Back in April I arranged for a tour and visited the Firestone-Walker Brewery in Paso Robles, CA. During the tour of their facilities I took several photos and learned a few interesting facts about Firestone-Walker.
First off, the brewery was founded in 1996 by two brothers-in-law, Adam Firestone and David Walker, who also happen to be members of the Firestone family, known for making rubber and tires. The original location of the brewery (according to the ol label pictures below) was in Santa Maria, CA. In 2001, Firestone-Walker moved to their current facility in Paso Robles where the San Luis Obispo Brewery used to be.
Firestone-Walker distributes their beer only to locations that are within a 24 hour, or so, drive to make sure the beer stays cold and fresh. Their beer can currently be found in California, Nevada, and Oregon. They recently added Washington and Arizona to the list. Last year in 2008, they produced 60,000 barrels of beer and for 2009 they are planning for 75,000 barrels, that’s 1.86 M and 2.325 M gallons respectively. A barrel is 31 gallons and standard size kegs are considered half-barrels with 15.5 gallons of beer.
Firestone-Walker Brewery has created several award winning beers, including a Gold Medal at the 2008 GABF (Great American Beer Festival) for Union Jack IPA in the American Style IPA category. In 2007, Firestone-Walker was awarded with the Mid-sized Brewery of the Year at the GABF.
One interesting fact that I learned is that Firestone-Walker brews more than just their own brand of beer. In 2005, Firestone-Walker acquired Humboldt Brewing Company and their line of Nectar Ales, including their unique strand of yeast. Firestone also brews a few brands for exclusive distrubtion by Trader Joe’s including all of the Mission Street beers, Jumping Cow, and one of the Fat Weasel ales. If you want to know which brands at Trader Joe’s are brewed by Firestone-Walker, just look at the location of the brwery and if it says Paso Robles, CA it is brewed by Firestone. Although I have not tried Mission St., I much prefer Firestone-Walker branded beer to the other Trader Joe brands.
With regard to the brewing process, Firestone-Walker uses local water that is filtered using reverse-osmosis. Depending on the style, various salts are added to the water to replicate water from other areas of the world, like London. They have the ability to mash-in every three hours to produce up to 550 barrels every 24 hours. I was informed by one of the staff walking by that they use the step-mashing technique for the mash.
For fermentation, Firestone-Walker uses both their own house yeast as well as the proprietary Nectar Ales yeast. Sample of both are stored in an off-site lab for safe keeping. The brewers will re-pitch the yeast 10 times before discarding it.
Of all the beer that Firestone-Walker brews, 70% of the production is Double Barrel Ale. A portion of the wort used to make DBA is fermented in brand new 65 gallon American oak barrels. After it is fermented in the oak barrels, it is blended back with the beer and filtered. After a barrel is used 20 times, it is discarded.
At the brewery, Firestone-Walker is able to fill 50 kegs per hour using their kegging machine and 110 botles per minute on the bottling line, which requires 6 people to operate.
I concluded the tour with a sample of the Lil’ Opal farmhouse ale and Walker’s Reserve Porter. Both are very tasty beers.
I would like to thank Sarah and Firestone-Walker Brewery [more info] for the wonderful tour.