If you live in San Diego County, you’re never more than a dockless bike ride away from an excellent pint. To trek 325 miles to Paso Robles for a cold one, you need a staggeringly good reason.
Like, say, last weekend’s Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest.
The FWIBF is without peer in the quality of its breweries. Among this year’s 56 invitees were of-the-moment breweries from Sweden (Omnipollo), New Zealand (Garage Project), Missouri (Side Project), Massachusetts (Trilium) and elsewhere.
San Diego was represented by Bagby Beer, Lost Abbey, Mikkeller, Modern Times, Societe and Stone. Nothing personal, but I avoided those in favor of unfamiliar beers. Four that made the six-hour drive and 99-degree heat worthwhile:
1. Yuzu Rising Sun (4.4 percent alcohol by volume), Garage Project. A sweet-sour duet from tart raspberries and nectar-like yuzu stays nimble and light despite all the fructose. Added visual treat: Rising Sun separates into a red-pink ribbon over a clear band.
2. Rum Helldorado (13.5 percent), Firestone Walker. This boozy barleywine is aged in Jamaican rum barrels, giving the deep malts a Caribbean butterscotch accent.
3. Alchemy & Magic (6.4 percent), The Rare Barrel. This Berkeley brewery’s barrel-aged beers consistently dazzle. This golden sour ale was aged in gin barrels with cucumber, juniper and rosemary, delivering a bubbly, beery version of a Pimm’s Cup.
4. Collective We (5.5 percent), Sante Adairius. Looking for beer-flavored beer? This unfiltered rural pilsner from Capitola checked all my boxes: firm malts, herbal hops, lemon spritz, clean finish, superb structure.
Paso, Part II: Catching Up with Chuck
How are things at Silva Brewing?
“This is our biggest day ever,” said co-owner M.J. Silva. “Even bigger than our biggest week.”
After turbocharging Green Flash’s rise with beers like Le Freak, West Coast IPA and Silva Stout, brewmaster Chuck Silva left that San Diego brewery to open his own place in Paso Robles.
The new outfit is far smaller than the Flash — “We made about 600 barrels last year,” Chuck said — but he’s become a Big Deal on the local brewing scene. A Central Coast Brewers Guild board member, Chuck is winning fans by re-inventing his old recipes, including his hybrid Belgian/West Coast IPA, Le Freak, revised as Chuck Amok.
Last Friday night, I sampled that day’s release, rye barrel-aged Silva Stout. Brewed with Turkish figs and 61 percent cacao, it has a massive nose of bourbon, vanilla and cocoa, a silky texture and a body full of molasses, French roast and charred oak.
Silva’s beers aren’t yet distributed in San Diego County. Another reason to head north.
Paso, Part III: Russian River
Many of the 7,000 attendees at the Firestone Walker fest flocked to Russian River’s booth. They were fans of the beer— Pliny the Elder, STS Pils and Intinction, the latter a tarted-up lager — and the beertender: craft beer icon and Russian River co-owner Vinnie Cilurzo.
Cilurzo noted that Russian River plans to open a new brewery this September in Windsor, 10 miles north of the current Santa Rosa plant. The new 85,000-square-foot facility will be Russian River’s headquarters, with a brewhouse, gift shop and tasting room.
Pliny’s empire is expanding. “We already have two production breweries in Santa Rosa,” Cilurzo said, “plus a pub.”
Read more from Peter Rowe’s column here.