If you have a vintage Firestone Walker Anniversary barrel-aged beer, take a look at the number, then think back to when it was zero. Back? Okay. I’m currently swinging my legs off the back of a truck in wine county; happy like a kid licking an ice cream cone. Destination? Firestone Walker’s original brewhouse. The warm springtime sun projects long-lashed shadows from the vines across the dusty dirt road behind us. A nearby field of llamas watches us pass, perhaps doing their best “Paris Hilton on a red carpet” look. “Como se llama!” I yell as they continue to stare blankly. “Those are Alpacas,” says John Verive.
“Just when you feel like you’re about to get murdered, turn left” quips my seat mate, gingerly. The best part about keeping company with fellow writers is the constant unfiltered witty banter. She snaps a shot of Union Jack IPA using the moving greenery as a backdrop. As we squeak to a stop, our driver honks twice next to a white two-story building. We’re engulfed by lush rows of grapes, a scarecrow staring off into the distance and a couple feral black cats licking themselves nonchalantly in the dirt. “That must be feral one and feral two,” I say chuckling to myself, poking fun at a recent beer release from Barrelworks.
“This is where it all began” says Jeffers, one of Firestone Walker’s original brewers and director at Barrelworks. “This is our original brewhouse.” There is something romantic and movie-like about brewing beer in the middle of such rich viticulture. Being here, breathing the air and sipping freshly bottled beer has me hypnotized. Andrew Murray, the current tenant, greets us with a glass of his soft and minerally white wine that seemingly cuts through six hours of bingy bus-drinking…all in one sip.Subsequent sips revive my palate and make me hungry for more.
“The beer we made here was terrible for years” confides co-owner David Walker. “There were quality issues as we had trouble sustaining a boil for any amount of time,” he continued. Inside, the brewhouse is now filled with dimpled wine fermentation vessels, an industrial sink and an upstairs office. It’s functional, industrial, open air, and clean.
Back at the ranch, our tents are pitched and the tri-tip is sizzling on an open flame. Corks fly and Belgian bottles meet tipped logo’d Teku stemware. “Meet Bretta Rosé, a blend of fresh raspberries with our Barrelworks Bretta Weiss beer.” Expecting Framboise, this is more like squishing a bag of ripe raspberries in your mouth and washing it down with a refreshing wild beer.
Our location is somewhat of a fugue…although I know we’re deep in wine country passed Buellton, they picked the name “Area 51”, heightening the mystique. I attempt to check into a beer on Untappd and see Michael Jackson’s ‘Neverland Ranch’ as a location option. “I hope I don’t get molested in my tent tonight” I mumble and sip. “Does this beer give me Kool-Aid lips?” I ask my table with a dorky side-smirk.
Over dinner, an experimental beer is poured that breaks all classification. It shows up table-side with a thick two-fingered meringue head. The best description is that it’s somewhat of a beer/wine hybrid that drinks like neither. “Sour Jim” Crooks attempts to explain the pilot beer, and ends up breaking down FW’s past, present and future. The correlation between our location and what we’re drinking sums it up beautifully: Barrelworks is more than just a playground for bacteria and wild yeasts. It’s a return to the fields for Firestone Walker.
The nearby fire pit lit from a gasoline can off of David Walker’s Land Rover calls us over with a bon-fire roar. Bellies are full. Bottles are shared from back home. Various items are smoked. Not knowing our secret itinerary, I give the old “Irish goodbye” back to my tent just past midnight. I hear a howl, not knowing if it’s one of us or a coyote…I twirl a fresh earplug in my ear just as the konk hits.
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This is part one of three from a recent beer-junket up to visit Firestone Walker Brewing Co. with the @LABeerBloggers group. Bus/Food and some beer was provided courtesy FW.
Photos from my LOMO LC-A camera, Expired Fuji 400 Sensia film cross-processed.