Spirits of the Game: A Decade’s Best
The Central California town of Paso Robles has made quite a name for itself as a wine destination over the past 15 years, with more than 200 wineries now producing a broad array of varietals ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne, to Zinfandel, the area’s heritage wine varietal.
There are also several good golf courses in the area, including Hunter Ranch GC and Paso Robles GC — and several more in nearby Morro Bay — making the area an attractive getaway for SoCal golfers as well as their non-playing partners.
Equally alluring as the golf and vineyards is a visit to Firestone Walker Brewing Company, just off Highway 101 in Paso. Founded in 1996 by brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker, Firestone Walker Brewing Company is a pioneering regional craft brewery that produces a diverse portfolio ranging from iconic pale ales to vintage barrel-aged beers.
Adam Firestone grew up on California’s Central Coast, surrounded by his family’s vineyards and winemaking operation in Los Olivos. He is the great-great grandson of Harvey Firestone, who started the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. The entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family, apparently, as Adam was intrigued by brewing at a young age, and started making beer at Firestone Vineyard before moving to Paso Robles in 2001.
His vision was fulfilled when his brother-in-law David Walker agreed to join the company. Walker grew up in England, and brought with him traditional European brewing techniques — such as fermenting in interconnected oaken barrels — and flavor profiles not previously common in the United States. Over the years, the two men have created a host of acclaimed beers, including what might be their greatest hit, Union Jack, which the company calls “an aggressively hopped West Coast IPA,” and their most popular release, 805, a refreshing blonde ale.
For its excellence, Firestone Walker was named “Best Brewery of the Decade” by Paste Magazine in 2019. “They check every box we could use to measure ‘best of the 2010s,’” the magazine wrote. “They have the overall beer portfolio, deep variety and eclecticism to be No. 1. They’ve been deeply influential on multiple aspects of the industry, from barrel-aged stouts to the shape of modern pilsner. And their consistency is nearly unrivaled.”
Paste’s standout brews? Union Jack, Mocha Merlin (standard strength stout), Sucaba (a barleywine), Feral One (a limited run “wild ale” produced in the company’s Buellton facility), and Pivo (an Italian-style pilsner).
In 2015, Firestone Walker sold to another family-owned brewery, Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat, a move Firestone says will “help pave the way for our next 20 years and beyond.” The infusion of capital allowed the company to install a canning operation at the Paso Robles facility, good news for golfers, as the product can now be sold on golf courses, as well as attain larger national distribution.
One thing the sale did not seem to affect is the sheer creativity and volume of the new releases. A visit to the open-daily visitor’s center in Paso Robles will net you a tour of the facility as well as tasting opportunities. They offer 14 of their many brews on draft with a small selection of to-go beer.
If you just can’t get enough of Firestone Walker’s delightful brews in Paso, plan a homeward-bound stop at the company’s Barrelworks facility in Buellton, where they make “eccentric wild ales,” and if you’re completely hooked, check out the Propagator pilot brewhouse in Venice that specializes in R&D beers. ▪