While on my recent trip to San Francisco, I realized before we left (luckily) that we would be passing through Paso Robles, home of what most people would think of as Wine Country. Not me- nope. The Firestone Walker Brewing Company calls this fairly quiet town home and that’s enough for me. This is a very cool craft brewery that puts out one of my favorite beers: Double Barrel Ale.
According to their website, they started as an attempt between a winemaker and his British-born brother-in-law to make a better beer. Together they developed a system in which they brew in linked 60-gallon oak barrels, which yields smooth, complex ales.
Driving past the brewery, you wouldn’t know it unless you knew to look. It is in a fairly nondescript industrial complex just off the 101 freeway. They have a tasty eatery (appropriately enough called the Taproom Restaurant) right across the cul-de-sac from the brewery’s actual tasting room. The actual tasting room is fairly simply laid out, with corrugated metal walls and a few tables scattered on the far side of the bar among the gift shop merchandise. Behind all of that is the actual brewery, through the front part of which you have to walk to use the restroom.
It is a pretty impressive operation for a mid size brewery. Of course, I am easily amazed, given my love of beer, and now the process. The warehouse seemed to go on forever, with all kinds of tanks, barrels, bottles and stainless steel everywhere I looked. They also have a tour you can take, though we did not on this particular trip.
When we went in, there was a large crowd gathered around the bar, so we had to wait a bit. This led me to order three tasters while I was up there to save me the wait again. I got the Agrestic, Double DBA, and Velvet Merlin.
I wanted to go from lightest to heaviest, so I began with the Agrestic. I had never had this red ale and boy did it surprise me. It was the lighter red in the middle in the picture to the left. It looked tame enough: pale red, with light lace. The smell was quite sour, which was a surprise as I failed to seek any advice before ordering it. The bitter sourness was very strong, with an ever so slightly nutty aroma. It was like smelling a musty wine cellar, with a hint of maltiness and hops. The first sip was like a punch in the mouth. I expected some sourness from the smell, but this about bowled me over. The taste had all the flavors of the smell, with some added bitterness for good measure. The most interesting part was the woody taste toward the end. It finished fairly dry with much of the sourness lingering.
I had to cool down after this first one, so I decided to change my light-to-dark plan and go straight for the Velvet Merlin. I had this oatmeal stout from a bottle before, which is why I was excited for it from the tap. It poured a *velvety* (see what I did there?) smooth with a creamy white head, like dark chocolate hot cocoa and whipped cream. As is typical of my experience with this type of beer, not much aroma escaped the thick cap of foam on top, but I did get a little chocolate, coffee and cream. The taste was just wonderful, with all the flavors from the aroma coming through in varying degrees right away. Toward the middle, it was mostly the bittersweet chocolate, finishing with the lightness of coffee with creamer in it. I cannot say how much I appreciated this beer after the first one. The experience was a bit muted, however, from the Agrestic being a bit too aggressive and frying my taste buds a little.
Partway through my Velvet Merlin experience, I started in on the Double DBA. Based on the regular Double Barrel Ale, this is basically a much bigger, stronger version of that. Not that it is a problem. This is a big beer that pours a rich brownish-red color. The aroma is a very rich blend of caramel malts, sugary vanilla and toffee. The head was gone by the time I got to it, but there was a little lacing that still clung to the glass. The taste was again fairly similar to the smell, with the chocolatey vanilla coming through first, moving to the toffee richness, finishing with a warm vanilla. I am not normally a fan of barley wines, which this one is considered, but it reminded me more of an anniversary ale and I very much enjoyed it.
A great trip to a great brewery on my way to a great time in S.F. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.