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A Festive Shift

Why Beer Events Are Moving Beyond the One-Size-Fits-All Model.

Maybe five or six years ago, a city official in Paso obles, Calif., presented Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson with an offer he could easily refuse.

“He said, ‘I have access to this incredible location. Would you like to do a beer fest?’” Brynildson recalls. “I think he was surprised when I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

The last thing the world needed was another beer festival. There were too many, he reasoned, loud and bloated and as unfocused as a busted camera. But the official wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. “He challenged me and said, ‘Let’s do it exactly the way you would want to,’”

Brynildson says. Instead of inviting folks willy-nilly, Brynildson curated 40-odd top-shelf breweries including Russian River and 3 Floyds, stipulating that brewers or founders attend to pour. For attendees, “there was more of a focus on meeting brewers and trying their beers than coming and trying to get drunk,” Brynildson says. Founded in 2012, the

Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest was an instant smash, its whopping beer selection matched by a refreshing intimacy. The now-annual festival (which sells out in minutes and raises funds for the Paso Robles Pioneer Day celebration) has grown in prestige, but not in size, as Firestone Walker limits attendance to fewer than 4,000 people. According to Brynildson, when a beer fest grows too big, “it becomes difficult to have this special event where you can focus in and learn more about beer.”

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#130 (November 2017)