In this 25th anniversary year of Firestone Walker, we are chronicling our unlikely journey in an oral history form. Join us as we look back at the curious, passionate, and, at times, precarious path that led us from there to here.
This chapter begins after our first decade of brewing on California’s Central Coast. It was a time of immense energy, exploration, and momentum in the craft beer industry, and Firestone Walker was right in the thick of it.
We were now a firmly established craft brewery, but our thirst for innovation remained unabated.
CRAFT BEER REVOLUTION: 2007 – 2014
2007: The craft beer revolution begins gathering steam, and Firestone Walker hits the ground running with Union Jack—a beer that helps set the pace for the West Coast IPA movement.
“Craft took off in the 1990s, but it faltered because there was so much crap. Warm-stored, oxidized beers were everywhere. Craft makers hadn’t sorted out shelf stability, and the public was drinking a lot of really bad beer. It was inevitable that it would collapse and force a reset. The second wave brought better quality and recaptured the public’s attention. By now, a whole generation had acquired a taste for more complex beers, and grocers soon realized there was a lot more profit to be had than stacking cases of thin beers.”
“We and scores of other young breweries were making an impact; craft beer was becoming popular. Twitter and Facebook were born, and we had affordable platforms for telling our stories and networking with like-minded beer drinkers. Our beers began to receive national and international recognition; Matt Brynildson had been voted best brewer in the world a handful of times, and folks began to ask the question: ‘Who is Firestone Walker?’”
2012: Firestone Walker completes its first brewhouse expansion at the Paso Robles brewery. The new 60-barrel brewhouse is intended to last for many years to come but will ultimately begin to reach max capacity within four years.
“When Craft beer became popular, it was easy to get distracted, drawn into the popularity and pace of a new trend. We made a conscious decision to ignore the noise and focus on the beer; we rallied our teams behind our mission ‘Beer before Glory.’ To this day, I believe our focus on beer culture kept us grounded and gave us purpose.”
“We stayed true to the main thing: getting the beers right. We were endlessly tweaking recipes, brewing, fermentation, packaging, and more, and that all adds up. It was all incremental, and it was all essential.”
2012: At the end of the year, Firestone Walker establishes Barrelworks—a dedicated wild ale cellar helmed by longtime QC manager Jim “Sour Jim” Crooks and original head brewer Jeffers Richardson, who was instrumental in formulating DBA back in 1996.
“Moving 60-something barrels into what felt like a 9,000-square-foot cellar definitely felt like overkill at the time. Sure, there was space for growth, but that was a lot of space! How was I ever going to make this project look legitimate with all this empty space? Funny how it goes, because it didn’t take long to fill it. By the end of 2013, we had filled almost 300 oak barrels with beer, had two stainless tanks dropped on the floor, and purchased some other equipment for bottling. The dream had happened, Barrelworks was taking form, and the beers were transforming under our careful and intentional craftsmanship.”
-Jim “Sour Jim” Crooks
2012: 805 is born as a humble locals-only beer. It isn’t long, however, before travelers begin bootlegging the beer back to Fresno, Los Angeles, and beyond. Demand grows exponentially, and 805 becomes an unintended phenomenon across the West.
“805 is the perfect confluence of the right time, right liquid, the right message, and most importantly, the right team. We had a well-tuned brewery and quality program ready to plug a beer like 805 into. The brewing team was in absolute peak shape and ready to take on what would turn out to be a beer-making rocket-ship ride. We managed to max out the recently improved brewhouse while dropping in new tanks, adding packaging equipment, building warehouses, and expanding our campus to accommodate this amazing 805 phenomenon. I’ve never experienced a brewery working so hard yet so well.”
-Brewmaster Matt Brynildson
2013: Brewmaster Matt Brynildson creates Pivo hoppy pilsner. Inspired by Tipopils by Birrificio Italiano, Pivo is met with widespread acclaim and helps trailblaze a new generation of craft pilsners.
“The best beers are born from experiences and have a real story. Pivo is one of these beers. The style is truly a brewer’s beer that may never grow to draw in the masses, but any time two or more brewers gather around here, many Pivos are poured.”
-Brewmaster Matt Brynildson