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 fourth chapter takes us all the way to today, capping off a period marked by innovation, expansion and a redoubling of our passion for sustainability. It has been a wild ride since we fired up that little jerry-rigged brewhouse 25 years ago, but in so many ways, we are just getting started.
FRUITS OF INNOVATION: 2015 – 2021
2015: Firestone Walker combines with Duvel Moortgat of Belgium, itself a multigenerational family brewery. Firestone Walker continues to operate independently under the leadership of David Walker and Adam Firestone, while proudly benefitting from the heritage, knowhow and support of this leading European brewery.
“Being a sole brewer is a lonely proposition in a complex marketplace. It’s crowded and success favors those with friends. Further, we had accumulated multi-generational debt (meaning many generations would have to work to pay it off). While our banks were ever patient, it was a massive and daunting reality that was aging us too quickly.” –The Bear
“We had invested, begged and borrowed capital to get us this far but we were literally spent. We needed to find a financial partner.” –The Lion
“Duvel is an independent family-owned brewery anchored in beer culture and history. They were everything we wished to be, and, in some cases, we were. It was sympatico. We knew we would be a material portion of their worldwide brewing and so it would be in some ways a marriage of equals. It was important to them that we remain significantly invested in the brewery, which aligned for us as we wanted to continue to write our story. They had sustained an enduring reputation as an independent world-class brewer for 150 years and we wanted the same.” –The Lion
“As the Lion coined it ‘We wanted a brewer not banker as a partner.’ Then, on meeting the Moortgat brothers, we just seemed aligned.” –The Bear
2016: We launch our Propagator pilot brewhouse in Venice, California. The Propagator is the R&D facility that sets the pace for what’s next from Firestone Walker. It becomes an experimental origin point for beers like Mind Haze while serving as a neighborhood brewery and idea laboratory.
“Venice is an edgy, creative community in the middle of a metropolis often accused of being bathed in so much sunshine and beauty that it’s hard to divine what it wants. We were seeking opinions, we wanted to be challenged and so we chose to locate the Propagator in this community. It worked, as we now have over 100 different beers and are releasing new ones monthly—all born in Venice.” –The Lion
“If ever there were an experimental enterprise in ideation, Venice is the spot. Abbot Kinney, the beach, the canals and more have drawn artists and mad scientists for decades. The more time we spent there, the more we knew it was the spot to exfoliate our brewing ideas.” –The Bear
“Landing Venice was a nearly 10-year project…The site was a rare piece of luck. Over the decades, it hosted a car dealership, a restaurant and then a World Gym. But it had the size and scale needed to house all our ideas. As the song goes, ‘No one walks in LA’ and mercifully this included 67 parking spots. That meant we had a mini campus with room to grow. It was, and remains, perfect.” –The Bear
2017: We complete our second brewhouse extension within the past five years, fueled by the growth of several flagship brands as well as the unexpected phenomenon of 805. In addition to adding state-of-the-art brewing capabilities, the extension also features a new brewery visitor center that will serve as a hub for expanded brewery tours.
“The new brewhouse—built by Huppmann, based in Germany—started landing in the spring of 2017. It would take nine months until we mashed in our first test brews. Immediately we knew we had the size and scale to brew top-quality batches and the systems and controls to ensure absolute consistency. Meanwhile, Brewhouse-1 remains online and fully functional, dedicated to smaller batch production.” –The Bear
“For years we had brewed seven days a week, 20 hours a day. The tension and excitement were exhilarating at first but eventually turned to a heavy burden on the brew team. The new brewery civilized things instantly. Our brewers were able to pull normal shifts and not disappear into long weeks of silent night shifts. The scale solved our production problems but the new technology we inherited with a new brewhouse made us more efficient and ultimately continues to underwrite the quality of beer we all treasure.” –The Lion
2019: After a year of experimentation, we release Mind Haze—a hazy IPA done the Firestone Way. Mind Haze is met with immediate market enthusiasm and quickly becomes the bestselling Firestone Walker beer second only to 805. Double Mind Haze will make its debut two years later as the first Mind Haze extension.
“If we were slow to launch a hazy IPA, it was mainly because we were having so much fun with our filtered IPAs. That said, brewing for haze seemed contrived and at odds with our reflex as brewers. However, once we had reconciled that the style was simply a Hefeweizen sibling, we threw off our prejudice and brewed hazies with abandon. The results spoke for themselves as we focused on creating beers with a robust shelf life that were affordable to the average craft drinker. Mind Haze has proven to be our most successful IPA.” –The Lion
“Our successes have come from never being first. We weren’t the first craft brewer. We didn’t release the first California pale ale and we were late to the dance on hazy beers. But that’s not because we weren’t trying, we just weren’t happy until we were happy. Mind Haze fell into that same slow development cycle… It’s unsurprising that customers appreciate top quality hazy beers. So much more is left in the bottle or can. Early on we made an unfiltered DBA available only in the Taproom. Bottle stability was a challenge, but on draft it was tremendous. That was probably our clue (and one we overlooked) that customers enjoy all the flavors – yeastiness, malts, hop notes and more.” –The Bear
2021: We flip the switch on one of the largest on-site solar arrays in the world of craft beer—a 9.7-acre, 2.1-megawatt installation. The new solar array ensures that the majority of our beer is now brewed with California sunshine, and belongs to a larger “Brewing for Tomorrow” sustainability initiative that includes water conservation, energy efficiency and waste elimination.
“It’s less of a passion and more of a discipline for good brewers: raw materials, energy and water have often been scarce, so not wasting them has long been a guiding principle. Powering our brewery with Paso Robles sunshine through our 10-acre solar array is a no brainer. Prioritizing the principles of reduction, recycling and reuse will always be part of our culture. –The Lion
“Water continues to be our single greatest challenge. It has impacted California for decades, but fewer public water delivery or storage projects are being undertaken…Already our brewery has topped craft industry standards with a 4.8 to 1 efficiency (using 4.8 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of beer). Meanwhile, we treat 100 percent of our process wastewater on site, returning treated water to recharge the local groundwater. In coming years, we will increase the percentage of recycling while continuing to work with City and County providers to enhance existing sources.” –The Bear
“We have much to look forward to over the next 25 years. We have built a family and a brewery that should be enduring, all we need to do is be part of it.” –The Lion