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Barrelworks: Wild ales find a home in Santa Barbara

March 09, 2013|By John Verive
  • Barrelworks houses a pub, taproom and 1,500 barrels where the microflora for making sour ales go to work.
Barrelworks houses a pub, taproom and 1,500 barrels where the microflora… (John Verive )

Firestone Walker Brewing founders Adam Firestone and David Walker once planned to open their brewery just up the 101 freeway from Los Angeles in Buellton. They even had a facility built to house their operations, but fate intervened and they instead took control of the SLO Brewery -- an established production brewery in Paso Robles. The Buellton building sat under-utilized for years, but it was recently given new purpose as the base for Firestone Walker's impressive wild ale program.

Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles has made a name brewing some of the best pale ales in the state, and they've built a loyal following along California's Central Coast. In recent years, the brewery has won even more fans with their Proprietors Reserve series of beers aged for months in repurposed oak barrels. There are other Firestone Walker brews that require long spells in repurposed wine and spirit barrels: the sour ales created by master blender "Sour" Jim Root.

Root has a passion for the wild yeasts and bacteria that transform beer into tart and funky sour ales, and he covertly amassed an inventory of barrels and recipes -- stashing them under tarps in disused corners of Firestone's warehouse -- for years before craft beer fans' palates caught -up with the flavors found in the wild concoctions. Now that sour beer is all the rage Root's collection of barrels, including some sourced from California's best wineries, have been given a new home in the 7,000-square-foot Buellton building.

Re-christened Barrelworks, the Buellton facility houses a pub and taproom in addition to 1,500 barrels where the carefully collected microflora go to work on beer brewed 100 miles north in Paso Robles. This secondary fermentation by the bacteria and wild yeast creates distinctive flavors that are often unique to each barrel. The beer from several barrels is blended together to create Firestone's growing lineup of wild ales such as SLOambic, Reginald Brett and the intensely fruity and refreshing Bretta Weisse.

Sour beers have exploded in popularity in recent years as craft beer fans discover just how complex and unique wild ales can be, and Firestone Walker has built a destination for enthusiasts to discover, learn about and enjoy them. Firestone has not begun bottling their wild ales yet, and Barrelworks is one of the only places that you can try them -- along with a wide variety of their barrel-aged strong ales. Just a couple of hours' drive away from L.A., Barrelworks is sure to amaze any craft beer aficionado.


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