Q & A with Jeffers Richardson of Firestone Walker's Barrelworks: Live Ales, Oak Wine Barrels + California's Newest Beer Destination
JR: We moved this down here for two reasons, firstly because if we wanted to expand, we had to move. We were off-site up there, but in a storage unit with a roll up door, so we knew we had to move, but really wanted to invest in this time-wise and expand. We also moved down here because we have dedicated space, we can expand and we can really explore. There's no risk [of infecting Firestone production beers] here. We're 100 miles away from the brewery so we can really experiment.
SI: What was in this warehouse before all these barrels?
JR: Actually, this building is a little bit of Firestone history. Our very first site--which we jokingly call it Area 51 because no body knew where it was--that's where I first started and this building was built to move the brewery into. About that time, though, is when the Paso site came up. We were going to have to invest in the equipment here, but then SLO Brewing closed and was selling off their brewhouse, which was ready to go. So this location has just been waiting for something like this. It was wine storage where local wineries would rent space to keep their packaged wines.
Evelyn Rosales A cathedral of barrels.
SI: You called the Barrelworks' bar "the blending center." What does that mean?
JR: We call this the blending center because we have this great obsession with barrels, but we also have a great obsession with blending so with this space we can bring back that kind of art to brewing. And it's fun for people who come in here because they can get four samples and mess around, see what it's like. We suggest you make notes on each individually and then go from there. What you learn is that it's incredibly hard to blend for nuance. We found that brewers speak in exclamations and winemakers are about nuance. And when you learn about other blending programs like cognacs or in the Champagne region of France, the person who is revered is the blending master. The person who vints the wine it doesn't get as much credit as the blender. We have a blending master Jim Crooks; these [Barrelworks beers] are his babies. He's our quality control manager and the one in 2007 that first dabbled in this and kept it alive.
SI: What sour beers have you released to the public so far?
JR: None, officially. If you had a sour beer, it must have been at a special event because everything here is all small scale--a few kegs only. This collection started off in 2007 with eight to twelve barrels, so it's definitely expanded. I think the philosophy here is that Dave and Adam really allow exploration. Here we are, we're growing and we have this production increasing, but we're still allowed to be here and really explore some more creative avenues. Go back 16 years and if you were making any of these beers, you would have been thrown out with pitchforks and torches.
SI: How would a beer from here go into bigger distribution?
JR: We might put some out for a special event and if it builds traction, they'll say, "Let's do it." Anything here is going to be limited release anyway. By the time we'll have our packing and bottling line, we'll be able to send more kegs out, but it will still be small batches. As we're growing the company up north, this is our way of remaining small. We're doing something very traditional. We're very technologically driven up north and this is stone age. Or maybe I should say "wood age."
Firestone Walker's Barrelworks is located adjacent to the Taproom Restaurant in Buellton. It's totally worth the drive. Barrelworks hours, Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information on Firestone Walker or the upcoming Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest (tickets go on sale Feb. 1), visit firestonebeer.com.
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