one of the nation’s can’t-miss craft beer events, with attendees embracing the casual open-air setting, access to rare beers and opportunity to geek out with leading brewers.

For official contest official rules and video uploading details, see: www.firestonebeer.com/geekcontest.

No purchase necessary to enter and the contest is void where prohibited by law. Contestants must be 21 years of age or older to enter. The odds of winning the contest depend on the number and overall quality of entries received.

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The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest was born from a vision of creating a world-class festival featuring brewers who are leaders in the craft beer revolution. This is a day where we can all put down our sales and marketing pitches and simply commune and share our beers and stories with people who are truly interested in craft beer. See www.firestonebeerfest.com.