Event Recap | Firestone Walker Invitational
The first time I heard about the Firestone Walker Invitational, I wasn’t quite sure I understood the gravity associated with it. It peaked my interest for sure—a festival with food and music, hosted by a brewery with the reputation like Firestone Walker. It’s exciting but really there are plenty of beer festivals happening all the time. Then I saw who was participating, and the weight of the event started to gain clarity.
Most beer festivals are like music festivals
You have your headliners, the ones with the big bold lettering across the top of the poster that even if you have no interest in that type of music, you know them. Then, below that you have the ones who headline the smaller stages, their names are familiar to most and they draw a decent crowd. Then you have the opening acts, where the font gets so small that even if you could read it, you probably wouldn’t know the band. The thing about the Firestone Walker Invitational is that all breweries participating are headliners in their own right.
You may think, with a festival this jam packed with quality breweries, you may not need a strategy when attending, but that would be false. Having a game plan is “Beer Festival 101” and while a strategy will help you get the most out of any festival, when the lineup is as solid as the Firestone Walker Invitational, most strategies are good strategies. For me it was simple: Identify a handful of beers that were most intriguing and make the B line for those.
Thus my first stop was at the Russian River Brewing Company tent with a beautiful tasting of Beatification, their Cantillon-inspired sour that spontaneously fermented. When it comes to sour beer in general I’m usually more miss than hit, but there are a few that really stick with me. This one did just that. It was more the feeling it gave than any specific tasting notes. It’s a beer you want to share while enjoying a warm summer sunset with your closest of friends; the nights when the clarity settles over the gathering and laughter flows as easily as this beer goes down.
Lost in this peaceful haze I meandered through the fairgrounds to the 3 Floyd’s booth and I was hit with a punch of haze from the notorious Zombie Dust. I will have to throw out the disclaimer that this was my first time trying the legendary beer and this was the beer that set the tone for the rest of the festival. For me, the hazy, orange hint and the somewhat thicker mouthfeel with an overall refreshing finish was like the tattoo wearing, punk rock loving cousin to Naked Juice.
From that point it was a whirlwind of amazing beer. I stopped by last year’s Firestone Walker Invitational People’s Choice Winner Side Project, and then Jester King, and then The Bruery, and so on and so on.
The most pleasantly surprising aspect of the festival was the international breweries
The breweries from Germany were my touchstone. The first beers I ever loved were German styles and the authenticity made these refreshing beers even more so. I had enjoyed the Russian River Lambic inspired Beatification, so it was a no brainer to spend time at the Lambic brewery Oud Beersel booth. An underrated part of any beer festival is the opportunity to talk with the brewery representatives themselves, and hearing the owners from Mahrs Brau Bamberg GmbH and Oud Beersel talk about American beer, and traditional styles, and craft beer in America really topped off the experience.
And there were plenty of other standouts for me as well. The Half Acre/Tired Hands collaboration Virga was a lovely little saison perfect for the 90 degree heat. From Allagash Brewing, the Hoppy Table Beer was exactly what you’d expect, and there are times when that is exactly what you need. For me it was about 3:15 when I had hit the “wall” and was looking for a rebound. This beer hit the spot.
Also a standout was the collaboration from Creature Comforts Brewing Company and 7venth Sun Brewery, called Southernly Love. This beer is subtle in its hoppiness, subtle in its sour notes, but it’s not a subtle beer whatsoever. Southernly Love has a wonderful, fresh, grassy aroma, with a tart taste that finishes cleaner than I expected. It is southern charm all wrapped up in lovely 750mL bottle.
The Final Stretch