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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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.

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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.

Firestone Walker announces XVIII Anniversary beer

Note: The following is a press release from Firestone Walker. I’ve tasted the beer at Barrelworks on the release date, and it’s the same big, bold boozy goodness we’ve come to expect from Firestone’s anniversary series. Definitely another winner from the winemakers and brewers here.

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WINEMAKERS SQUARE OFF TO BLEND EPIC BARREL-AGED BEER

14 Vintners Help Create Firestone Walker’s New Release XVIII Anniversary Ale

 

Paso Robles, CA: As the summer turns toward fall, you can count on two things in the Paso Robles wine country—the seasonal grape harvest and the annual blending of Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s next Anniversary Ale with guiding input from local winemakers.

 

The result this year is XVIII—a barrel-aged blend composed of nine distinct component beers, as determined by a friendly yet fiercely competitive blending session attended by 14 winemakers (see full list below). XVIII will be available in select markets across the United States starting in November.

 

The Anniversary Ale blending session has become an annual rite, with Brewmaster Matt Brynildson enlisting his closest friends in the local winemaking community to help create a beer that is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

“These winemakers are practicing experts in the art of blending, so it makes perfect sense to seek their counsel,” Brynildson said. “It’s like bringing in the ninjas.”

 

The winemakers are paired off and presented with numerous different component beers spanning an array of styles. The pairs are tasked with creating their own preferred blends from among the components. The preferred blends are then presented to the entire group and blind tasted. Individual votes are cast, and the blend with the most votes becomes the basis for the next Anniversary Ale. Russell From and Philip Muzzy of Herman Story Wines are credited with creating the winning blend that became XVIII, granting them possession of the coveted cardboard crown that is awarded to the winning team each year.

 

“It got pretty competitive this year,” Brynildson said. “There was a lot of smack talk leading up to the session. A few of the winemaker teams were caught stuffing the ballot by creating more than one blend, and there were accusations of performance enhancers leveled against the winners, but it didn’t result in any arrests or suspensions.”

 

Most of the component beers spent an average of a year maturing in retired bourbon, brandy and whiskey barrels, including two collaboration beers that Brynildson said “we probably won’t see again,” specifically: Ol’ Leghorn, a blonde barleywine brewed with 3 Floyds and aged in new American oak barrels; and Hydra Cuvée, a hoppy hybrid dark ale brewed with Flying Dog and aged in bourbon barrels.

 

In the end, Brynildson noted that “we got back to a stout-dominated blend this year,” with Parabola and Velvet Merkin constituting more than 40 percent of the final blend. At the same time, several other components layer in a subtle hoppy quality that Brynildson described as “really integrated and balanced.”

 

THE FINAL BLEND

 

“We blended together 227 oak barrels and nine different beers creating something truly complex and exceptional.” Brewmaster Matt Brynildson                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Parabola / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 38% of Final Blend

-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout

 

Helldorado / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 16% of Final Blend

-Blonde Barleywine Brewed with Buckwheat Honey

 

Bravo / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels / 16% of Final Blend

-Imperial Brown Ale

 

Stickee Monkee / Aged in Bourbon and Whiskey Barrels / 14% of Final Blend

-Central Coast Quad Brewed with Belgian Candi and Mexican Turbinado (brown) Sugar

 

Velvet Merkin / Aged in Bourbon Barrels / 5% of Final Blend

-Traditional Oatmeal Stout

                                               

Hydra Cuvée / Aged in Bourbon Barrels; collaboration with Flying Dog / 4% of Final Blend

-Hoppy Hybrid Dark Ale

Wookey Jack / 100% Stainless Steel / 3% of Final Blend

-Black Rye India Pale Ale

OlLeghorn / Aged in new American oak barrels; collaboration with 3 Floyds / 2% of Final Blend

-Blonde Barleywine

 

Double Jack / 100% Stainless Steel / 2% of Final Blend

-Double India Pale Ale

 

XVIII ABV: 13%

 

ORIGINS & AVAILABILITY

 

XVIII is the ninth release in Firestone Walker’s anniversary series, dating back to the release of the inaugural anniversary release called “Ten” in 2006. Over the ensuing years, Firestone Walker has developed one of the craft beer industry’s most extensive barrel aging programs, spanning upwards of 1,500 barrels. Brewing beer with oak barrels has been a pioneering focal point for the brewery since its founding in 1996.

 

XVIII will be available in select markets across the United States starting in November. The suggested retail price is $23.99 for an individually boxed 22-ounce bottle.

 

BREWMASTER’S NOTES

 

“As a finished beer, XVIII is a dark and complex brew full of malt and barrel derived flavors, with Parabola leading the brew into the rich darkness. The beer is unfiltered and unfined, so there will be a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. XVIII is best enjoyed poured carefully into a half filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Allow it to warm to 55F to fully enjoy the pleasing and complex aromas. As the beer sits and breathes in the glass, rich dark chocolate, toasted oak and dark fruit qualities are revealed, so take your time. If you wait to open your bottle later, store it in a cool dark place. I suspect that this beer will age well and change favorably for years to come.”

 

PARTICIPATING WINEMAKERS

 

“These are my friends and brothers in fermentation science, and practicing experts in the art of blending.” Brewmaster Matt Brynildson

 

·         Neil Collins – Tablas Creek, Lone Madrone

·         Chelsea Franchi – Tablas Creek

·         Justin Smith– Saxum

·         Mark Adams – Ledge

·         Kevin Sass – Halter Ranch

·         Molly Longborg – Halter Ranch

·         Russell From – Herman Story

·         Philip Muzzy – Herman Story

·         Matt Trevisan – Linne Calodo

·         Sherman Thacher – Thacher

·         Terry Hoage – Terry Hoage Vineyards

·         Steve Martell – Kaleidos

·         Eric Jensen – Booker

·         Brock Waterman – Brochelle

 

Also thanks to friends Arie Litman and Bobby Fox for lending their expertise to the blending session.

Firestone Walker to release XVIII on Saturday

Note: the following is a press release from Firestone-Walker. I believe the Paso Robles event is all sold out, but I plan on stopping by Barrelworks after the Real Ale Invitational to get my bottles and taste the previous versions. See you there, everyone.

XVIII, the ninth blend in our Anniversary series, will be released October 25, 2014. 

 

Join us for the release of our XVIII Anniversary Ale! Purchase 3 or more bottles and get access to our XVIII Anniversary Party from 11am – 2pm.  Access includes beer tasting, food samples, live music, tours, games and more. As always, it will be a three bottle minimum per person to join us and we will be selling bottle tickets starting Monday, August 25th. 

Due to space limitations because of construction, we are hosting this year’s party in our new canning hall. This area is still under construction, so appropriate footwear is recommended.

Tickets on sale now!

For more information see our FAQ page or visit our Eventbrite page.

Local Breweries at GABF

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I’m on my way to GABF for the weekend’s festivities. I’ll be signing books on Thursday and Saturday nights, but will also be covering the local breweries there in this space and in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Firestone-Walker, Figueroa Mountain, Telegraph and Island Brewing have all won medals at the festival before, and they have once again entered into the competition. However, of the four, only Firestone-Walker and Figueroa Mountain will have booths at the event.

Both Firestone-Walker and Figueroa Mountain are entering beer into the competition from their side labels as well, with Barrelworks and the newly-debuted Liquamentum lines both up for judging.

Stay tuned for more details and coverage.

First Packaged Release of Firestone Walker’s “Oaktoberfest” Arrives on August 1

The following is a press release from Firestone Walker Brewing Company.

BIERGARTEN IN A BOTTLE

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Paso Robles, CA: It’s time to dust off your stein and get a jump on German tradition as Firestone Walker Brewing Company is set to release Oaktoberfest in bottles, marking the first-ever packaged release of this “Paso Märzen Bier.”

“Oaktoberfest is a real quaffer,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “It’s mellow and rounded with this gorgeous autumn orange hue—it’s the kind of beer you should be drinking out of a liter mug.”

Oaktoberfest is a seasonal offering for late summer and fall, and will be available in six packs starting on August 1. Until now, the beer was exclusively a seasonal draft offering originally made for the brewery’s local Oaktoberfest celebration.

While the upcoming Oaktoberfest release is true to the brewery’s original version, it’s now slightly drier and hoppier to provide more balance with the sweeter malt character of the style

“Oaktoberfest has always provided us an opportunity to play around with new German hop cultivars,” Brynildson said. “We’re now focusing on Hallertau Tradition, and we contracted directly with several German farmers to make sure we had enough to last. When visiting some of my favorite German lager breweries, I’ve seen a ton of Hallertau Tradition in their closets, and it proved to be a natural fit for Oaktoberfest.

He added, “Nevertheless, this is not a hop-driven beer. It’s very traditional in style, incorporating equal amounts of Vienna malt and Pilsner malt, both from Germany. It all comes together to create this classic Märzen profile, with subtle honey-like aromas and hints of noble hop spice.”

The name Oaktoberfest is a nod to the brewery’s hometown of Paso Robles—Spanish for “Pass of The Oaks”—as well as the longtime presence of oak barrels as a central part of the Firestone Walker brewing operation. The checkered blue and white pattern on the label echoes the Bavarian flag and pays homage to the style.

The 2014 Madonna Inn Oktoberfest presented by Firestone Walker Brewing Company takes place on October 11. As always, Oaktoberfest will be racked to oak barrels and ceremonially tapped to punctuate the festivities.

“Tapping the barrels of Oaktoberfest has been an annual rite here for nearly a decade,” Brynildson said. “It’s a journey that has finally found its way into the bottle.”

Last Call on Double DBA

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2014 Vintage Makes Way for Beers to Come

Paso Robles, CA: The third and final bottled release of Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s barrel-aged Double DBA begins on July 12, setting the stage for an as-yet-unchosen replacement next year.

“The 2014 Double DBA is a big and complex beer that still offers the balance and drinkability that are the hallmarks of DBA,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “This vintage is outstanding, so Double DBA is leaving us on a high note.”

He added, “This beer has served us well, but there’s a finite amount of space and brewing capacity dedicated to our barrel-aged beers. In order to brew and share new barrel-aged beers, we need to rotate some out, starting with Double DBA. So get it while you can.”

Other beers in the brewery’s barrel-aged program include Bravo, Helldorado, Parabajava, PNC, Saucerful of Secrets and Brownie Wine—but it remains to be seen which will replace Double DBA in 2015.

As with previous vintages, the 2014 Double DBA imperial special bitter is Firestone Walker’s flagship DBA brewed at double strength, using twice the amount of malts and hops. As with the regular DBA, the 2014 Double DBA was partially fermented in a union of new American oak barrels. After fermentation, the beer was racked and returned to the union barrels as well as bourbon barrels, where it aged for one year. The barrel mix for the 2014 Double DBA included vessels from Woodford Reserve, Elijah Craig and Four Roses.

The 2014 Double DBA is limited to 3,500 cases of 22-ounce bottles. It will be available in select markets across the United States starting this month. The suggested retail is $16.99.

While Double DBA may not see the bottle again, it lives on in mysterious ways. Double DBA is the base beer for Reginald Brett, a bretted barrel-aged ale to be released later this year from Barrelworks, Firestone Walker’s dedicated wild (a.k.a. sour) yeast facility.

And in a new collaborative twist, the bourbon barrels used to mature the 2014 Double DBA are being shipped to Scotland, where Tullibardine distillery will use them for aging single malt scotch whisky.

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Fig Mountain, Firestone win at WBC

From left to right, AJ Stoll (Brewmaster), Luke Barrett (Brewer), Awards Presenter: Charlie Papzian, Juan Zepeda (Cellarman) and Jaime Dietenhofer (CEO/President). - Photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

From left to right, AJ Stoll (Brewmaster), Luke Barrett (Brewer), Awards Presenter: Charlie Papzian, Juan Zepeda (Cellarman) and Jaime Dietenhofer (CEO/President).
– Photo courtesy of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

I was told recently that Santa Barbara beer and breweries simply weren’t that good. Naturally, I disagreed. Over the weekend, the breweries — at least a couple in nearby Buellton and Paso Robles — did their part to support me by winning medals at the World Beer Cup.

First up, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company added to its trophy hall under the guidance of brewmaster A.J. Stoll with a silver medal for Davy Brown Ale and a bronze for the Danish Red Lager. The wins complement a big, 5-medal performance at last year’s GABF, and helps cement the brewery’s reputation as one of the finest in the area.

In my opinion, which means less than a medal I’m sure, the Danish Red Lager is a fine beer that is well-made, but Davy Brown Ale is a true shining star in the brown ale category. It’s a highly versatile beer that is well-deserving of its accolades. Congrats to A.J. and his team for their success.

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And for anybody who enjoys black IPAs, or American Black Ales as the current trend seems to be calling them, it’s likely no surprise that Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack took bronze in the category. The combination of the dark malt playing with the rye and the hops make Wookey Jack one of my favorite beers when I need my face punched in with flavor, and seeing Firestone Walker take home another award is a no-brainer here.

First Impression: Easy Jack IPA

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I’ve got a bone to pick with this beer, and it has nothing to do with how it tastes — which is delicious.

Let’s get that out of the way first — Matt Brynildson, the brewmaster at Firestone-Walker and the man behind this beer, understands how to get the most out of his hops. He does exactly that with this beer, and the result is a beautiful mix of orange rind, orange blossoms and cantaloupe melon in the nose and on the palate. The malt is there with a touch of honey-on-toast sweetness. Its individual elements are very enjoyable and as a whole its even better.

So what’s my beef?

I can’t figure out where this beer belongs. It’s referred to as a Session IPA, meaning a lighter IPA, but isn’t that just an American Pale Ale? For comparison’s sake we should think of this beer on the level of the brewery’s Pale 31, not its IPA — Union Jack — and that’s a problem. For me, I don’t think any Pale Ale can hold its own alongside Pale 31. Easy Jack is similar in execution in that it has a huge hop aroma, maybe even bigger than Pale 31’s, and a beautifully balanced flavor. But why mess with perfection when Pale 31 already covers that ground so incredibly well. What good is a beer that takes customers away from another beer from the same brand?

And if the consumer wanted a different version of Pale Ale, there was always Double Barrel Ale, which has its roots in English Pale Ale.

I enjoy the beer, I really do, but I can’t see myself buying a whole lot of it. It’s new, so that always helps, but if I’m in the mood for an IPA I’ll probably go for something that has a little more bitterness, like Union Jack. If I’m in the mood for a Pale Ale I will always go for Pale 31. And if I’m in the mood for a low-ish alcohol beer with a nice hop presence, I’ll probably take Pivo Pils. And that’s not including any of the other brands on the shelf.

It’s a great beer, truly well done. I’m just not sure it was necessary.

Firestone Walker Releases “Opal” Dry-Hopped Saison

The following is a press release from Firestone Walker. Opal, the brewery’s first bottled saison, was released on Saturday. On a personal note, I’m interested to try this one. Firestone Walker isn’t known for Belgian-style ales, so it could be interesting to get brewer Matt Brynildson’s take on the style.

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BRINGING DOWN THE FARMHOUSE

Paso Robles, CA—Firestone Walker Brewing Company is going back to the farm with the release of Opal, a rootsy, rustic dry-hopped saison that merges Belgian tradition with West Coast style.

“We’ve been playing around with farmhouse ales for years, exploring and fine tuning all sorts of variations,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “With Opal, we are finally ready to make the jump to our first-ever bottled saison.”

Starting this month, Opal will be available in 22-ounce bottles in select markets across the United States with a suggested retail price of $5.99. Opal will also be available at select draft accounts.

Opal is an unfiltered interpretation of the classic saisons that originated from the farmhouses of southern Belgium’s Wallonia region, dating back to the 1700s.

In true agrarian beer fashion, Opal is loaded with rustic grains and spicy Belgian yeastiness, with a hazy namesake opalescence in the glass. Into this mix comes a dimension of dry-hopped brightness, layering in notes of fragrant citrus and tropical fruit.

“Don’t expect a lot of bitterness,” Brynildson said. “The dry-hopping is geared toward creating this zesty, lemony floral Sauv Blanc aroma, which provides an intriguing complement to the estery clove character of the saison yeast.”

Opal’s Ingredients (or Most of Them)

Opal is brewed in stainless steel with Belgian saison yeast and Weyermann Pilsner malt as well as malted and unmalted wheat. Styrian Golding and Amarillo provide the hop base, with dry hopping courtesy of Hallertau Blanc. “We’re usually very transparent when it comes to the ingredients of our beers,” Brynildson said. “But Belgian brewers tend to be a bit cagey with the details, and that’s what gives a lot of farmhouse ales their mystique. So if there’s a secret spice in Opal, I’m not telling.”

Tasting Notes

Inviting lemongrass and gooseberry meet peppery spice and fresh grain aromas. Spicy Belgian yeast create a complex yet dry canvas with splashes of citrus and stone fruit with a bright tropical white wine finish. Hop bitterness is assertive yet harmonious, rounding out as slightly tart and refreshing.

Availability: Year Round / Proprietor’s Reserve Series

ABV: 7.5%   IBU: 35   Color: 4 SRM

Retail: $5.99 / 22oz Bottle