Firestone Walker Brewing Co. to expand Paso Robles brewhouse

A rendering shows how the Firestone Walker Brewing Co. brewhouse will look after its expansion in 2017. The facility is located at 1400 Ramada Drive in Paso Robles.
A rendering shows how the Firestone Walker Brewing Co. brewhouse will look after its expansion in 2017. The facility is located at 1400 Ramada Drive in Paso Robles. Courtesy rendering

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. continues to expand in Paso Robles, this time with plans in 2017 to extend its existing brewhouse westward in an estimated $15 million project.

The news follows the business’ previously announced plans to add new office, parking and warehouse space elsewhere on its property in the coming months. The expansion will tack on about 4,500 additional square feet to the front part of the existing brewhouse. The two-story extension will take the place of an existing parking lot and will wrap around the existing brew tower in a curved architectural style.

The existing brewhouse, marked with the tower at 1400 Ramada Drive, was last upgraded in late 2012. But with market demand for Firestone Walker’s beer increasing, additional square footage and equipment upgrades are needed to keep up.

The growing Paso Robles-based company will brew about 275,000 barrels this year, the upper limit of what the current operation can produce. In 2016, that annual number is slated to grow to about 340,000 barrels, co-founder David Walker said.

“This next year (2016) is going to be one of the busiest years of our whole existence,” he said.

The existing brewhouse is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with employees pulling overtime shifts and working through weekends to keep up, Walker said.

“We’re really overworking our brewhouse,” he said.

275,000 Number of barrels of beer Firestone Walker will brew this year

600,000 Number of barrels the company hopes to one day produce annually

The expansion will allow the brewhouse to make more beer but also return its employees to a traditional workweek, as well as provide dedicated space for small-batch and single-lot beer production. Overall, the brewery’s goal is to one day produce up to 600,000 barrels per year in the new space, Walker said, but future upgrades are needed to get there.

“It might take three to four years, or 30 years, to get to 600,000 barrels per year. But that’s the main point, to one day get to that level,” he said.

The company’s distribution remains concentrated on the West Coast, with 80 percent of the brewery’s beers still consumed in California, according to the company.

“Our first choice is to make infrastructure investments right here in Paso Robles, not in other parts of the country or elsewhere in California,” Walker said in a statement. “It’s satisfying to reinvest in this place. This is home.”

The company also plans to increase its staffing, Walker told The Tribune. In Paso Robles, the firm has 234 employees and plans to hire about 20 more in 2016.

“We will continue to add people on a steady basis. This (2017) expansion is very much part of that,” Walker added.

Walker said a surprising demand for the company’s 805 blonde ale has driven much of Firestone Walker’s recent growth since the label’s launch in 2013.

“805 is about half our production,” Walker said. “We anticipated it to be maybe 5 percent of our production. It just came as a massive surprise to us.”

A midsized operation that in 2014 brewed 208,000 barrels, Walker and co-owner Adam Firestone founded the company in 1996 in Santa Barbara County and opened in Paso Robles in 2001. It also has operations in Buellton and Venice Beach. Firestone Walker also recently combined its operations with Belgium-based brewery Duvel Moortgat, which committed capital to help the local brewery grow.

Tonya Strickland: 805-781-7858, @tstrickland

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