This year marks Firestone Walker’s 25th anniversary. The story begins with brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker debating the subject of good beer. It wasn’t long before they had agreed to start a brewery of their own, and so Firestone Walker Brewing Company was born.
WIT & DETERMINATION: The Story of Firestone Walker
In early 1996, two brothers-in-law launched their humble pursuit of the perfect beer. After acquiring a second-hand brewhouse from a junkyard in Los Angeles, they went to work in a converted shed on the back forty of the family vineyard. Their first beer was Double Barrel Ale—and the rest is history.
This is the story of Firestone Walker Brewing Company, founded 25 years ago by Adam Firestone and David Walker on California’s Central Coast. It all began at a time when the first stirrings of the craft beer revolution were still years away, and when industrial beer ruled the land.
“We had endless challenges,” Walker recalls “We were building a brand and trying to create a category at the same time. Most folks had no idea why a beer would honor traditional recipes with flavor and color. 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 the large international brewers had a death grip on our access to market. All of this was ultimately solvable with wit and determination.”
Those first years were powered by the hyper-local success of Double Barrel Ale (a.k.a. DBA), a British-style pale ale that was distributed solely in the brewery’s backyard of the Central Coast. “Double Barrel Ale went through our version of a Burton Union with linked oak barrels,” Walker says. “It was a bold concept, and 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.”
Firestone Walker managed to persevere during those early years, following up DBA with beers such as Windsor Pale Ale and Firestone Lager. A pivotal moment came in 2001 when Firestone and Walker moved their brewing operations 80 miles up the road to Paso Robles, where they inherited a new brewmaster, Matt Brynildson.
“Matt was the perfect brewmaster at the perfect time,” Walker says. Indeed, Brynildson would quickly earn the nickname “Merlin” for his magic touch with iconic creations such as Pale 31, Union Jack, and Pivo, as well as barrel-aged beers such as Parabola and the annual Anniversary Ale.
Another milestone came in 2012 with the release of Firestone Waker’s 805, which began as a “locals only” beer but soon became a phenomenon across the West. Meanwhile, the brewery’s renown with IPAs has only grown in recent years with beers such as Luponic Distortion, Mind Haze, and Flyjack—all born of the brewery’s culture of innovation.
“I think David and I both recognize that a brewery is never fixed in time or fixed in product,” Firestone says. “It must either evolve or it will die. If you look at things in that light, then innovation isn’t something novel or cutting edge, it’s simply a necessary part of the brewery. It’s as natural as breathing.”
Today, Firestone Walker is also looking toward the future with its new 9.7-acre solar array and other sustainability initiatives that revolve around clean energy, water conservation, and waste reduction. The majority of Firestone Walker’s beer is now brewed with California sunshine. “Even after 25 years, we still believe that we can build a brewery of the future,” Firestone says.
The innovations will continue in 2021 with new beers such as 805 Cerveza, Double Mind Haze, and the Crafted Thru Hops mixed packs, as well fresh creations from Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks wild ale cellar, Propagator pilot brewhouse, and barrel-aged Vintage program. Double Barrel Ale is also getting a makeover with a new “heritage” look that draws from the original package.
When asked what will define Firestone Walker’s next 25 years, Walker replies, “Hopefully much of what has defined us for the last 25 years: friends, family, hard work, beer culture, and good times.”
“We had endless challenges... All of this was ultimately solvable with wit and determination.”
“A brewery is never fixed in time or fixed in product. It must either evolve or die.”
“We still believe that we can build a brewery of the future.”