Wine & Beer

This is Firestone Walker’s latest experiment. You can try the beer later this month

Samples of beer-wine hybrids made with five different wine grapes sit on a table at Barrelworks, the Buellton-based branch of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles. They were created as part of the Terroir Project.
Samples of beer-wine hybrids made with five different wine grapes sit on a table at Barrelworks, the Buellton-based branch of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles. They were created as part of the Terroir Project. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Wine aficionados love to talk about terroir — the effect of soil, climate, geography and other environmental factors on a wine’s taste.

For beer geeks, it’s about the grain bill — the particular combination of malted barley and other grains brewed together to make a beer.

Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker Brewing Co. is blending the two worlds, spearheading a globe-spanning collaboration to produce beer-wine hybrids that reflect a sense of place.

The Terroir Project, as it’s called, brings together breweries familiar to fans of wild and sour ales, including London’s Beavertown Brewery, New Zealand’s Garage Project, Boston’s Trillium Brewing Co., Austin, Texas-based Jester King and of course, Firestone’s Buellton-based Barrelworks, home of Firestone’s barrel-aged and wild beers.

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Cellarman Beau Sorenson, left, and master blender Jim Crooks sample some of their beer-wine hybrids, part of the Terroir Project at Barrelworks, the Buellton-based branch of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The rules? They must each use the same grain bill, the same time in barrel and the same percentage of beer wort co-fermented with grapes grown within 100 miles of their brewery.

“We’ll get to see how the local regions and each brewery’s techniques differentiate the beers,” said Jeffers Richardson, who heads up Barrelworks. He’ll sample the experimental brews alongside the other brewers and a couple hundred attendees at Firestone Vineyards’ West Ranch in Los Olivos on Sept. 29.

“It’s part education, part experiment, part fun,” Richardson said.

And what does he expect of the final products?

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “That’s part of the surprise here.”

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Firestone Walker Brewing Co. master blender Jim Crooks poses with cabernet franc grapes. He uses the varietal for his beer-wine hybrids that are part of the Terroir Project. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Firestone’s submission, which used Firestone family cabernet franc grapes pressed off the skins quickly to retain just a bit of color, has “nice high carbonation, oak components from the barrel, fruit components,” Richardson said. “It all marries well.”

The idea for the Terroir Project took shape at a Boston beer festival in 2016, where the brewers chatted about their individual experiments marrying grapes and grains, something Barrelworks has done for years with beers such as Feral Vinifera and ZinSkin. Coming soon is another innovation, a méthode Champenoise-style beer.

“Firestone was hatched out of a winery,” Richardson said, referencing the brewery’s founding in 1998 at Firestone Winery by Adam Firestone and his brother-in-law David Walker, who also owns a vineyard.

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A selection of the finished versions of Barrelworks’ beer-wine hybrids, made at the Buellton-based branch of Firestone Walker Brewing Co., sit on a table. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

From using wine barrels to age beers to borrowing winemaking techniques and playing around with grapes, the brewery has always had a strong connection with the wine industry.

“It’s part of our DNA, and we’re finding out others are thinking the same way,” Richardson said.

Terroir Project follow-ups are already in the works, with additional participating breweries and, likely, new rules each year, such as using only native yeasts, wild grapes or foraged ingredients.

Like all of Barrelworks’ brews, Richardson said, “We want the ingredients to tell a story.”

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Firestone Walker Brewing Co. cellarman Beau Sorenson pulls a sample of a beer-wine blend made with cabernet franc grapes from Rock Hollow Vineyards in Santa Ynez, created for the Terroir Project. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Firestone Walker Terroir Project

Noon to 4 p.m., Sept. 29

West Ranch, Firestone Vineyards, Los Olivos

$65

805-225-5911 or www.firestonebeer.com

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at sallybuffalo@gmail.com.
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