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EAT, DRINK & PLAY   -   GET OUT OF TOWN
Get Out of Town! - Day Trip North Time Well Spent for Brewing Fans
August, 2006 - Issue #22
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, brewer of Firestone Walker Fine Ales, recently earned international acclaim when it was named "2006 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery" for the category of Mid-Size Brewing Company, a repeat of the same honor earned at
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, brewer of Firestone Walker Fine Ales, recently earned international acclaim when it was named "2006 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery" for the category of Mid-Size Brewing Company, a repeat of the same honor earned at
The Santa Ynez Valley is a top destination for wine enthusiasts and people who think they're wine enthusiasts after watching "Sideways." That's all well and good if high-priced fruit juice is your thing. But I like caps on my bottles, not corks.

So you won't find me meandering the back roads outside Buellton, periodically stopping to smell, sip, swirl and spit. Instead, I'll be at Firestone Walker Brewing Company's Tap Room restaurant deciding which beer to sample. There's the signature Double Barrel Ale, the gold-medal-winning Pale Ale, the distinctive Lager and Walker's Reserve, a blend of five specialty malts that yield a dark, bittersweet brew. And if they've prepared something special lately, like the India Pale Ale, then I'll take that into consideration, too. They also serve food at the Taproom, and I hear it's pretty good.

When Firestone debuted 10 years ago, it was hard to find. That's not surprising given the label's history. It was started by Adam Firestone, whose father made a name for himself with wine, and David Walker, a British expatriate and Adam's brother-in-law. They discovered they both shared a passion for beer and the pair set out to create a distinctive regional brew.

Their initial attempt was a bust. They employed used wine barrels and the chardonnay residue trapped in the wood spoiled their plans. Taking a cue from a British brewing method popular in the 19th century, the Burton Union, the brothers-in-law created their own system and dubbed it the Firestone Union. It makes use of 60-gallon oak barrels (now chardonnay free) that add smokiness, vanilla and fruitiness to the flavor of the Double Barrel Ale. The Union brewing system is antiquated in this age of stainless steel tanks, but the extra effort and expense it requires produces a distinctive beer that makes it all worthwhile.

Getting There

The Taproom at Firestone Walker Brewing Company
620 McMurray Road
Buellton, CA
(805) 686-1557
www.firestonewalker.com

The Taproom is located 120 miles north of Santa Clarita, just off Highway 101. Heading north on Highway 101, take the McMurray Road/Avenue of The Flags exit. Turn right. At stop sign, turn left onto McMurray Road. The Taproom is on your right.
I first got acquainted with Firestone some years ago while living on the Central Coast, where any reputable restaurant or watering hole serves it, and most places have it on tap. But once you get south of Santa Barbara, it's not so plentiful. Sure, you can get it bottled at the store. Some restaurants even serve it in bottles, but finding it on draught is a rare treat.

So, it's best to go to the source. After beginning operations in a small facility at the Firestone family winery in Santa Barbara County, Walker and Firestone purchased a brewing facility in Paso Robles that could meet the increasing demand for their beers. They also opened the Taproom in Buellton, which means people other than pea soup-lovers have reason to exit Highway 101 and stop in the town.

Lest you think I promote drinking and driving, let me assure you I get my Firestone to go in a sealed container. A 64-ounce growler filled straight from the tap will run you $15. A refill is only $11 when you bring back the empty growler. You have the pleasure of standing at the bar and watching it fill. But before they let you out the door with it, they shrink-wrap a plastic seal around the cap.

Some might say it's a bit obsessive to drive two hours to pay $15 for a beer. But it's no more so than driving the same distance for grape juice that costs twice that.

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Eric Harnish is a Newhall resident who believes wine is fine, but beer is divine.
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