Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Local breweries score big at beer festival


Despite facing the largest field of competition ever in the Great American Beer Festival this past weekend, two local breweries hauled in an impressive collection of awards for their carefully crafted brews.

Paso Robles-based Firestone Walker Brewing Co., a well-known entity in pale ale brewing circles, brought home six medals — a staggering haul for the world’s largest beer festival and the brewery’s personal record.
Hollister Brewing Co., a recent upstart stationed in Goleta, drew a second-place finish for its hop-blasted double India Pale Ale (IPA) out of 50 entries in the category.
Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker’s brewmaster, called the festival — which featured 472 breweries and 2,902 beers — the most heated competition in American-style brewing.
And despite the brewery’s dominating performance during the three-day event in Denver, Colo., he offered up a modest take on its success.
“We tend to do well in the American style of hoppy IPAs and pale ales,” he said.
Among the medal winners for Brynildson was his first entry in the hotly contested American-style IPA category. Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA took the gold medal out of a field of 104 brews.
“It’s the first time that Firestone Walker has entered American-style IPA,” he said. “I think that’s the most gratifying, to see a new beer like that not only being so well-received in the marketplace, but also by the judges.”
The classic IPA is a “hop-bomb” compared to everything else they brew, Brynildson said, and resulted from his efforts to make an assertive beer that would stand out in a crowded classification.
Ironically, the brewery chose to release it just as news hit the wire about hop prices, which skyrocketed due to a shortage in 2007.
“Of course we choose to release the hoppiest beer we’ve made in the middle of this hop crisis,” he said.
Firestone Walker’s other triumphs included a gold medal for its Mission Street Pale— a brand brewed exclusively for Trader Joe’s that beat out the brewery’s own bronze medal-winning Firestone Pale 31 in the American-style pale ale category.
“It says a lot — that we put a lot of love into beers we make for Trader Joe’s — that it actually outclassed our own pale ale,” Brynildson said.
He also won silver medals for the brewery’s Velvet Merkin (oatmeal stout), Nectar Pale (American-style strong pale ale) and Oaktoberfest (Vienna-style lager).
It was a performance that likely raised an already-high bar for the brewery, which won five medals and earned Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year honors at last year’s festival.
Eric Rose, brewmaster at Hollister Brewing Co., could only shake his head when Firestone Walker’s performance was mentioned.
“There are great breweries and some years they don’t win anything,” he said. “…Except for Firestone.”
Rose is no stranger to the competition, although it’s only the second year he’s entered under the Hollister Brewing name. The professional brewmaster made three award winners at Santa Barbara Brewing Co. before co-founding his own brewery several years ago.
His Hip Hop Double IPA won a silver medal in the imperial or double IPA category and Rose said he had a feeling it was among his top brews.
“Stylistically, it definitely tasted spot on,” he said, describing how he sat down and tasted the beers before sending them out to the judges in advance of the festival itself. “I knew on Wednesday it was tasting really good.”
The brew, on tap now at the Camino Real Marketplace location, is an “extreme hop experience,” Rose said, with hops packed in at every possible stage in the process.
On top of adding more than four pounds of hops per barrel during the boil — using four different varietals — he also dry-hopped the brew in the fermenter and server to push it over the top.
And although he added another award to his collection, Rose wasn’t wasting any time reveling in his success. In fact, both Rose and Brynildson were back to work yesterday, brewing up their next potential award winners.

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