This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. For the past quarter of a century, we have been seeking out the perfect beer. It has been a long road, and we are just getting started. What started as a side passion project for Adam Firestone and David Walker quickly turned into a lifestyle. Keep reading to learn more about that journey.
Born in a humble shed on the family vineyard’s back-forty, Firestone Walker is a California beer company like no other—founded by two brothers-in-law who simply wanted to make the perfect beer.
The story begins with Adam Firestone (The Bear) and David Walker (The Lion) debating the subject of good beer. It wasn’t long before they had goaded themselves into brewing their own, prompting them to establish Firestone Walker Brewing Company.
ORIGINS: 1996 – 2000
1996: Our very first beer, Double Barrel Ale, is born. Initial attempts to brew the beer in used wine barrels fail (unintentional sour beer!), so new American oak barrels become the standard.
“Our brewhouse was purchased from a junkyard in Los Angeles and originally designed to brew non-alcoholic beer. It was impossible to calibrate or measure, so brewing beer with it was a dark art.”
“We decided to buy one piece of new gear. It was a nine-head filler to be made in Germany by a guy who’d left Krones to start his own shop. We were his first customer—big mistake. The filler was massively delayed as he struggled to build it in a rented workshop in Manheim. He finally agreed to air freight it because our bottle launch plans would miss the summer season otherwise. It landed at LAX on a Friday, and thinking I could save on freight, and I drove down to get it in a pick-up truck towing a gooseneck trailer. That turned into a real disaster.”
“We made one beer, DBA, that went through our version of a Burton Union with linked oak barrels. We took some solace from looking like a winery, but the concept was a bold one. We learned quickly about the need for insane cleanliness. In those days, our volumes were so slow that we actually named the barrels; the first two were Beavis and Butthead, in honor of Mr. Firestone and Mr. Walker.”
“So much of the brewing and packaging process was manual. I remember the first day we packaged DBA, and I stayed late to help with the kegging, which included hoisting each full 13.2-gallon keg off the line and onto a pallet. We used to jump in the mash tun to clean it between brews, shoveling out the wet grain and hosing everything down, we only had 15 minutes to do it, and it was hot as hell in there.”
-Miguel Ibarra, Employee #1
1997: Windsor Pale Ale is born—a quintessential California Pale Ale with a curiously British name. This beer later evolves into Pale 31 and becomes one of the most decorated pales in the world.
“As we headed into that second year, that’s when it felt like the brewery started taking off. People were talking about it.”
-Miguel Ibarra, Employee #1
“We had endless challenges. Equipment and raw material suppliers were not geared up to supply ‘microbrewers,’ so everything we needed to make beer seemed like a ‘special order.’ And when it came to selling that beer, the large international brewers had a death grip on our access to the market through their alliance of wholesalers, which made it almost impossible to get comprehensive access to retailers and pubs. All of this was ultimately solvable with wit and determination.”
1999: The Buellton taproom is established, with extra room to accommodate a future brewing expansion (little did Adam and David know they’d be moving into a turnkey brewery in Paso Robles a few years later).
“Where the real challenge existed was changing the hearts of consumers who were largely indifferent to American beer. Beer had become a commodity and the narrative around it was reduced to ‘good times and refreshment.’ The notion of an artisanal craft brewery born under the eaves of a family winery making local beer seemed alien to the regular consumer.”
2000: Firestone Lager is born. Adam calls it the “un-lager” to help people get their heads around the idea of a craft lager that was clearly ahead of its time. Firestone Lager would ultimately be discontinued due to lack of interest, only to be reborn more than a decade later.
The story doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for chapter two in the oral history celebrating 25 years in craft brewing. While you wait, use the Beer Finder to stock up on your favorite Firestone beers.