BUELLTON, Calif. — The wildest ales of all have come to the town of Buellton in California’s Santa Barbara County with the opening of Barrelworks by Firestone Walker Brewing Company, a new cellar and visitor experience dedicated to barrel-aged beers, including Firestone Walker’s growing wild beer program.
The origins of Barrelworks began eight years ago with a few renegade barrels stashed into the voids between pallets of packaged beer in Firestone Walker’s cold storage warehouse at the brewery in Paso Robles. Officially, the program didn’t exist, but it grew quickly and became unruly, and today it numbers upwards of 1,500 barrels that have outgrown the available space at the main brewery.
Barrelworks is the next stop on this uncharted journey. This 7,000-square-foot cathedral of barrels now houses all of Firestone Walker’s barrel-aged wild beers while also showcasing the brewery’s classic barrel-aged strong ales. Barrelworks also features a tasting room and self-guided tours that delve into the history, purpose and methods of making wild ales and other barrel-aged beers.
“This place is truly a ‘padded room’ for brewers and rare beer enthusiasts,” said Barrelworks Director Jeffers Richardson.
Barrelworks is now the mothership of the brewery’s growing “live barrel” wild beer program, which includes revolving creations such as Lil’ Opal, Sour Opal, Rufus, Reginald Brett and others—all created by secondary microflora fermentation in the barrel. These beers are Firestone Walker’s twist on the Belgian “sour beer” tradition. They are aged in a variety of American, French and Hungarian oak barrels, many of them inherited from wineries such as Opus One, Halter Ranch and Chamisal. All of Firestone Walker’s wild ales are now inoculated and aged at Barrelworks.
In addition to the wild ales program, Barrelworks also showcases Firestone Walker’s high-gravity strong ales that originate from the brewery’s Anniversary Ale program, such as Parabola and Double DBA, as well as occasional one-off beers. These beers are aged for a year or more in retired bourbon, brandy and Firestone Union barrels, as well as the occasional tequila barrel.
“The beer geeks were the first to ‘get’ wild beers and barrel-aged strong ales like ours,” said co-proprietor David Walker. “They beat the drum and spread the word. These beers are still more of a cult item, but the cult is growing fast.”
Oak barrels have been a central part of the Firestone Walker experience, dating back to the brewery’s founding in 1996 and the establishment of the Firestone Union oak barrel fermentation system. The barrel-aged strong ale program took flight with the development of the inaugural Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale by Brewmaster Matt Brynildson eight years ago, while the wild ales program has rapidly grown in recent years under the direction of Master Blender Jim Crooks.
Barrelworks is adjacent to the Firestone Walker Taproom restaurant at 620 McMurray Road in Buellton in Santa Barbara County. It is now open to the public every Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors enter Barrelworks through a rustic antique church door, where they are immediately greeted by a cathedral of barrel stacks as they continue toward the dedicated tasting room. The tasting room features 18 taps with a rotating selection of wild beers, strong ales and occasional one-off beers.
About Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Firestone Walker Brewing Company is a pioneering regional craft brewery founded in 1996 and located in the Paso Robles wine country on California’s Central Coast. The brewery specializes in iconic pale ales and vintage barrel-aged beers. Firestone Walker Brewing Company was awarded Mid-Sized Brewery of The Year honors at the 2003, 2007 and 2011 Great American Beer Festivals as well as Champion Mid-Sized Brewery honors at the 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012 World Beer Cup competitions.