Monday, February 25, 2013

Firestone Walker, Quality From The Central Valley

I'm not sure why I was sitting on this post, but Today I would like to share a brewery, which is now in my top 5, with you all.

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. is an easy enough establishment to find. It is just off of the 101 Freeway as you are coming in to Paso Robles. About an hour north of San Luis Obispo and somewhat 3 hours south of San Jose from the north. You can literally see the building below as you drive by on the freeway, but the dead giveaway are the grain silos.

Now, I go to my local breweries ALL the time, and I've been to a few others like Stone, but there was one characteristic that I got from this place that the others all seem to lack, the insane bubble of wort aroma wreaking havoc on my smell receptors in my nose. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a bad thing. I actually love the smell. The wort is the part of the beer making process that contains the boiling water and the malt, whether it be extract or actual malt grains.

I really was interested in taking the tour. I have toured several other facilities(to varying degrees), such as Noble Ale Works, Bootleggers Brewery, and Stone Brewing, and I was very interested to see what a middle level brewing facility would look like. The lobby contained a small tasting room. They had most of their regulars on tap that day, such as Wookey Jack, DBA, and Union Jack along with some imperial variants DDBA and Double Jack. 

There were some special releases that day which made the trip special for me, Velvet Merkin, featured in the photo just above, and §ucaba barleywine, not pictured.

The brewery tour was quite an experience. They have several different departments with which they do research many people would never have thought would take place at a brewery. They have an entire lab that caters to all of these needs. one of the machines tests the liquid to determine the amount of alcohol for one of their product lines and it can tell them if there is anything wrong so the brewers can find out what they did wrong easier. 

The other main science they do is yeast reclaim. They can use a batch of yeast for up to 8 different times. Then its kind of exhasted. So they take up a sample of spent yeast and they regrow the same strain of yeast. It gives them the same taste. Using s different batch of yeast, no matter if its the same style, can throw off the flavor ever so slightly, but could be noticable, which is not good when you are known for excellence and quality.

Bottling line as seen from a window outside the lab.

One of the brewers is releasing the steam from the wort by opening the lid on one of the brewhouse tanks. Stand back. That steam is really hot and shoots out very fast.

These batrrels are in the fermenting step. The barrel actually gives off a slight smokey flavor that effects the final product. I think the guide said these were full of the DBA (Double Barrel Ale). The version of DBA you buy in the bottle  at the store contains 10% of product from the barrels and the other 90% were aged in the normal steel fermentors.

This bucket is full of used yeast.

Gotta stay on schedule.

This guy was loading a pallet with full kegs. Its gotta be a hard job.

A weird random fact about Firestone-Walker is that they actually brew house beers for several restaurants. The one that comes to mind is the Yardhouse. I went to another place right on the border of Little Tokyo that had their house beers made there as well. Its an interesting deal to have. that must be what those few without any product name on the schedule above were. 

This brewery was indeed a sight to be seen and it is most definitely one of those places that are one timers. Ya really gotta go see it at least once. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience much better than Stone Brewing. There was no real snobbyness and the service was incredbile. The only thing I didn't enjoy so much was the burger over at the taproom. It seemed to me to be one of those pressed premade burger. Everything else made up for that tiny tiny point.

You can view the rest of my pictures from the shoot over on my Smugmug page

Are there any brewerues local to you that you would reccomend?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gaviota Wind Tunnels

My last stop on my most recent expedition to the Central Valley of California led me to the Gaviota Wind Tunnels. I had been contemplating this minor hike for a few weeks previous and made it my goal to attempt it when I was driving back.

The trail head for this hike is right off the 101 as it turns down towards Santa Barbara. You just exit the freeway at Gaviota Beach Rd and stay right while you go up the hill. Then its the first parking area you cross on the right hand side. you can check out all of the details on the Hike's Peak.

a recurring theme that day. I wanted to show the elevation of the hike.

Gas lines like these are littered throughout. I saw at least 3 vents including one in the middle of nothing.

I'm going to have to travel up this route sometime. Looks like more fun than driving for sure!

Here is the final view from the top..... Or at least as high I was willing to go. My camera ended up out of battery right after that, so I was lucky.

I just want to throw a couple of cautions out to anybody looking to do this hike. It really isn't as long as it seems, so you don't need a boatload of it, but make sure to bring water. I was a real idiot for not doing that. Next. watch the ledges inside the caves. Where I shot #20, the hole is on an underside and didn't have any real place to stand. Just play it safe and have fun out there.

I only used about half of the images I took on this post. If you would like to see the entire set, check out the gallery on my Smugmug page

Friday, February 15, 2013

North of the Bay

I was just about to edit some pictures from my recent hikes, at the Gaviota Wind Caves and at the Old Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park, when I rediscovered some pictures from my first trip up north from December. These shots were taken on Day 3 as I was circling around Oakland on my way to Sonoma and then back down to San Francisco through San Rafael.

This half of the trip was what really did it for me. Just to see all of the rolling hills filled with vineyards and to walk into the local Whole Foods (grocery store chain) and seeing an entire refrigerator wall full of craft brew beer. (see photo below) That was the biggest variety I have ever seen outside of Total Wine, Bevmo and La Bodega!

I started my day off in Fremont, CA. I had one mission to stop at before I started making my way to Vallejo.

View of the hills right next to Mission San Jose.

For those of you that might know the area, I hopped on the 680 and cut up, through the hills to the bridge  to Vallejo when I was stopped at a rape station...... err I mean toll booth. Apparently all of the bridges in the area have toll booths because our streets and freeways fund is always raided by the state government. But I digress.

I was bored while waiting for my turn to come. So I snapped this in the meantime.
I took a slight little detour through a bad ass nature reserve. I always love how the nature reserves are conveniently placed near a plant of some sort. This one was next to a ridiculously huge oil refinery and a Six Flags, which I became disappointed and sad when I saw that it was closed. Here are a couple of images while I was illegally and quite dangerously shot while going like 70mph

This bridge was the one that crossed over onto the nature reserve/marshlands.. Isn't that an awesome reflection of my defroster vent from my car?

From on top of the bridge seen in the previous shot. I believe the hills in the distance were from the San Rafael side of the upper bay.

Another view of the hills on the San Rafael side of the bay. I think I had to look through the viewfinder to attempt this shot. I didn't have any close calls and I am normally a safe driver. well... except for that speeding tickit and all of those accidents I was in previously. Anybody want to ride with me?

I was originally going to see the mission in the center of San Francisco first, but it didn't really make much sense and it would have cost me more gas in the long run. So, I hit the last mission on the list, San Francisco Solano, in Sonoma. Unfortunately, I'm still am working on my project so I don't have those pictures for your viewing pleasure at this time, but here are some of the cool sites around the town square where the mission also resides.

Since I had parked in a 2 hour parking spot and my lack of time, I hopped into my car and hi tailed it out of there. I had actually stopped at the nearest whole foods which was about a block away and snapped that shot at the top.  I'll have to do an in depth analyses at some point on one of the man made wonders that the area is incredibly well known for Russian River Brewery;s Pliney The Elder. Which are incredibly plentiful up there. I grabbed 3! Not as many as other people I know that got like 4 of those cheap Styrofoam coolers full of them.

I hopped on the road and made my way back to the 101 Freeway and stopped at the next destination, San Rafael. Unfortunately, I didn't really give a crap about that town. (can you blame me for being honest?) I got these next two shots that might have shown up on a previous post.

An uncanny ability to showcase a town, right?! I wasn't too enthused. My mind was stuck on what the next place looked like. 

These next two were also taken dangerously and probably illegally. The first one, I'm actually going to be hanging in my office at work sometime soon.

Well, That was most of a days events. For the pictures from later in the day, you can view them here.

I would like to leave you all with my picture of the trip. I took a similar one with Instagram, but this one was shot with film. It's perfect except for the photographer near the bridge in the middle and the person standing on the left, but hey, nobody is counting.