Firestone Walker Brewery, based in California, was established in 1996 by brothers-in-law by Adam Firestone and David Walker. The brand produces a wide variety of beverages from pale ales to vintage barrel-aged beers, made with mostly sustainable practices. Brewmaster Matt Brynildson recently came to Dublin to visit Urban Brewing and PC Macs, to discuss the brand and its brewing techniques – so when would be a better time to catch him for a few questions?
Food for Thought – FFT.ie: How did you get involved with Firestone Walker?
Matt Brynildson: I headed to California, looking to gain exposure to the West Coast brewing scene, and joined the Firestone Walker Brewery in 2001. That same year the company moved operations from the Santa Ynez Valley (close to Santa Barbara) to Paso Robles California where we still brew today.
Adam Firestone and David Walker had outgrown their original brewery which was located on the Firestone Vineyards winery property. They needed a larger facility with room to grow. They were also looking to expand the portfolio and add some new beer styles. It turned out to be a great opportunity where I was able to help the brewery grow and develop an incredible number of new beers for a California market which turned out to resonate in other parts of the country as well is a number of export markets.
What is unique about the brand? What is unique to brewing process?
We are a California brewery which sells more than 80% of what we make in California. Our major inspiration comes from the Central Coast where we live. What really sets Firestone Walker apart from other craft breweries when we started, was our practice of and dedication to barrel fermentation. When Adam and David first conceived this brewery, they were determined to incorporate barrels into the process of making their flagship Double Barrel Ale (DBA). The notion of barrel-fermented ales seemed natural for a 3rd generation winegrower like Adam, but the execution was a monumental process. Our brewery has been awarded top honors as Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival four times and Champion Brewery at the World Beer Cup four times. The accolades are reassuring, but at the end of the day, we are a seriously focused brewery that is constantly looking to expand our knowledge and improve our beers.
Where will your beers be stocked in Ireland?
We’ve already got Firestone Walker beers available in some of Dublin’s best craft beer bars like P. Mac’s, Urban Brewing and Taphouse, and off-licences like Craft Central and Drinkstore. We will be in lots of other independent bars and off licences soon through our Irish importer Radical Drinks.
Where do you source your ingredients?
We source our raw materials from around the world. Most of our barley is grown close to home in the Western States with some of it being grown in Canada. We do draw some specialty malts from the UK and Germany. Hops are a major focus for our brewery. We spend a lot of time working with hop farmers and hop merchants all around the world. We take the hop selection process seriously and send our people out every year to select hops at the source.
You’re currently doing a tour to promote your beers – how is that going for you?
Traveling to promote our beer is as much about learning as it is selling. I always find inspiration when I travel, especially in the places that we export. There is so much good beer brewed all around the world both by the established heritage breweries and the new and exciting craft breweries. Everywhere we go we meet brewer artisans and the folks who love great beer. Sharing and networking is an amazing part of the craft beer movement. We seem to find friends in every town we go and a great brewer or two to share pints with.
How do you raise awareness of your brand?
There are lots of ways to raise awareness and social media has been key to the growth of Firestone Walker, but as a brewer I reckon it’s hard to beat getting out there and meeting your customers for some good conversation over a beer, whether that’s tap takeovers and meet the brewer events like we had recently in Urban Brewing and P. Mac’s in Dublin or at festivals like Dublin Beer Circus, Belfast Craft Beer Festival and Taste of Dublin at which we had beers pouring at for the first time this year.
How has the reception in Ireland been to Firestone Walker so far?
It’s early days but we’re excited about where we can take things in Ireland. It’s a new market for us and we were surprised to learn that craft beer is less than 3% of the market. You might be surprised to hear it but that’s actually encouraging for us because having visited Dublin, I think the appetite is there and it’s only a matter of time before it’s got a similar share to the United States, where craft beer has a 24% share.
I’m confident that through both our experience and our beers, we can help craft beer grow in Ireland. It has been a real pleasure meeting craft beer drinkers in Dublin during my visit. I know Ireland has a huge beer history but I was really amazed with how familiar and knowledgeable people in Ireland already are about Firestone Walker.
What plans do you have for the future?
We are always looking to expand our portfolio in a creative and meaningful way. We recently launched Mind Haze IPA which fits into the ever growing Hazy IPA world. It was an amazingly rewarding project that resulted in a wonderfully hoppy yet soft and sessionable beer. We adopted a new yeast strain and brought in a few new and interesting hop varieties to make that beer happen. We have also brought wine grapes into the brewing process.
We are always working on new barrel aged beers including a number of cocktail inspired spirits barrel aged strong beers. We are always bringing in locally grown fruits to add to our Barrelworks program as well. There is always something new going on in the Firestone Walker Brewery.