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The Beer Festival for Brewers

A taste of Firestone Walker’s coveted Invitational


The Bruery (Orange County) poured four special releases at the festival. | Photography by Bruce Glassman

If you’re a brewer and you get invited to participate in the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, you’re stoked—and you’re stoked for a bunch of reasons.

First off, if you’re invited, that means the folks at Firestone Walker (specifically Brewmaster Matt Brynildson) think what you’re doing is very cool—so, just by getting an invite, you’ve joined an exclusive club. Then, as an added benefit, you know you’ll get to hang out and socialize with a whole bunch of your fellow brewers for the weekend. (There’s a big brewer’s barbecue the night before the festival and many of the brewers camp out together at the Paso Robles fairgrounds for the whole weekend, keeping the party going well after the last festival attendees have gone home.) Spending the weekend with fellow brewers from all over the country—including many people who are considered “brewing icons”—also means you’ll have a chance to strut your stuff for the peers you respect the most. That’s why the brewers who participate in the festival come loaded with some of their rarest and most special beers—the stuff they’re most proud of.

Now, given what you’ve just read, is it any wonder that the 3,000 tickets made available to the public sell out in less than 60 seconds?

Seeing the brewers enjoying each other’s company and the beers they’ve brought makes the whole thing feel like a celebration of brewing as much as it is a celebration of beer.

This year, which was the fifth annual FWIBF, boasted 52 breweries from 6 countries and 16 states, and included 9 from San Diego: Pizza Port, Lost Abbey, Alpine, Green Flash, Ballast Point, Stone, Bagby Beer, Mikkeller, and Societe (which was making its FWIBF debut). There were hundreds of beers poured, with a notable emphasis on sessionable brews and sours of all kinds. The lighter, lower-ABV lineup was fortunate for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was nearly 100º F on the day of the festival! A cornucopia of lower-ABV offerings also made it more manageable to spend the entire day drinking beer; especially because this is the kind of event where you finish everything in your glass. Just about every beer is great. There is no dumping in Paso Robles.

All the great beer was amazing, but witnessing the camaraderie among the brewers made this event feel extra special. That’s why the FWIBF feels more like a brewer’s reunion than the usual beer festival (once you disregard the 3,000 beer fans milling about, of course). Seeing the brewers enjoying each other’s company and the beers they’ve brought makes the whole thing feel like a celebration of brewing as much as it is a celebration of beer. And that feeling of celebration is not only contagious; it also makes the beers taste all that much better.

Here’s a collection of images from the festival that capture some of the happy faces, friends, food, and feelings of the day. Cheers.

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