Now in its eleventh year, the immense Firestone Walker Invitational continues to be one of the can’t-miss beer festivals of the year.

Firestone Walker graciously invited Hop Culture Social Media Manager Magic Muncie, Next Glass CPO Kyle Roderick, and me to attend. I’d also had the chance to go last year, but this was Muncie and Roderick’s first time. I loved watching their faces light up with awe over the weekend.

Take note, folks: Firestone Walker knows how to throw a fest.

Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson personally handpicks each and every one of the breweries that attend from around the world.

“The original concept for the fest was to bring the best brewers from around the world to Paso Robles and showcase their beer to our Firestone Walker fans,” Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson once told us.

For example, after traveling to New Zealand and meeting Garage Project, Brynildson knew he had to invite the Wellington-based brewery halfway around the world to the Firestone Walker Invitational.

And after discovering a then-little-known beer style called Italian pilsner in the form of Tipopils from Birrificio Italiano in Italy, Brynildson invited them.

And after drinking a sh*t ton of XPA from Balter Brewing while visiting Australia for the hop harvest, well, you know they ended up in Paso Robles, too.

This is one of the only fests where you’ll find up-and-coming international breweries alongside domestic ones.

At this year’s fest, we tried some genuinely incredible beers from both.

That’s the Firestone Walker Invitational vibe: just a bunch of chill folks looking to enjoy their favorites and discover new beers from breweries they may have never even heard of.

And that’s half the fun here.

With so much to drink, we couldn’t possibly consume it all, but we cobbled together a few team favorites.

Did you attend? Did you drink something we missed? Slide into our DMs (@hopculturemag) and let us know!

The 9 Best Beers Hop Culture Drank at the Firestone Walker Invitational

Continuance (Blend #5) – Side Project

St. Louis, MO

side project co-founder karen king continuance barlewine firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Magic Muncie | Hop Culture

English Barleywine – A consensus favorite from all three of us, Side Project’s Continuance impressed us with its velvety smoothness and drinkability. I mean, this is a 14% ABV English barleywine that we all drank under the midday sun and eighty-degree weather, and we’re calling this beer drinkable. That should say something.

For this blend, Side Project threads together two new experimental English barleywine recipes aged in Willett Bourbon and Blood Oath Sherry Barrel Bourbon for over a year.

Infusions of barrel-aged maple syrup, Ugandan and Tanzanian vanilla beans, and fresh-ground cinnamon round out this robust fusion.

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St Walter 2023: Gamay – Wildflower Brewing & Blending

Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia

wildflower brewing and blending st walter 2023: gamay blueberry wild ale firestone walker invitational 2024 next glass cpo kyle roderick
Photography courtesy of Magic Muncie | Hop Culture

Wild Ale – A favorite of Roderick’s, St Walter 2023: Gamay is something truly special. The golden barrel-aged ale ferments with a whole host of lovely wild yeast collected from native New South Wales flowers and re-ferments with Gamay red wine grapes.

Named after an eleventh-century monk and patron saint of vintners from the Loire Valley in France, St Walter macerates for three months onto 472 kg of those Gamay grapes before bottling and naturally carbonating.

If you can, get a gulp of this wild ale from a porrón, a bulbous glass teapot with a spout that shoots out a thin stream of liquid.

We did!

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Small Earth – Monkish Brewing Co.

Torrance, CA

monkish brewing co-founder henry nguyen small earth table beer firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Magic Muncie | Hop Culture

Table Beer – Despite some bangers on his list, Monkish Brewing Co. Co-Founder Henry Nguyen said he was most excited for folks to try Small Earth, a 2.9% ABV mixed-culture table saison that Nguyen feels a lot of people overlook.

But in the heat of a Paso Robles afternoon, this beer was crisp and had an elegant, soft acidity.

Dry hopped with Motueka and Mosaic, Small Earth also expressed a lovely floralness to back up everything.

Over the day, we came back to this beer again and again. And that should tell you all you need to know. Nguyen was right; this was a sleeper hit.

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Trailing West Pils – Firestone Walker Brewing Company x Half Acre Beer Company

Paso Robles, CA x Chicago, IL

firestone walker brewing company x half acre beer co trailing west pilsner firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Firestone Walker

Pilsner – Maybe I just felt nostalgic, but for me, this worldwide-inspired pilsner and the official beer of the Firestone Walker Invitational 2024 seemed like a melding of two worlds.

Part Half Acre in the Midwest and Firestone Walker on the west, this beer spoke to two places I’ve spent much of my we’ll call it “pre-adult” and adult life—Chicago and California.

A little bit old world with a splash of the new.

Sort of an Italian pilsner but also with Czech and German pilsner elements.

All these threads tangle together, making Trailing West a perfect amalgamation of the Invitational itself, with breweries from around the world coming together for one fantastic weekend of beer drinking.

On paper, Trailing West starts with a decoction mash of one-hundred-year-old Australian barley before adding Hersbrucker and Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops.

Firestone Walker calls this one “crisp and complex with a continental hop attitude.”

We just call it plain delicious.

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Yuzu Sunrise + Flat White – Garage Project

Wellington, New Zealand

garage project yuzu sunrise and flat white firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Grace Lee-Weitz | Hop Culture

Misc – When we wrote a story on Garage Project in April, Co-Founder Jos Ruffell told us all about the crazy concoctions the New Zealand brewery brings with its festival game.

At the Firestone Walker Invitational, we saw Ruffell work his magic in person, constantly under a barrage with the longest line of the entire event, miles deep for hours.

At the front, Ruffell crewed the station in his trademark wide-brimmed hat, doling out each drink with a smile.

For instance, the Flat White, a strong, roasty coffee stout topped with a layer of nitrogenated cream ale that looked like milk.

“It’s basically a fancy black and tan,” said Ruffell. “But it tastes great.”

Sure did. The texture of this beverage stood out to me more than anything; it was luxuriously velvety, like sipping the froth right off a cappuccino.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Garage Project’s Yuzu Sunrise was a two-tone beer with a yuzu base and raspberry one on top. “The densities are so different that it will stay separate even if you wiggle your glass around,” Ruffell told us.

This drink changes as you drink it, like Sour Patch Kids, sour…then sweet.

All we knew was that it was unlike anything we had ever had. Certainly worth standing in line for (even though Ruffell snuck us all a couple of tasters behind the booth 😉).

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Colors in Your Mind – BKS Artisan Ales

Kansas City, MO

bks artisan ales colors in the wind and west coast-style pilsner firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Grace Lee-Weitz | Hop Culture

American IPA – Alrighty, I’m cheating a little bit here. I don’t think BKS Artisan Ales technically served Colors in Your Mind at the fest, but co-founder Brian Rooney highly suggested I try it when I stopped by to say hello.

“This is a secret beer just for friends,” he joked with me.

But I’m glad he did because it was one of my favorites of the day.

Rooney told me the West Coast-style IPA features a variety of T-90 and cryogenically frozen hops, including HBC 586, Strata, Strata CGX, Mosaic, and Mosaic Cryo.

“It’s dank, cannabis-y, tangerine, berry, diesel in a good way and a touch tropical on the backside,” said Rooney.

I’m not sure I could have described the beer any better.

Maybe if I tried, I might say that I’m not a synesthete, someone who experiences one sense through another, i.e., seeing a specific color when they taste food, but if I were and I drank this beer, I’d see a rainbow.

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Hunah Wine – Cigar City Brewing

Tampa, FL

cigar city brewing hunah wine barleywine firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Grace Lee-Weitz | Hop Culture

Barleywine – This is one crazy beer. Monster Brewing* Technical Brewing Manager Sean Sasscer told me that, after brewing the iconic Hunahpu for such a long time, he wondered how he could “do something different and new without deviating and losing the spirit.”

The answer?

Creating a barleywine blend—an American one aged in grape brandy barrels and an English one from apple brandy barrels.

Sasscer worried that the barleywine base would fail to withstand Hunahpu’s iconic ingredients—vanilla, cacao, cinnamon, and that characteristic blend of peppers.

But he needn’t have worried.

“I absolutely love it,” he gushed, noting the beer sold out immediately when he first released it. We were tasting the second batch.

“It was fun to take a classic we’ve done for a long time and put a new riff on it,” he shared. “It’s definitely unique, but also does Hunahpu justice.”

You’ll find deep raisin and tobacco notes upfront before the back of the palate starts to heat up with those savory spices, building up a bit of pleasant heat.

*Editor’s Note: In 2022, Monster Beverage Corporation acquired CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective, which included Cigar City Brewing.

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Pilsner – Chuckanut Brewery

Bellingham, WA

Pilsner – A Damn. Fine. Pilsner. Both Muncie and I loved this beer. Somewhat sheepishly, we had to admit this was our first time trying anything from the famed lager-laden brewery in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s just say it made an incredible first impression.

So much so that again we may sheepishly need to admit that we both forgot to take a photo of it. 🙇‍♀️

Also, for transparency, Chuckanut Head Brewer Chaz Lakip and I visited the Czech Republic together on a five-day trade mission sponsored by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture in April, where we learned that, shockingly, we both have the same birthday—April 11th. There might have been a moment we both shared in the caves of Pilsner Urquell with our entire group and now-retried Pilsner Urquell Brewmaster Václa Berka singing happy birthday to us as we slung back unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell straight from the lagering tanks. There may have been.

Regardless, Lakip and Muncie don’t have the same birthday and didn’t go to the Czech Republic together, and Muncie still told me independently how much he loved this beer, so I felt like we could include it here without any impaired judgment…except that we forgot to take that damn photo!

We found the simply named Pilsner to have light levels of toast opening to a beautifully expressive floral hop character. Well-balanced with a plush carbonation, this pilsner was a breath of fresh air on a hot summer’s day.

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Le Pub – Green Bench Brewing Company

St. Petersburg, FL

green bench brewing company le pub french pilsner firestone walker invitational 2024
Photography courtesy of Mikaela Cohen | Untappd

French Pilsner – Green Bench Brewing Founder Khris Johnson pretty much brought the whole brewery to Paso Robles. Walk up to his constantly busy booth, and you’d find, I think, at least ten beers on offer (for comparison, most folks brought four).

Le Pub caught my eye.

Johnson told me he’s collaborated on this beer with American Stage, an organization that puts on a play every year in a park near the brewery. This year, they produced Beauty and the Beast but couldn’t use the name of one of the play’s settings—Gaston’s Pub, opting for Le Pub instead.

Brewed with French-grown Pilsner malt and French-grown Strisselspalt hops, Le Pub has an almost courageous floral quality that I really loved.

When a man behind me approached Johnson and asked him to give him a taste of whatever beer he thought best represented his brewery, and Johnson picked Le Pub, I thought I’d made a wise choice.

And just for the record: This beer is more beauty than beast.

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