SOURCE: Firestone Walker Fine Ales

September 06, 2005 13:55 ET

Beer Booms in "Sideways" Country and Beyond

Firestone Walker Fine Ales Grows From Central Coast Favorite to Statewide Phenomenon; Taprooms and Restaurant Open to Public

BUELLTON, CA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- September 6, 2005 -- Here in the heart of California's Central Coast wine country, a liquid success story is brewing -- one that features barrels but not grapes. It is the story of a British beermaking tradition restored by two brothers-in-law, one a local vintner, the other an English expatriate. It is the story of a family operation defying the odds to become one of California's most acclaimed breweries.

Since its founding in 1996 by Adam Firestone and David Walker, Firestone Walker Fine Ales has indeed grown from a Central Coast favorite into a statewide phenomenon, with distribution now stretching from San Diego through San Francisco. Firestone Walker Fine Ales earned international acclaim last year when it was declared "2004 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery" for the category of Mid-Size Brewing Company.

At the heart of the Firestone Walker Fine Ales experience is the brewery's Firestone Union oak barrel brewing system, a variation on the classic Burton Union brewing method, which was responsible for producing some of England's finest ales in the 19th century. This costly, labor-intensive method became virtually extinct in modern brewing with the advent of stainless steel tanks. But Firestone and Walker, inspired by both their British heritage and family winemaking experience, were determined to restore the union tradition. Firestone Walker Fine Ales today remains the only American brewery to employ the union oak barrel brewing method, which brings a distinctive quality and dimension to its beers.

The original brewery was located in a small private building on a remote corner of the Firestone Vineyard estate in rural Santa Barbara County. Leading with its flagship Double Barrel Ale, the brewery initially limited its distribution to three counties on the Central Coast. "We never felt entitled to growth," Walker said. "We felt that growth was an outcome of quality, something to be earned. We didn't get ahead of ourselves. We kept our focus on quality."

In 2001, Firestone and Walker moved their brewing operations to a new brewery in Paso Robles, which also features a taproom bar. They also opened a taproom bar in Buellton, the Santa Barbara County wine country town that starred in the hit movie Sideways. In 2004, the bar was expanded into a full-service restaurant called The Taproom at Firestone Walker Brewing Company.

Firestone Walker Fine Ales today boasts a small family of premium beers: Double Barrel Ale, Firestone Pale Ale, Firestone Lager and Walker's Reserve. Each has received significant acclaim in beer circles, creating what All About Beer magazine called "a white-hot run of medals" at major beer competitions.

"From the beginning, we were confident that we were creating something new and different," Walker said. "Our beers offer the complexity of a craft brew, but with an elegance that embraces the average consumer."

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