Brewcation: Paso Robles & San Francisco (Part I)
Our vacation got off to a rocky start. We decided to take the Airport Flyer bus route to avoid parking fees and cab fare. This is usually a good option and the price is right, but we failed to check the weather forecast. When we left our house around 1 pm everything looked fine. Matt had watered the garden thoroughly to ensure our plants would survive while we were gone. As we sat on the bus, the skies started darkening. We had one transfer downtown, but by the time we got off the bus it started pouring and Austin isn’t known for its covered bus stops. In the 10-15 minute wait we had at that stop, even huddled under trees for some relief, we were all soaked.
It was a lot like this (only less idyllic):
Photo Credit: Mark Simkins
After a quick change of clothes at the airport before checking our bags, we headed to our gate to find the flight was delayed due to weather as well.
After a 2-3 hour delay, the flight itself was uneventful (unless you consider crying babies eventful) and we landed in San Francisco. By the time we got a rental car and hit the road, we realized we hadn’t had dinner and were kind of hungry so we stopped for dinner in Mountain View around midnight. If the cops are eating there, it’s gotta be good, right? We got back on the 101 to continue our journey only to see a steady stream of red tail lights and flashing emergency vehicles ahead. Traffic came to a complete stop for about 20 minutes while an accident was cleared up ahead. So all in all, it was about 3:30 am when we got to our hotel in Atascadero. The front desk clerk had canceled our reservation thinking we were a no-show. Luckily, she must’ve just done it because our room was still available.
After a solid 4 hours of sleep, we got up to start our day and headed out for a brewery tour at Firestone Walker. We opted for the early tour at 10:30 am and had a few minutes to kill so we started with a drink in the taproom.
The staff here are very helpful and friendly and our tour leader was no exception. When we started the tour it was just Matt and me. We were joined by two others a bit later, but definitely a small enough group to get a good look at everything and ask questions.
We started in the QA area. We got the background story of how the partnership came about and how the early barrel batches were not exactly a great success (always heartening to hear for fledgling brewers!) Next door was the sensory analysis room, which looks like something you might find in a school library with its various partitions. The staff regularly participates in tastings and analysis so they all learn the subtleties of the beers and can identify any “off” characteristics if they drink these beers out in the “wild.” This helps with identifying and troubleshooting supply chain issues that might arise in the murky transition between brewery and consumer.
Next, we explored the tank area. The room itself is pretty awesome, the platform is built up high so you’re walking around the top of the tanks and there are large windows on two sides. Granted, it’s a view of the freeway, but the natural light, clean white walls, and shiny steel in this room make it look a lot brighter and more modern than some other breweries we’ve been to.
Then we headed down to check out their union system, based on a British method of fermentation. The Unfiltered DBA they have on tap in the taproom is made using this system (and it’s delicious!).
We made our way into the packaging areas next. First, we saw the kegging line.
Until we were distracted by a whiff of this…
Moving along to the bottling line. This setup from Germany is already impressive, but they are upgrading it soon.
There is various merchandise for sale and a cooler on one wall where you can buy beer to go. With the momentum behind reforming antiquated beer laws, hopefully we will soon see more of this here in Texas!
Between the two of us, we worked our way through most of the tasting sheet. And all before noon! Not a bad way to start the day. With our bellies sloshing and our brewery schwag in hand, we still had a bit of time before the wedding rehearsal. We stopped for some tacos al pastor, then headed to the next brewery destination.
BarrelHouse is also located off of Ramada Dr/101 in the same area as Firestone Walker. As someone who grew up in Paso, it is weird to see this area developing out into strip malls and tasting rooms when it was always just an industrial/business zone I drove by often and never thought twice about.
We walk into a large warehouse-style building, tanks to the left, bar to the right. But behind the bar, large, open air windows open out to the green space and water feature they’ve created resulting in a calm, pleasant environment to sit for a while and enjoy the beers.
I opted for a flight of their current beer list.
We were also offered pretzels and a variety of mustards (we chose horseradish) to go along with our beers.
We finished our beers and hit the road again, headed to Templeton Park for the rehearsal dinner. Lo and behold, lots of Firestone Walker there, too!
[Part II: A wedding and a return to San Francisco]