Matt Brynildson On The Return Of The Firestone Walker Invitational

, Matt Brynildson On The Return Of The Firestone Walker Invitational

(Adam Fireston, Matt Brynildson, David Walker)

The Firestone Walker Invitational is one of California’s hottest tickets. It’s a legend on the West Coast and the finest brewery sponsored craft beer festival that we’ve ever attended.

, Matt Brynildson On The Return Of The Firestone Walker InvitationalConceptually, the Invitational is brilliant. All the brewers attending are friends of Firestone Walker and being invited to the event serves as an unspoken endorsement of what they’re all doing…It’s like Coachella for craft brewers – you don’t get onstage unless you’ve something special going on.

Now after a two year pandemic hiatus the Invitational is returning to Paso Robles on June 4, 2022 with a curated all-star cast of more than 55 breweries from around the world.

And we recently sat down with Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson (yes, over beer) to get the ‘inside skinny’ on this year’s event.

ACB: Thanks for taking time with us today Matt. Like many of us you’ve got to be psyched that the invitational is finally returning. It had to difficult being on hold for two years…no?

The 2019 Invitational seems like a long time ago considering everything that has happened in the world since then. It’s crazy to think that I left on my Belgian brewing sabbatical shortly after the last Invitational and was stuck in Europe due to Covid during the time the 2020 event should have happened. We haven’t stopped thinking about the Invitational and anticipating its return, so I can’t express fully how excited we are to finally be able to host the brewers and put on this event!

ACB: So how did the Invitational come about? What’s its vision and how has that vision evolved over the years?

This all started 10 years or so ago. We had participated in a lot of beer festivals over the years. I always loved gathering with other brewers and showcasing our beers, but I noticed that over time that a lot of beer fests were growing too big and were less about celebrating the beer makers and more about the party. Most of the time distributors were showing up and pouring their portfolios rather than the brewers themselves.

, Matt Brynildson On The Return Of The Firestone Walker Invitational

Matt Brynildson

We were approached by a local non-profit group, Pioneer Day, about hosting a new beer fest. They had watched the local wine community develop a couple of very nice events and wanted to create a premier local beer event celebrating Firestone Walker and other breweries.  They were good friends and had a great venue but I really tried to deter them from doing it due to the general direction I saw festivals moving.

I really didn’t want anything to do with another beer fest. But they were pretty persistent and basically said that I could create a dream event and not to hesitate asking for what I wanted.

So I threw out the ultimate situation that I figured no one could afford to do: Invite the best brewers from around the world and ensure that they come in person, pay to airfreight beer fresh to Paso Robles, pay their expenses, throw parties, wine and dine the brewers, have good live music, make sure there is the best food for the guests along with the beer and sell fewer tickets to ensure that everyone has a comfortable and great experience.

My good friend Tom Madden at Pioneer Day, who first approached me on it, looked me in the eye and said that he would honor all of it and find a way to finance it. He went out to a number of local businesses and collected the money, provided the venue, gathered a lot of volunteer help… and the rest is history.  I was able to put a dream list of breweries together for that first year and almost every brewer I talked to said yes. We put tickets on sale and they sold out like it was a Beatles concert. Year one was a big success and proved the concept could work.

ACB: What excites you about the 2022 invitational?

What excites me the most is the list of brewers who are attending. This year’s lineup is off the hook. We have a lot of world-class brewers returning and we have some sensational first-time brewers as well. I can’t wait to see everyone, catch up and taste the amazing beers that they will be bringing. After a couple years off, I suspect that the energy will be high and the quality of the beer will be better than ever.

, Matt Brynildson On The Return Of The Firestone Walker InvitationalACB: Having attended several Invitationals in the past, we’ve been struck by how much the beers presented tell us about new beer styles and brewing techniques we might see more of that year. What kinds of new directions do you think might be showcased at this year’s gathering?

We are really honored that a number of breweries make special beers for this event and we have been tipped off by a few about what they are bringing. We generally ask that brewers bring at least on sessionable beer so that the attendees have options.

I would guess that with all of the interest in lager brewing these days we will see some amazing Helles, Pils and other lager types. We have a lot of incredibly talented IPA brewers coming in so I would guess that we will taste some cool New World beers in that arena.

Then there are the extreme beers that show up and blow minds. Folks such as Garage Project, Omnipollo, The Bruery and the like tend to bring their ‘A game’ and draw long lines to their tables with their crazy creations.

ACB: The annual collaboration beer has long been a centerpiece at the Firestone Walker invitational. Who did you work with this year and what can you tell us the 2022 collaboration beer?

We brewed a beer with our dear friends at Green Cheek this year named Parrotphrase. Green Cheek brought their whole team up to Paso Robles to brew with us and Evan Price (co-owner / head brewer) created a recipe concept for a hop-forward Grisette.

We incorporated some newer brewing raw materials like Phantasm (a grape-derived Thiol-rich product) along with some cool Southern Hemisphere hops. We blended different yeasts including a very nice Saison strain that was new to this brewery.

The idea was to brew a unique yet lighter style beer that would drink easy on a hot Paso afternoon. I love it and can’t wait to share it with everyone at the fest!


(All images credits: Firestone Walker Brewing)

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