On Saturday May 31, Firestone Walker Brewing Co. will welcome brewers and beer lovers to kitschy-fun Frontier Town at the California Midstate Fairgrounds to sample the offerings of hand-selected brewers from around the country (and a few international guests). The Invitational, as the title hints, is extremely choosey with its lineup of brewers and aims to create an intimate, casual festival: "This is a day where we can all put down our sales and marketing pitches and simply commune and share our beers and stories with people who are truly interested in craft beer," writes brewmaster Matt Brynildson.
With a relatively costly general admission ($80) and expected searing June temperatures - last year was in the 90s - this festival may not be ideal for the beer beginner. However, if you can say without reservation that you'd rather have a casual run in with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø than take selfies with Bradley Cooper, this is where you need to be on May 31.
"Behind the Beer Sessions" will feature different brewers highlighting specifics of the industry. Ticketholders can also enjoy small bites from Central Coast restaurants and live music. You can sip one-offs with brewmaster Matt Brynildson and hang out with Firestone Walker co-proprietor David Walker. But the centerpiece of this festival is always the rare selections from breweries that don't distribute to our western corner of the world.
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Last year the festival sold out in less than a day - but we'll be surprised if ticket sales for 2014 last even an hour. In an effort to beat the heat general admission begins an hour earlier at noon and an indoor air-conditioned component will provide relief if temperatures hold. While the list of attending breweries is still being finalized, a Firestone Walker representative confirms we can expect to see Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Golden Road, The Bruery and TAPS Fish House from L.A. and Orange counties.
Your devoted beer writers are well acquainted with the beer festival format. So many have we frequented that we are no longer charmed by the once-clever pretzel necklace and now-popular Camelbak reservoir packs worn by festival goers. It is with a great deal of experience that we emphatically insist the Firestone Walker Invitational is the best beer festival around. That it's only a three hour drive north to Paso Robles and requires no plane ticket or unpaid vacation days is just a bonus.