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Most Outstanding Beers from the 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

As throngs of attendees patiently huddled shoulder to shoulder in a scene more reminiscent of the starting line to a marathon than the kick-off to beer festival, an palpable buzz could be felt in the air. The festival’s Noon start time quickly drew near and within the final minute, the crowd began counting down in chorus until Firestone Walker Brewmaster, Matt Brynildson and de facto festival emcee, cerimoniously rang a cowbell signaling the commencement of the 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival.

While the rest of the craft beer industry has fixated on the trends surrounding a declining sales, an fickle drinking audience, and increased brewery closures to name a few, those collective pain points were nowhere to be found at this year’s fest. As a testament to the brewery’s unflinching commitment to its local community, its industry partners, its ability to evolve, and spare-no-expense dedication toward a top tier festival-going experience, Firestone Walker has been able to weather the headwinds and emerge atop the pack in hosting the country’s premiere beer event yet again.

2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Photo by Tristan Chan

And while we’ve detailed to great length the inumerable factors that go into establishing such an elite festival experience, at the end of the day for attendees it still comes back to the beer.

This year’s event once again showcased a diverse cast of the country’s best breweries paired with an even more elevated cast of international participants including the likes of Birrifico Italiano (Italy), Garage Project (New Zealand), Lervig (Norway), Mountain Culture (Australia), Yo-Ho Brewing (Japan) and many more.

Yo Ho Brewing 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Yo Ho Brewing 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

And while trying every beer at a festival of this magnitude would be virtually impossible, our staff consisting of Ryan Pachmayer, Michael Moeller, and Tristan Chan teamed up to share their favorites from this year’s FWIBF.

Our Favorite Beers from the Fest

Russian River Brewing Pliny for President Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Natalie and Vinny Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Pliny for President Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival | Photo by Tristan Chan

Russian River Brewing – Pliny for President

The original iteration of Pliny for President first debuted in 2020, as a Double Dry-Hopped version of the iconic Double IPA. However, due to its popularity DDH Pliny the Elder eventually spun off into its own entry in the Russian River lineup, so for this second version of Pliny for President, co-founder Vinny Cilurzo decided to take things up a notch with a triple dry-hopped version of Pliny and it doesn’t disappoint. Clearly Pliny for President is the only viable option on the ballot this November.

Highland Park – Timbo Pils (gravity pour)

Highland Park seems to bang out fantastic beer after fantastic beer. Timbo is perhaps its best-known beer, and serving this from gravity was a heady move by the brewery. It softened the edges of the beer, while still maintaining the core qualities that has made so many people fans of the hoppy pils.

Wildflower Brewing and Blending – Organic Table Beer

The Australian brewery’s table saison came in at just 2.9 percent ABV. The delicate floral, mellow, fruity and slightly tart notes in this beer kept things interesting, while the lower alcohol content made us wishing we had 750ml versions of this beer to enjoy during a big meal. “You could get some serious work done after drinking this beer” was one thing we overheard someone say. 

Ghost Town – Nose Goblin

California’s Ghost Town has been one of the fastest risers in the hop-forward brewery landscape and Nose Goblin stood out among the bigger IPAs at the festival. The overwhelming freshness of the beer was noticeable, a requirement given how many delicious hoppy offerings were available to sample.

Westbound & Down – Spirit of the West

Spirit of the West from Westbound & Down was another beer that really stood out among the hoppier offerings, which is unsurprising given its track record at national competitions taking home top honors recently at GABF, World Beer Beer Cup, and the Oregon Brewers’ Guild’s Best of the West IPA competition.

Blackberry Farm – Classic Saison

Blackberry Farm brought a foeder version of its Classic Saison. The foeder added some soft funky and slightly tart notes to the base beer, offering up an interesting 1-2 side-by-side comparison between the two very different, yet similar beers.

Fonta Flora 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Fonta Flora 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

Fonta Flora Brewery – DBA Decoy Private Reserve

It’s easy to be swept up in a sea of adjuncted barrel-aged stouts for the diversity of flavors and exciting ingredients that can elevate one’s understanding of beer. Hell there was a five year period where this style dominated every high end beer fest. But at the end of the day a well blended non-adjunct barrel-aged beer is undoubtedly the best representation and Fonta Flora accomplished just that with the DBA Decoy Private Reserve. Showcasing rich oak-forward barrel notes and the perfect body, this beer is a testament to the brewery’s skill in brewing a base beer built for aging and letting time do the rest.

Schilling Beer – Norderter

Pilsners were in vogue this year, as per usual, and Schilling’s Norderter was in fantastic shape. The North German-style pilsner featured floral and mild earthy hop notes, with a soft hay malt background. 

Green Bench Brewing – Le Pub French-style Pilsner

Green Bench, who brought over a dozen options to the festival, had a pilsner made with French malt and hops that showed off layers of complimentary flavors. The ever-so-slight grassiness of the hops in the beer, owing to the extremely low alpha acid French Strisselspalt hops, was a pleasant addition and showed keen attention to detail by owner Khristopher Johnson. Lesser brewers would’ve turned this beer into a grassy, over-hopped pilsner, one that we’ve all drank too many times stateside.

Birrificio Italiano – Tipopils

Birrificio Italiano reliably had its pilsner, Tipopils at the festival this year. Two odd things stood out at the booth, however. For one, it had a double pilsner offering on tap–a style rarely seen, and even more rarely worth trying. Second, legendary beer writer and advocate Charlie Papazian was at the booth, solo, happily pouring for a modest line of drinkers. That double pilsner pulled off the nearly impossible feat: It was malty without being sweet, dry without being thin, all with a smooth alcohol character and harmonious use of hops and malts. No wonder Charlie was pouring at the booth.

Garage Project Beer 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Garage Project Beer 2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

Garage Project – Yuzu Sunrise

The line at Garage Project was quite substantial, but it was well worth it according to Paul Hutchings. The Review Coordinator for Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine found Garage Project’s Yuzu Sunrise to live up to the hype. “A delicate balance of two sour beers, layered in a theatrical presentation that looks as good as it drinks,” says Hutchings. “The initial tartness of raspberry, followed by a pleasant wave or tangy yuzu citrus provides a continuously evolving blend of exquisite and memorable flavors,” he adds.

Garage Project – Two Tap Flat White

This was the beer we rushed to as the first pour at the festival. Two Tap Flat White was a revelation for me. The combination of espresso-infused Imperial Coffee Stout and Nitro Cream Ale, enriched with lactose and vanilla, created a velvety, rich beer that was both indulgent and unique, making it a memorable first experience with this brewery. Just because it might be a gimmick doesn’t mean that it can’t be incredible. 

Revolution Brewing – Pursuit of Freedom: Sangria

I understand why you might think of Anti-Hero or literally any barleywine when you think about Revolution Brewing. And yes, Rioter’s Reserve: 2024 was an absolute revelation, but this sour caught my attention with its vibrant fruit flavors – not to mention the actual accompanying fresh fruit ladled into every sample poured. I loved the blend of grape, pineapple, lime, and orange. A delightful session sour that tasted amazing in the sun. I guess I’ll be adding fruit to my beers from now on.

2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
2024 Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival

Heater Allen – Gold Dot Helles

While we’re not officially ranking these beers in any particular order, this is definitely up there as one of our hands-down standouts of the festival. Gold Dot Helles is a damn near-perfect Helles. This was a round, mature lager that was both crisp and refreshingly smooth with the perfect biscuity backbone.

BKS Artisan Ales – Shown the Light

If you have any doubts about whether or not big ol’ Imperial Stouts can be enjoyed at an 80º summer beer festival in 2024, this beer will show you the light. “Shown the Light” was an incredibly decadent beer but certainly not in a bad way. I appreciated the richness of this Imperial Stout and, as a Kentuckian, I also appreciated the 27 months it spent in Willett Rye barrels. A standout stout with notes of fudge brownie and toasted marshmallow. 

Firestone Walker / Half Acre – Trailing West Pils

Trailing West Pils, the official beer of the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, is an exceptional beer. One of the best Lagers I’ve had in recency, actually. Brewed as a collab with Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Company, this crisp and complex pilsner offered a noticeable blend of Italian, Czech, and German influences. Truly a celebration in a can. I’m just mad I didn’t grab a 6-pack when I had the chance. 

Oxbow Brewing – Hexen 

While Petite Saisons are actually the sexiest beer style to exist, it’s not the sexiest in terms of popularity among the common beer drinker. Thankfully Oxbow Brewing remains steadfast in their commitment to brewing beautifully nuanced delicate Saisons with Hexen showcasing that perfectly subtle elderflower infusion and just the right touch of funkiness.

Firestone Walker – Alpha Over Oils

West Coast IPAs are SO BACK! The recent resurgence of clear, citrus-forward, slightly dank, West Coast IPAs have seen a renewed vigor in hop research. And the Hop Quality Group has been one of the driving groups behind contemporary efforts to better understand hops and develop new strains. Alpha Over Oils was such a tremendous representation of the modern comeback for the style and perfectly represents both Firestone Walker and the Hop Quality Group’s commitment to hop innovation.

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