All the Barrels Roll Out for Firestone Walker’s Micro-Fest

Event in San Luis Obispo County Has only barrel aged beer, wine and booze at historic ranch. – By Greg Nagel


The Historic Santa Margarita Ranch Barn – courtesy their website

IMG_9215With an event like From the Barrel‘ by Firestone Walker, irony sets in quickly as I realize we’re all just a bunch of booze sitting inside wood. At the historic wooden-planked Santa Margarita barn (in San Luis Obisbo County), every beer, spirit and cocktail has spent time in a wooden barrel. The guests? Dressed to the nines in prohibition-era fashion and, well, also surrounded by staves of lumber.

Session beer drinking since noon, my suspender-hooked suit pants and bow tie are providing some gentle, yet pleasant asphyxiation, I feel like this thing could all burn down with one careless flick of a cigarette.

Twinkly lights strewn across the dusty floor guide my way to the first beers of the night. Societe and Russian River are sharing a table like nephew and uncle at a roadside farm stand. Societe’s The Highbinder (American wild ale) next to Russian River’s Beatifiation? As a man of constant sorrow, I take a sip and whistle dixie. It’s hard to see the color in the low lights, but it does appear to have blushed from touching my lips. What a tart! The Highbinder gives me subtle wood; French oak wine barrel I presume. I pucker. It’s wet and unscrupulous. I get to the bottom and go for thy neighbor. Temptation sets in as our eyes meet. Does The Highbinder stand up next to Russian River’s bottled seductions? Absolutely. Beatification nearly blows my wad, so grab a smoke outside to relax.

Credit - CA Brewmasters Book

Credit Nick Gingold – California Brewmasters Book

The walkways are tight as I politely move about the barn. Rock steps tunnel the side entrances and juxtapose the gams propped up by throwback stems. The gentle plucking of a stand-up bass rhythmically blum-blum-blums throughout the night causing a few bleary-eyed people to dance. Outside, a bonfire flickers light across the way, highlighting cloche hats, pearls, fur and sparkled gowns. I flick my smoke safely and head back in.

“There’s no better way to feel like you’re back in the 1920’s than when your phone has zero bars.” – Overheard near the bonfire


Guy on the right did the ‘reelin’ you in’ move at least three times to random ladies before Billy Idoling it.


The little devil on my right shoulder whispers something about rye whiskey and I tell him, “just one.” Three Highspires and a Templeton Rye later, the angel on the left whispers something about “food.”  Thankfully, there’s an abundance. I’m not much of a fan of sliders, so I sure as hell heist four or five ahi-poki chips and some sort of seafood bruschetta near the back window (completely surrounded by cats, by the way).

P1080906Wanting desperately to avoid a hangover before a long weekend, bourbon barrel aged beers are being avoided at all costs. Why drink a beer that had sloppy seconds with a bourbon barrel? As I get older, my craving for bourbon instead of bourbon tea-bagged beers continues to grow. It’s all about the blend and this event has the best…but I’m still not biting.

As the night fiddles away, the crowd grows thin. Ladies get loose enough to smoke some robusto-sized cigars. Suspenders are snapped, violently. 10 P.M. comes, and so does my bus to Paso Robles. Where did the night go? Angel’s share, I suppose.


From the Barrel is now in its fifth year. It’s a great event with some heady drinks – only way to conquer it is to divide, sip and dump what you’re not thrilled with. Firestone Walker puts on some seriously great events and this ads to their line up. I’ve long been a fan of niche-type events (hello, firkfest!) but this sets the bar pretty high. I’d guess 95% of the people here are dressed up! It was classy, tasty and unique! I will be back! Thanks Firestone Walker and LA Beer Bloggers!

Disclosure: This was part of the LA Beer Bloggers Trip, FW paid for a bus full of press to attend a weekend of educational experiences. From the Barrel kicked off the weekend.

OCBeerBlog Favorite Beer Moments of 2014


GABF Media Luncheon – credit John Holzer @FourBrewers

People often ask me, “What’s your favorite beer?” My reply is usually a stupid canned answer, “The one in my hand.” It’s much deeper than that though. Beer is a moment; a snapshot in time. It’s not always about the rarest or most costly of beers. Often it’s the time, the place or the people I’m surrounded with that make a beer truly memorable. Here’s ten of those favorite beer moments and snapshots from this past year in no particular order.

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103819 AM.bmp1) Hitting my 1000’th Untappd check in at Beachwood BBQ & Brewing with the Hops of Brixton, poured by my favorite gal, the Beer Bird herself Catelyn Willig. The beer is a bold ESB shining with British cracker-like malts clashing with East Kent Golding hops. It’s one of my favorites at Beachwood and get it first. Extraordinary!

10296261_10203874627050886_7166790387008297076_o2) Camping at the Firestone Winery and drinking one-off Barrelworks beers at Firestone Walker’s original brewhouse? This totally didn’t suck! One beer that stood out was a wine/beer blend called “Zin Skin” that poured with a huge fluffy three inch head; only to watch it disappear like a big bubble being popped. Pictured is galpal beer writer Erika Bolden snapping a shot of DBA while on the back of a flat bed in a grape field.

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103421 AM.bmp3) When you get invited into the Coolship room at Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, you go in. When you uncork a beer that was spontaneously fermented in there, that’s pretty damn spectacular. Arguably one of the most acidic beers I’ve had in recent memory, Coolship Cerise simultaneously melted my tooth enamel and caused “instaboner”. But was there sex in the coolship room? I’ll never tell.

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103210 AM.bmp4) Flying into Denver for GABF and resetting the palate with a familiar beer is always a great idea. When the beer is Blind Pig from Russian River, it’s even better. Joined by Four Brewers compadre John Holzer, we dined at the Kitchen in downtown Denver and nearly watched a guy choke to death on water. Truly memorable!

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103521 AM.bmp5) For some reason, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream thought, “hey, lets team up with OCBeerBlog for a special tour of OC breweries.” Challenge accepted! One highlight was having the B&J truck stop at Bottle Logic to hand out free samples of their Core Tour stuff. Bottle Logic put on a special cherry milk stout to make impromptu Cherry Garcia beer floats! Check out their blog post here. 

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103432 AM.bmp6) TØRST in Brooklyn is one bar you must visit on the east coast. It’s pretty much like one part Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco mixed with one part Beachwood BBQ; so much so that they even have a flux capacitor and dual draft temp zones. I drank some remarkable beers, but my favorite was I Love You With My Stout by Evil Twin.

temptation7) I never thought Russian River would have two spots in my top ten list as I’m not a huge fanboy. But hey, getting the second pour of Temptation from a 9 Liter bottle by Vinnie Cilurzo himself? Out-fucking-standing. Firestone Walker’s Invitational Beer Festival remains my favorite thing to do besides sex. FACT.

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103353 AM.bmp8) Taking an unreleased beer off of Golden Road’s new canning line, cracking it, snorting the can-hole, then chugging it is number eight on my list. Thanks to the Beer Blogger’s Conference for the exclusive access behind the scenes for this guy…and thanks to Meg, Tony, Laurel, Sara, Franny, Tim, Jesse and the rest of the team there I call friends. Victor? He wasn’t there yet, but thanks anyways, el hefe.

Fullscreen capture 12302014 103739 AM.bmp9) Of all the ways for a yet-to-be opened brewery to show off their skills, Three Weavers quickly won over my heart with this collaboration with Noble Ale Works. The Messenger was indeed a message in a bottle, saying “hey, I’m a citrusy IPA made with Buddha’s Hand fruit and other fun stuff.” I loved this beer, Noble, and Alex Nowell quite a bit.

1Fullscreen capture 12302014 103626 AM.bmp0) The Bruery makes some tantalizing big barrel aged beers. Their anniversary series has been one that I’ve dismissed in years past until I sipped Sucré. With any solera blended beer, there’s a sweet spot where the liquid can take on a fruity note. I guess year five was it for this beer! Layered with fruit, toffee, oak, vanilla, brown sugar and other confectionary adjectives, this beer is insane. Sampled at their anniversary event at the Phoenix Club among friends, brewers and great BBQ from Beachwood…this rounds out my list perfectly. If I had to pick another, #11 would be sipping Sour in the Rye from a barrel in the not-yet-opened Terreux. Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone!


2014 Russian River Pliny the Younger Releases (OC)


Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger release dates in Orange County! Read my review of last years release! Cheers!!


Orange County

From Russian River Brewing’s Website:


We will begin distributing Pliny the Younger on draft the week of February 10th in and around Sonoma County and the Bay Area. Stone will likely pick up their shipment for Southern California that week or the following week. We will be sending kegs to our distributors in San Jose, Sacramento, Oregon, Colorado, and Philadelphia sometime in February, ship dates TBD. At this time, we do not know what accounts will receive kegs of Younger, but it will likely be available at many of the same accounts who received it last year since the production numbers are very similar. It is our recommendation that our accounts tap it as soon as possible after receiving their delivery to preserve the freshness and integrity of the beer. This beer is not meant to age AT ALL! Pliny the Younger is very much like the fresh catch of the day and best enjoyed right away!

Notes from the Younger – Sparkling Hop Wine At Its Finest

By now, you know I don’t like to review beers in a blog form. Why? I’m actually not a fan of reading beer reviews. However, when I insert a beer like Pliny the Younger into my supple, furry body, sharing tasting notes is a must. I actually do keep notes on most beers I sample, whether it be on untappd, on a napkin, or scribbled on a bathroom wall and photographed.

I’d like to first start off and say that Selma’s RSM had the best Pliny the Younger roll out. They chose to invite all of their regulars via facebook, create a list, and open it to the public after that. As it was tapped, I merely waved my wrist-band at the bartender and received my pour. No waiting, no lines, no raffle. Rewarding regulars was smart!

8oz was poured into a standard white wine glass at optimal temperature. The insane amount of hops on the nose is euphoric and hypnotic. I found myself sniffing and sniffing, goosebumps on my arms, my excitement: like a tree snake going in for the kill. I picked up on mainly citrus, pine, and floral notes with a hint of malty sweetness.

My first taste: total disbelief how long the hops last. One sip lingers at least ten full Mississippi seconds before leaving quietly. Calling Pliny the Younger a Triple India Pale Ale almost doesn’t do it justice. Younger is a sparkling hop wine! Swirling around the glass, the sticky resinous hops create some nice lingering legs. The head quickly dissipates into a light snow-like dusting. Zero lace is to be expected with this oily hop load. The mouthfeel is very vinous and the 11% ABV is hidden very well with only a slight tinge of burn, similar to wine. The carbonation was adequate, cleansing without stinging.

On the pour, a snow bank of foam clings briefly to the sides of the glass.

Often times you hear the term “malt backbone” in a review. My impression of PtY’s malt backbone? Picture a kilo brick of hops sitting on a box of Hostess Twinkies. The malt is there, much like a picture hanger is to the Mona Lisa. The clarity and color of this brew is surprising as I expected to see some residual cloudiness from the quadruple dry hopping and at least a slight copper tinge. Pliny the Younger has none of that. Its clear honey-golden color reveals nothing of what’s in store for your taste buds.

As there is so much hype surrounding this beer, it’s easy to forget its purpose. Anyone that says “it doesn’t live up to the hype” perhaps built it up too much. Russian River goes above and beyond all with this release, totally perfecting what no one else attempts. In that regard, it is truly outstanding and must be tried.

Great thanks to the team at Selma’s Chicago Pizzeria and Taproom in Rancho Santa Margarita! Last chance in OC to sample the Younger is at their new Ladera Ranch location on 2/27/12. Check their facebook page for details. Also thanks to Joslyn Ellstrom and Justin from Beerventures for sharing their table!