Since its founding in 1996, Firestone Walker Brewing Company has grown into one of the biggest and most respected craft breweries in the country, scooping up piles of awards and accolades along the way. So we jumped at a recent opportunity to sample the beers at their source and get a look at the brewery's unique process, which churns up to 80 batches per week through its tanks.
It's a shocking schedule compared to 20 to 30 that even the busiest breweries output each week, but it's a matter of quality and consistency for Firestone Walker. "We decided we liked the way we were brewing at 50 barrels per batch," says co-founder David Walker, so when we needed to scale our production up, we added extra vessels rather than just blowing up the system and starting over. This place is always going, it's like a hot rod."
Driving the hot rod is brewmaster Matt Brynildson, who is also known by the nickname Merlin for his nearly magical ability to win awards at even the most competitive brewing competitions. Since 2004 the brewery has been named Mid-Sized Brewery of the Year four times at the World Beer Cup and three times at the Great American Beer Festival.
As you drink your way through the company's offerings, it's not hard to understand the acclaim. We can't think of any brewery that produces such great beers in such a wide array of styles while maintaining world-class quality. They began by brewing beers in the British tradition, but then joined the vanguard of breweries exploring the frontier of hoppy expression, and launched an extensive bourbon-barrel beer program, a dynamite sour program, and put a brilliant craft spin on the stodgiest of old world styles, the pilsner.
You could throw darts at a Firestone Walker beer menu and come up with all great picks, but here are our nine favorites to start with.