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When Firestone Walker announced they were planning the first Invitational Beer Fest, there was a lot of interest in the craft beer community. The festival at the Paso Robles fairgrounds would have 40 breweries and more than 20 restaurants. Presale tickets sold out in a few hours and the event sold out 2 months in advance. The hashtag #FWIBF was frequently seen on Twitter in the week leading up to Saturday, June 9, 2012. There was a lot of excitement about this event.

The day of the festival was sunny and clear and people started to arrive before the 1pm start time. As you entered the fairgrounds, volunteers distributed a plate, with a slot to hold the event glass and a small book listing the breweries and beers. While waiting to enter, people stood in the shade and talked about which brewery to visit first. There were breweries from across the United States representing California, Oregon and Colorado in the west, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska in the Midwest, and Delaware and New York on the east coast. There was an international presence with Mikkeller from Denmark and Yo Ho from Japan. A lot of great beers and breweries to choose from! 

When the gates opened, craft beer fans spread across the fairgrounds. Lines formed quickly at Three Floyds for Dark Lord with vanilla beans and at Alpine, Russian River and The Bruery. The lines moved quickly and food tents located between the beer tents made it less crowded. Some highlights of the day for me were Bell’s Wild One, a sour fermented in wood barrels and blended, Odells’s Friek, a framboise-style oak aged sour, Dogfish Head’s Two Blind Myces, a farmhouse saison with cardamom and orange peel fermented and aged in red wine barrels with Brett, Alesmith‘s Brewer’s Blend Barrel Aged Speedway Stout, and Hollister Brewing’s Tiny Bubbles, a tart wheat beer flavored with coriander and sea salt.

It was great to see the brewers pouring and talking about their beer. It was clear they love what they do!  There were rare and hard to find beers, and award winning beers and breweries. Several breweries poured special bottles or kegs during the day. There was something for everyone – barrel aged and dark beers from Alesmith, Ballast Point, FiftyFifty, The Bruery, and TAPS. There were fruity beers and lighter beers from Boneyard, Moonlight, Green Flash, Trumer, and Sun King. Hopheads could choose from a number of IPAs and hoppy beers from Alpine, Beachwood BBQ, Lagunitas, Kern River, Stone, and Founders.  This is just a small glimpse of the craft breweries that poured all afternoon. You can see a list of the breweries here.

Central coast restaurants served an outstanding variety of food. Whiling enjoying beer, you could sample flatbread pizza, bacon wrapped stuffed jalapeños, paella, BBQ pork sliders, cheese plates, spicy mac and cheese, ribs, tacos and more. No one went hungry at this event!

If you needed a break from great beer and food, you could attend the  Behind the Beer sessions sponsored by Taphunter and The Brewing Network. These sessions featured brewers who answered questions about brewing and their beer. There was also a presentation by Sarah Forstner representing Save the Cocks, an organization that works to rescue and place abandoned roosters in Paso Robles and the surrounding area. Several groups provided live music in an area adjacent to the beer and food tents. Throughout the day, attendees could vote for their favorite brewery using a mobile app Craftbeercrawl.com from Taphunter.  At the end of the Behind the Beer sessions, Mel Gordon from Taphunter announced Three Floyds as the winner of the People’s Choice award. 

More than 2000 attended this inaugural event with proceeds benefiting Pioneer Day, a popular Paso Robles event since the 1930’s. Firestone Walker has definitely set the bar for future events.  They provided a relaxing setting to enjoy craft beer and food.  Craft beer lovers had the opportunity to meet the men and women who brew the beer. Cheers to the volunteers and everyone else who helped to make this event a success! We are already looking forward to next year.

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