Tuesday, June 2, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 13

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Firestone Walker blends the best of both worlds in one can


Lobster corndogs. Ramen burgers. Ice-cream-cone cannoli. Foodies far and wide are being treated to boundary-pushing hybrids on their plates, and now two Central Coast beverage makers are bringing a fanciful blend in the form of a six-pack.  

The rosé lover’s beer
Look for Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s six-pack slim can Rosalie—a hybrid half-beer, half-wine with an acid profile similar to a rosé—in the beer and wine section of local grocery stores. Firestone Walker Brewing Company brewhouse tours and tastings are held at the Visitor’s Center: 1400 Ramada Drive, Paso Robles. Call (805) 225-5911. Firestone’s Taproom and Barrelworks is located at 620 McMurray Road, Buellton. Call (805) 697-4777.

Rosalie is co-fermented with chardonnay and other aromatic local wine grape varieties from Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles. The brewmasters incorporate a dash of hibiscus flower to achieve that pretty rosé color.

Firestone Walker brewmasters teamed up with Niels Udsen, owner of Castoro Cellars, to create Rosalie. She comes in slim pink cans, with her name in pretty pink cursive above a beautiful, long-haired woman holding up grapes, with the bricks of the historic Paso Robles Inn surrounding her. 

She’s at once a beer and a wine. And she solves the age-old restaurant dilemma: Shall I order an IPA or a glass of rosé? 

Dear, you can have both, in a stemless wineglass no less. Swirl and sniff the aromatics in the glass before you sip, and keep an open mind.

For my first try of the Rosalie, Firestone Walker Quality Control Manager Amy Crook had me lick some hibiscus flowers in a little cup to see if I could recognize them in the body of the beer-wine. The enigma drink proved lovely, like a light pilsner dating a rosé.

As someone who likes light, fragrant wines like rosés and viognier and also adores beer, I realized I’m among the prime target market. I wondered what my friends and family might think, so I took some six-packs home to run a little experiment. 

It makes sense that Firestone Walker Brewery got back to its roots in wine. Their very first beers were fermented in wine barrels. Pictured (from left to right) are Head Brewer Dustin Kral, Quality Control Manager Amy Crook, and Production Director Ali Razi.

It was a smashing success: Everyone seemed to be pleasantly surprised at how bright and fresh Rosalie tasted. Some were astounded that a beer could be so elegant, and others were amazed that a sophisticated wine could get along with a tough ol’ beer. 

“It’s a backyard beer all day,” said Head Brewer Dustin Kral, who has been at Firestone for 17 years. “It’s just unique. It’s different. The acidity is bright, and the color is beautiful.” 

According to Udsen, rosé is really in right now. And in the beer world, there’s the hazy thing going on, and IPA’s popularity has skyrocketed. Udsen is hopeful this beer-wine hybrid trend sticks.  

Kral recently introduced the Rosalie at the Mammoth Bluesapalooza. 

“It was overlooked by a lot of our clientele,” he said, describing how sometimes Firestone staff would have to twist people’s arms to try something new. “Our customers wanted their IPAs and their standard beer, but once I started telling people exactly what it is—because what this beer needs is the story—not only were they drinking it the rest of the day, they were going back and getting their buddies to come over and taste it and drink it.” 

Rosalie is only 5 percent alcohol and is made with no extracts, fruit-flavoring, or shortcuts. Plus, it’s low in calories. 

“I think Firestone, in general, always veered away from making products that we don’t want to drink ourselves, just because we think there’s a mass appeal to them,” said Firestone Walker’s Production Director Ari Razi, who has worked 16 years for the brewery. “I think that with this rosé style, there are so many overly sweet products out there that are artificial, where this beer was designed for a more sophisticated palate.” 

Rosalie is part of Firestone’s circle of life—their first beers were fermented in wine barrels, and ever since, they’ve used oak barrels in their brewing operations. Firestone brewery started small, on the Firestone family vineyard in Los Olivos, and moved to the old SLO Brewing Company building in Paso Robles in 2001. Now it’s the fourth largest craft brewery in California and employs hundreds of SLO County residents. 

Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson’s idea was to use subtle souring techniques to create an acid profile similar to rosé wine.

Firestone has a brewery in Venice, California, called The Propagator that serves as an extension of its two other brewing operations in Paso and Buellton. It’s a state-of-the-art beer research and development think tank, where Rosalie was conceptualized. Firestone is also the founder of the Terroir Project, a collaborative experiment into beer-wine hybrids. 

Once Rosalie was made, Firestone had to purchase new equipment and tackle the challenges of integrating sugary grapes into the pipes and tanks, making the new brew shelf-stable, and preserving the qualities of a well-made beverage. Several test batches were made. 

Udsen and Firestone Brewmaster Matt Brynildson tasted the samples along the way, and Udsen said they both learned quite a bit over the experimental span of a year. The wine grape juice was pressed and delivered for cold storage at their brewery in Paso, and the process of brewing a base beer began. 

“It was definitely a new challenge,” said Crook, who tastes Rosalie every week to monitor the tank. “It opened up a whole new realm of raw ingredient microbiology to watch … but we learned how to control it, and we haven’t had any issues.” 

In September 2018, Firestone’s friends and neighbors at Castoro harvested 100 tons of chardonnay grapes specifically reserved for Rosalie, later followed by another 100 tons of viognier, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and muscat. Brynildson wanted the “crowd-pleasing textures and flavors” of the chardonnay but also wanted the lift of the other aromatic grape varieties. 

Udsen said he met Brynildson through Castoro’s yearly Whale Rock Music & Arts Festival. Brynildson is a big fan of music, and it was at the festival when Brynildson told Udsen he wanted to make a beer with him. 

“I thought he was just BS’n’ me,” Udsen recalled. 

But Brynildson persisted. Udsen said he could supply enough grape juice for the project, and Brynildson was happy his supplier would be local.

“It was fun for both of us,” said Udsen, who personally loves the Rosalie. “It’s real light and fresh. You gotta quaffer for sure!” 

Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is pleased to have met Rosalie. Send more flavorful introductions to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

Nibbles and bites

• Four days, six towns, and a whirlwind of activities are coming up for the Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley from Oct. 17 through 20, when the Santa Ynez Valley throws its inaugural food, wine, and experiential event to show off its edible and imbibable bounty. Multi-day passes and tickets are available at nightout.com. Learn more at visitsyv.com. Restaurant dinners, wine tastings, cooking classes, and more are waiting for you with nine main events and dozens of other small get-togethers happening in Los Alamos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Ballard, and Buellton: 

• On Thursday, Oct. 17, start with a tasting tour of the region in Ferrini Park from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. ($25) and sample a selection of wines from Los Alamos and the Santa Maria Valley and appetizers from local restaurants. If you’re still feeling peckish, you can follow that with an al fresco dinner and wine tasting at Bell Street ($150) in Los Alamos from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Featured chefs and wines are from around town and the ticket includes the Ferrini Park tasting. 

• Friday, Oct. 18, brings a cooking class at the Baker’s Table with chef Robin Goldstein from 2 to 4 p.m. ($50) in Santa Ynez; an Exploration of Wine and Cheese with Matt Kettman of Wine Enthusiast and The Independent at the Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez from 2 to 4 p.m. ($75); a celebration of the finicky and super cool cabernet franc grape at Gainey Vineyards—yes, there will be lots of wine—from 4 to 6 p.m. ($40); the Sideways movie experience and tasting at the Solvang Festival Theater in Solvang from 6 to 10 p.m. ($75); and dinner at Grimm’s Bluff Vineyards and Winery from 6:30 to 10 p.m. ($150). 

• Kick off and end your Saturday, Oct. 20, with the Ballard Inn’s chef Budi Kazali. Kazali will open his kitchen for a 25-person cooking class from 11 a.m to 1:30 p.m. ($100) and will craft a multi-course menu paired with his local wine faves from 6:30 to 10 p.m. ($150). Or you could pull into the quaint country wine town of Los Olivos for a day of free festivities from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. that the family can enjoy. A Wine Roundup VIP tent from Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley will absolutely be there ($40). Looking for a little bit of fun without children? The Solvang Grape Stomp and Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tasting—yes, there will be food—is happening from 2 to 5 p.m. at 1st Street and Solvang Park ($75). You can also have a dinner that night at First & Oak in Solvang courtesy of chef JJ Guerrero and Sommelier Jonathan Rosenson from 6:30 to 10 p.m. ($125). 

• Cut, case, and cure some meat on Sunday, Oct. 20, with Jeff and Janet Olsson of Industrial Eats and Jake Francis of Valley Piggery from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Industrial Eats in Buellton ($125). Wine, snacks, and lunch are also on the menu! That Sunday Funday, the Sideways Wine Festival Grand Tasting will take over Buellton’s River View Park with 40 wineries from the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Barbara County from noon to 4 p.m ($55) and Santa Rita Hills pinot noir and chardonnay is taking on those from the Santa Maria Valley from 10:30 a.m. to noon at The Sideways Inn in Buellton ($75). Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company is hosting a craft beer dinner that night from 6 to 9 p.m. ($80). 

Editor Camillia Lanham is ready for a weekend of fun. Send your tips, tricks, and tidbits to clanham@santamariasun.com. 

Weekly Poll
How would you like to see transportation officials try to make highways in the Santa Ynez Valley safer?

Add biking and walking paths along the highways to keep pedestrians away from traffic.
Reduce speed limits near certain intersections.
Build more roundabouts.
It doesn't matter. Caltrans won't do anything about it.

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