In 1996, two very serious California wine guys, who happen to be brothers-in-law, decided to open a brewery in the middle of the state’s mid-coast wine country.
At that time, West Coast hop bombs were all the rage. But Messrs. Firestone & Walker – you guessed it, the founders of the highly acclaimed Firestone Walker Brewing Co. – in true American pioneering fashion, would blaze a completely new trail. Their shared vision was to create beers that “blended” the best, time-honored techniques of both beer and wine making.
From their first release, the 12-time gold medal winner Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale (DBA), to their most recent innovations, a beer rosé called Rosalie and a hazy IPA called Mind Haze, this brewery’s unique approach to their craft is something beyond original.
Nearly every adult in the United States over the age of 21 knows that rosé anything is the “It” beverage of the moment.
Traditionally, rosés are dry wines made from red grapes that are brighter and more refreshing than many red wines. And they share some characteristics with white wine. This makes them perfect warm weather sippers. As their popularity has exploded, so has the number of products that claim to be rosés.
But a word of caution: while all rosés are pink, not all pink liquids deserve to be called rosés.
Since its inception, David Walker and the talented Firestone Walker team have married grape and grain, coaxing the best flavors from select ingredients and even the wine barrels in which their liquids ferment.
If any wine-beer hybrid deserves the appellation “beer rosé”, it’s Rosalie. David Walker explains why.
Draught Lines (D.L.) What was it about brewing beer that enticed two wine professionals to switch sides, so to speak?
David Walker (D.W.) We are still in the wine business. Adam Firestone’s family has been making wine in Paso Robles for three generations and I married a California girl and followed her here, where I began growing grapes as a profession. Adam dabbled in homebrewing and convinced me to join the endeavor. He said that great things can happen when brewers and vintners collaborate.
D.L. Does that perspective set you apart from other breweries?
D.W. Yes. From the very start we took an “estate wine” approach, not to mention all the knowledge Adam had acquired working in the family business. And both of us have a fascination with what needs to happen for grape & grain to get to the glass. We constantly experiment with different ways to use ingredients.
D.L. What makes Rosalie so unique?
D.W. It’s so much more than adding grape juice to beer, we really feel we’ve created a brand-new style. Our aim was to create something that was more wine-like than anything else, so we started with a number of test brews, using a select blend of white wine grapes from a local vineyard. Then we used hibiscus to create a consistent rosé hue. Most importantly, we used locally-grown fruit harvested and pressed in our backyard, thus creating a beer that was inspired and born here at home.
D.L. Why was it so important to work with local ingredients?
D.W. Paso Robles is just an amazing wine-growing region with more than 200 wineries. We’ve been working with local winemakers to blend our Anniversary releases for ages, so when we realized we were now blending disciplines with Rosalie, we felt it was important to continue that history and local connection. It’s this authenticity that sets Rosalie apart.
D.L. What inspired the name Rosalie?
D.W. There’s a Grateful Dead song my wife and I love called Rosalie McFall. I’ve always loved the melodic tone of the song, so we decided it would be a good fit. The naming of the beer, the color of the can, the artwork – an homage to a local inn – it was all done in-house. We wanted the image of Rosalie to represent that easy California lifestyle. It’s fun, but sophisticated – and goes well with a warm evening outdoors.
D.L. So, how does it taste?
D.W. Like a classic rosé, it has bright fruit flavors and luscious acidity. It’s also dry, like the best rosés. This isn’t a saccharin pink drink.
D.L. Do you always drink it in a wine glass?
D.W. Absolutely. My wife and I enjoy it as our first drink of the evening… always in a wine glass. By the way, Rosalie pairs well with seafood and goat cheese.
D.L. Will there be more wine and beer hybrids to come?
D.W. I certainly could see adding to the Rosalie line, featuring other grape varietals or even other locally-grown fruits. Our intention was to create a cool and interesting alternative to wine, cider and malternatives. We live in a very diverse agricultural area, so the possibilities for the future are endless.
D.L. Your blonde ale 805 has been one of the most sought-after beers in recent memory, any chance we’ll be seeing it on the East Coast any time soon?
D.W. We’re so proud of 805. It’s a 4.7% blonde with subtle malt sweetness and a touch of hops. We started brewing it in 2012 and only served it in three counties along the California coast. Within about three years it became a top 25 brand, despite the fact that it was only available in California. While you won’t see it on the East Coast this year, we’ve been expanding its distribution slowly but surely. So maybe one day!
D.L. And what’s the story on your other big release this year, Mind Haze IPA?
D.W. Mind Haze is a hazy IPA meant to elevate your perceptions. It’s juicy yet balanced, hazy yet lasting and loaded with an imaginative array of tropical hop flavors. Our Brewmaster, Matt [Brynildson], likes to say, “We were finally ready to do a hazy IPA the Firestone way.”
D.L. You took your time developing a hazy IPA of your own. Was there a reason for that?
D.W. We’ve never been a brewery that jumps quickly on a trend. We develop beers in styles that we as brewers love and respect. We like that approach: take our time to get to know a style, then develop our interpretation once we really dig in and can visualize its place in our portfolio. That means we get to taste a lot of other beers of that style and brew plenty of test batches to perfect what we are doing.
D.L. Both beers seem like a bit of a departure for Firestone. Can we expect to see even more experimental releases soon?
D.W. We’ve always seen ourselves as artisans who strive to innovate. It’s very important for our brewery to evolve, and for us to learn and apply new techniques as we grow. In a lot of ways, it’s what Adam and I have been doing from the very start, and it’s worked out pretty well so far!