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Firestone Walker’s Terroir Project: A Beer & Wine Hybrid Event Recap

Firestone Walker’s Terroir Project: A Beer & Wine Hybrid Event Recap
Robert French

Traditional beer festivals are fun and a great place to experience new breweries, but they also can be a bit predictable if familiar breweries choose to just pour core beers that you’ve tried over and over again. If you’ve been to one local beer festival, chances are the next local festival will be much of the same… not bad, but still predictable. Over the last few years, we’ve seen breweries branching out and creating their own, and often uniquely curated beer festivals. Firestone Walker is no rookie when it comes to this. Events like From the Barrel, Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and most recently Pils and Love all offer something beyond the norm.

Where can they go from here? The answer: Project Terroir. They call this event
“an experimental crossover between wine and beer”. This event was held at the West Ranch, a private venue located next to the Firestone Vineyard in Los Olivos, CA.

No slouches in the group, just seven world-class breweries from around the globe all tasked with one goal, to create a wine/beer hybrid. Firestone Walker’s own Barrelworks lead the way on this venture, but they were joined by a stellar group of breweries that included Beavertown, Garage Project Brewing, Jester King, Side Project, Sierra Nevada and Trillium.

If you’re thinking this is just a “let’s throw some grapes in a beer and see what happens”, you would be wrong. The Terroir Project has rules. All breweries used the same grain bill, same maturation period in barrels, co-fermented same percentage of wort & wine grapes. All grapes had to be grown within 100 miles of each brewery.

The results offered a unique perspective into the terroir of each of the breweries and their local winery region. Even following all the rules, no two beers were really that similar. Some beers had a very distinctive funky aroma, while others were much softer and fruity profile. One thing that stood out to me, you didn’t need to be a wine drinker to enjoy.  While the grapes obviously added huge elements to each final products, they were overpowering with wine dominate flavors and characteristics. Some of the beers were heavy on the farmhouse funk, others were loaded with tropical fruits and sweetness. The acid levels were also quite different. Some drank closer to a fruited Saison, while other trended more to the sour side.

As I worked my way through the seven project beers, my favorites trended more towards the ones with rounded fruit flavors and hybrids that I could see myself drinking more than just a taster. The two breweries that worked best for my personal perspective were Side Project and Barrelworks, both of which I went back for seconds. If you were looking for more funk, Trillium and Garage Project might be the ones you gravitated towards. The great thing about the entire project, not a dud in the bunch, all really well-made beers.

While there might have only been seven breweries participating in the Terroir Project, there were far more than seven beers to try. Each of the seven breweries poured a Project beer, as well as one additional special beer.  Side Project, actually brewed two Project beers, one with red and the other white grapes. Additionally, there were guest breweries and wineries on site to round out the event. Birrificio Del Ducato, The Bruery and Russian River were pouring additional beers, while Andrew Murray Vineyards, Chapel Down, Foxen Winery, Thatcher Winery and Whitcraft Winery were pouring wine. If you were feeling a bit entitled, Chapel Down was pouring the same sparkling wine that was served at the Royal Wedding. Who’s fancy now?

Just to add a little of what Firestone Walker does best, surprise us. Before the event was over, bottles of their 2018 GABF Gold Medal winner for experimental beer, Feral Brut were being open and generously poured for the guests. This beer took four years to make, co-fermented with Pinot Noir grapes and aged in French Oak for one year, then bottle conditioned and riddled in the Method Traditionelle for three years. Feral Brut used grapes from Foxen Winery, which is located about 20 miles away from the Barrelworks facility.

Alongside the beer and wine tastings, the event highlighted local artisan companies that included cookies, bread and leather crafters. Although not officially announced, there was talk about next year’s event. Hint, the project hybrids might already be in a barrel somewhere. If you had any reservations about the wine aspect of these beers, don’t let that stop you in the future. Wine/beer hybrids are a not going anywhere and you should not be shy about giving them a try.

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