As the sun rises in Paso Robles, California, craft beer enthusiasts anxiously await their chance to be among a sold-out crowd tasting different beer styles from 56 breweries representing 20 different states and 7 countries from around the world. Unlike many of the other beer events that take place in the U.S. during the summer, the annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is special in that it’s international in reach—something brewers worldwide take extra pride in.
Matt Brynildson, the brewmaster at Firestone Walker has developed a reputation as both an award-winning brewer as well as a brewing and hops educator. He seems to be just about everywhere and anywhere a major brewing event is taking place—and he still somehow finds time to lecture at various short courses held in the U.S. and abroad. The success of Firestone Walker is exemplified by their invitational beer fest, which was created to bring exceptional craft beer from all around the world to the beautiful San Luis Obispo area. In fact, it’s gone over so well with beer lovers that the event’s 5,000 tickets were gone almost the moment they went on sale. And as soon as the doors opened, people were nearly running to the various booths to get their first taste of the day.
Once inside, patrons were rewarded with some of the most famous beers and breweries around. There was some incredible food to pair with the fine beers—along with an extra dose of heavy metal ambiance served up at the 3 Floyds Brewing booth. One of the longest lines was for a three-ounce taste of Zombie Dust or Dark Lord, their intensely hopped pale ale and Russian imperial stout, respectively. Beer lovers standing in the lines didn’t seem to care about the wait. They enjoyed soaking in the scene, finishing one beer while anticipating the next.
As you wander the Paso Robles fairgrounds sampling the latest creations from some of the hottest craft breweries in the world today, you’ll also find beers that pioneered today’s booming craft scene. Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company were pouring two-day old Pliny the Elder, the freshest Pliny you’ll find outside of traveling to their brewery Santa Rosa.
A Brewmaster’s Brew: Meet STiVO
As part of the beer fest, Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson joined with Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of Russian River Brewery, to debut a new collaborative beer called STiVO. The brew is unique in today’s world of IPA styles—a lighter pilsner formulation more reminiscent of the beers of central Europe than the U.S. west coast. Maybe you’re wondering how this collaboration actually came together? I went straight to the source, asking both Matt and Vinnie to share the details that led them to STiVO.
“Whenever Vinnie and I are up late having beers, we are always drinking pilsner and talking about pilsner,” Matt said. “The subject of doing a collaboration never really came up that often and since we love pilsner beers so much we decided that’s the beer we should be drinking.”
The casual conversation between two friends eventually led to a recipe formulation and collaboration brew.
Vinnie continued, “We are both known for IPAs, and for me with our newish pilsner STS, Pivo, was definitely an inspiration. We didn’t want to brew IPA; we think about what we drink when we’re just hanging out. As Matt put it, it’s kind of a dessert island situation. Let’s combine what STS and Pivo are together…somewhere along the way on brew day STiVO came up. The name just kind of stuck through the production of it and that’s what we went with.”
To learn more about STiVO and the history between Russian River and Firestone Walker click here. And next year, my advice is Go West! Because the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is surely one of the best beer events in America.