Southern Californian brewers took home 35 medals from the 2013 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, including 14 gold, 7 silver and 14 bronze.
Beachwood then won the mid-size brewpub award, and Firestone Walker again clinched mid-size brewery of the year award.
Category 8 (Coffee Beer)
Bronze: System of a Stout, Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach
Category 9 (Specialty Beer)
Gold: Winter Warmer, Hangar 24, Redlands
Category 12 (Session Beer)
Gold: Beer Hunter, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, San Diego
Bronze: Torque, Kinetic Brewing, Lancaster
Category 19 (American Style Sour ale)
Bronze: Red Poppy, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos
Category 22 (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer)
Bronze: Barrel-Aged Full Malted Jacket, Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach
Category 26 (Kellerbier or Zwickelbier)
Bronze: Surfliner Lager, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Santa Barbara
Category 29 (German-Style Pilsener)
Gold: Pivo Pilsner, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
Category 31 (Munich-Style Helles)
Bronze: Bohemian Pilsener, TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea
Category 32 (Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest)
Silver: Oktoberfest, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Santa Barbara
Category 40 (German-Style Schwarzbier)
Bronze: TAPS Schwarzbier, TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Corona
Category 44 (Golden or Blonde Ale)
Gold: Foam Top, Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach
Category 45 (German Style Kolsch)
Bronze: Potential Blonde, Kinetic Brewing Co., Lancaster
Category 48 (English-Style India Pale Ale)
Gold: Taproom IPA, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
Category 51 (American-Style Strong Pale Ale)
Gold: Bonobos, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, San Diego
Bronze: Kung Fu Elvis, Pizza Port Ocean Beach, San Diego
Category 52 (American-Style India Pale Ale)
Silver: Union Jack, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
Category 55 (Imperial Red Ale)
Silver: Rhino Chaser, Pizza Port OB, San Diego
Category 60 (Irish-Style Red Ale)
Gold: Red Trolley, Karl Strauss Brewing Co., San Diego
Bronze: Ragtop Red, Rock Bottom La Jolla, La Jolla
Category 61 (English-Style Brown Ale)
Bronze: Longboard Brown, Rock Bottom La Jolla, La Jolla
Category 62 (American-Style Black Ale)
Gold: Davey Brown Ale, Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Buellton
Category 63 (American-Style Black Ale)
Gold: Wookey Jack, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
Silver: Black Sales, Coronado Brewing Co., Coronado
Bronze: Oxymoron, Oceanside Ale Works, Oceanside
Category 70 (French & Belgian-Style Ale
Bronze: California Ale, Telegraph Brewing Co., Santa Barbara
Category 72 (Belgian-Style Abbey Ale)
Silver: Decadence 2012, AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar
Category 75 (Robust Porter)
Gold: Moonlight Porter, Rock Bottom La Jolla, La Jolla
Category 76 (Foreign-Style Stout)
Silver: Stearns Stout, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Santa Barbara
Category 78 (American-Style Stout)
Gold: Kilgore Stout, Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach
Category 79 (Sweet Stout or Cream Stout)
Silver: Udder Love, Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach
Category 80 (Oatmeal Stout)
Gold: Stagecoach Stout, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Buellton
Bronze: Oats, Pizza Port Solana Beach, Solana Beach
Category 81 (Scotch Ale)
Gold: Ale Epeteios, Left Coast Brewing Co., San Clemente
Category 84 (Barley Wine-Style Ale)
Gold: Old Numbskull, AleSmith Brewing Co., Miramar
Mid-Size Brewpub and Mid-Size Brewpub Brewer of the Year
Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Long Beach
Julian Shrago & Ian McCall
Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles
Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s long-rumored plans to open a brewery outpost in Los Angeles have been confirmed. The Paso Robles-based craft brewery recently announced that they’ve acquired a space in the Venice/Marina Del Rey area where they’ll not only be pouring their beers, but also serving up food. Growler fills too? “Very definitely,” declares co-proprietor David Walker. He also confirmed via email that there are hopes of installing a “very small pilot system to brew a series of Venice/experimental beers”.
The new location will occupy 3205 and 3223 West Washington Blvd., just west of Lincoln Blvd., utilizing two separate buildings that previously housed a Sizzler and medical offices. As for when the new venture is expected to open, Walker offers, “We are in the ‘lap of the gods’ on this one, but our sincere hope is the second half of 2014.”
The brewery proper began operations in 1996, and their Los Angeles project has been in the making for some time. “We’ve been talking about [coming to LA] for at least 10 years, but haven’t been able to seriously consider it until the last two years,” Walker reports. And he’s no outsider phoning it in; in addition to living in Santa Monica back in the early ‘90s, he has remained a familiar face at many local craft beer events, as has brewmaster Matthew Brynildson.
Since its inception, Firestone Walker has garnered a great deal of respect and popularity in the Southern California market, as well as internationally. They’ve been named “Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company”—a prestigious top honor—at the World Beer Cup an unprecedented four consecutive times. Brewing an estimated 110,000 barrels of beer in 2012, they’ve grown to become the 20th largest craft brewery in the US by sales volume, and they’re projecting 150,000 barrels for 2013, a 36% increase over last year.
Walker fully admits that they are very early in the planning stages for Venice, and it’s not clear yet how they’ll be handling food quite yet. They will draw some inspiration from their two existing taprooms, one adjacent to the brewery in Paso (close to a four-hour drive from Venice on a good traffic day) and another in Buellton (two hours and change), but they’re also looking to incorporate some local flair. “Over time, we have created food we love—and think others love, too—that pairs well with beer,” says Walker of his current taprooms. “This will be a starting point [for food at the Venice location], but much will be decided as we dig into the neighborhood and discover what the locals are looking for.”
He describes the number of jobs that will be created in Venice and the size of their financial investment as “significant”; obtaining the two new buildings already reflects a buy-in of approximately $7.5 million. He continues, “I’m neither economist nor politician, but we hope to have a marketing crew, some educational staff, and a full taproom contingent pouring beer, serving food, and making folks happy.”
All told, he and the company are excited to become a bigger presence in the burgeoning Los Angeles craft beer scene, closing our interview with this last note: “Although many of us have been living craft beer in LA for decades, I think LA is just beginning to officially romance craft beer… and like all its romances, it will be steamy. I think the party is in full swing and we are pleased to be part of it.”
Surf ‘n’ Suds Beer Festival debuted as Carpinteria’s first craft beer festival of its kind to a euphoric, sweaty crowd. Sponsored by DEEP Surf Magazine, the sold-out event pulled craft beer lovers from Santa Barbara to San Diego. For many festival goers it was an opportunity to talk to brewers and sales reps, putting a face to the beer they are so accustomed to ordering. For industry attendees, it was a homecoming.
Amtrak was the transportation mode of choice, with the train spitting you out a few short blocks from the festival and selling Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale for all those aboard looking to pre-game. Train, taxis, and designated drivers delivered their passengers to a sunny Saturday in August. The festival on Linden Field at Carpinteria State Beach beheld sweeping views of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north while the Pacific Ocean enveloped sites to the south, reminding attendees of the festival’s union of great beer and great surfing access.
Carpinteria is a small coastal community in the southeast corner of Santa Barbara County. Predictably, many of its inhabitants are beach folk who enjoy top surf spots dotting the county coastline, a short drive away. As San Diego residents are well aware, the craft beer industry has found a reliable bedfellow in the surf industry and the two are becoming more codependent in Southern California. This festival masterfully united the Michael Jacksons of the world with the Johnny Utahs (or the Bodhis, if you prefer).
When I questioned those behind the jockey boxes as to why they would make the long drive for many to a relatively small and unestablished festival, the answer, more often than not, was that is was simply about “coming home.” Such was the case for Josh Landan, President of Saint Archer Brewing Co. in San Diego, who grew up in neighboring Ventura. Likewise Evan Weinberg, owner and brewer of Cismontane in Rancho Santa Margarita, saw it as a social occasion to visit and stay with friends from UCSB.
There were plenty of quality flagship beers poured — Anderson Valley’s Boont Amber, Figueroa Mountain’s Hoppy Poppy IPA, Firestone Walker’s DBA, and Green Flash’s West Coast IPA. But heads turned toward the unusual — French Sip from Angel City (beef bouillon just doesn’t belong in beer), Anderson Valley’s beautifully drinkable Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Cismontane’s La Crema. Island Brewing brought their game with double the usual selection of taps — granted, the brewery was visible from the festival grounds so they only had to tote kegs downhill 100 yards or so.
Festivals of this size — with nearly 1,500 attendees — serve a unique purpose offering generally underserved beer communities the chance to commingle, network, and learn more about the beer they’re drinking. In Carpinteria, according to one resident, “Island Brewing Company is pretty much the only place to find craft beer.” You could feel enough momentum and interest from the crowd to pressure local retailers into seizing the opportunity to carry the best beer accessible to them.
We were somewhere around the edge of wine country in Paso Robles when the craft beer began to take hold (1). Baked and dripping with sweat, I dump the remnants of my tasting plate on the ground and use it as a makeshift fan. The air is thick, hot and pointless, laying on us like a nightmare in a sleeping bag.
Black bugs have somehow managed to attach themselves to odd parts of my body and pinch every so often. “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn bugs?” (2). One clings to my armpit as I smack it and smack it again, making it bite harder. “Hey! Ouch!” I yelp as spectators laugh wildly. I duck in the bathroom and dunk my head under the sink, then sling on my hat to grab a beer…the only cold thing in this arid place called Paso Robles.
Flash backward a few hours as this Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival starts and I’m in ‘kid on Halloween’ mode. Media check-in and pre-fest starts early and I’m not taking any chances. It’s peaceful. Nearby cows moo. It’s time to drink.
Standing near Russian River’s booth I hear brewer/owner Vinnie Cilurzo say the words “five-day old Pliny” and “two-year old Temptation.” These words fish-hook the absolute cream of the beer-media (3). We walk like we’re in a Broadway musical, jazz hands fluttering to get a pour. A pretentious voice behind me mutters “I’ve had two-day old Pliny once” while clearing his throat nervously. The five-day old version must taste like piss to this guy. I toss it back, note the fresh Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial and CTZ hops, and move on quickly for a glass rinse and something dark before it gets too hot. The forecast for today is nailed at 104 degrees.
At this festival, beers like Pliny the Elder are ‘just beers’. Not to discount the highly decorated Double IPA from Santa Rosa, but there’s some serious rarities to be consumed today. Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City, which ended up winning the People’s Choice award, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord from the psychedelic Three Floyds Brewing were among the barrel-aged treats that generally elude us on the West Coast. Mikkeller, The Lost Abbey and Firestone Walker were unleashing lambics, framboise and collaborations. Orange County’s sole representative, The Bruery, leaked several rarities on the crowd each hour.
As much as the public loves this festival, brewers also gush at the prospect of getting an invite. Tyler King, The Bruery’s senior director of brewing operations, put it well: “It’s an honor (to be here) no matter where you’re from. We love so many of these breweries and to pour beer next to them is pretty amazing.” Tony Yanow of Golden Road/Tony’s Darts Away/Mohawk Bend was equally excited: “We are a very young brewery and to present our beer alongside our heroes is an honor.”
Adding to the event’s allure, there’s international beer, too. Fascinated with the thought of sampling overseas freshies, my associate Daniel Fernandez and I make a trip to the fest’s ‘Little Germany’. “I had no idea Germans were so tall,” says Daniel with his sub-sombrero sized hat. The guys at Mahr’s Brau Bamburg put David Hasselhoff to shame, and the girl at BraufactuM is at least three inches taller than me in flats. We then visit Yo-Ho Brewing, who also brought their beers from Japan to last year’s inaugural invitational. Close by, Italy’s Birrificio Italiano poured Tipo Pils, a beer that inspired Firestone Walker’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson to brew Pivo Pils, which should be arriving in the southland soon.
Of the many, many beers sampled, three are my standouts:
1. Mikkeller’s Spotancherry Lambic gives me repeatable goosebumps. Juicy tart cherries burst in my mouth with the tiniest sip. Tastes like fresh tart cherry pie.
2. Lagunitas is shocked to hear my love for Sonoma County Sour Stout. “It’s pretty shocking considering we aimed to break every rule when making it…a stout on a hot day that goes down easy? Shocking!” says the biker-looking guy pouring. Layered flavors and aromas strike hard, then hit in waves with each sip. Roastiness, oak, tart fruit, some pleasant funk. The sign aims to debunk its tastiness and only makes me want it more.
3. The Lost Abbey’s Framboise de Amorosa is also among my standouts. Very bright and clean raspberry tart without any metallic notes. Finishes dry with tons of flavor. Shocker, I know. Funky/sour/Belgian style beers are perfect for hot weather, I’ve learned.
Food at the festival is dotted potluck-style amongst breweries. 25 local restaurants brought small-plate tastes to serve throughout the day. I enjoyed the Bloody Mary Granita from Luna Red and Ancho Duck & Cheese Quesadilla from McPhee’s Grill. Near the end, most food was gone.
The music from Hot Buttered Rum fit the mood of the festival; hyperactive, progressive bluegrass is something I could very well be a fan of without knowing it. The White Buffalo also performed later in the day but I was blissfully altered by craft beer at that point in time (see top paragraph).
Gripes: 0! If you go to one festival a year in California, this is it. It’s like a GABF greatest hits mixtape in a small venue with really good food and music. This is the gold standard of beer festivals. Despite the hot temps, there was no problem finding shade, misters, water or an NFL sideline cooler.
Title,(1),(2),(3) – quotes inspired by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas copyright 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson
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Greg Nagel has been a beer fan for over twenty years and recently attended Sierra Nevada Beer Camp (#94 – Sleight of Hand). Follow him on his gonzo beer trail at OCBeerBlog.com and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog