5 O'Clock Somewhere
Firestone Walker’s Jeffers Richardson brings the funk to Barrelworks
By Chris ONeal 01/16/2014
545 E Thompson Blvd
Barrelhouse 101’s tap takeovers have come a long way in bringing rare beers to Ventura. Last Thursday, David Walker, owner and proprietor of Firestone Walker Brewing Co., presented four highly sought-after releases, including the 2014 Sucaba barley wine, Velvet Merkin barrel-aged oatmeal stout, DDBA (double double barrel ale) and the most sought-after brew from the Central Coast brewery, XVII Anniversary ale, a blend of all three aforementioned rarities.
If you’re only familiar with Firestone Walker through the ubiquitous Double Barrel Ale or Union Jack, it may be time to expand your horizons. Firestone Walker has been experimenting with barrel-aged sour ales, a trend in the craft beer scene, with spectacular results.
Barrel Master Jeffers Richardson began his stint with Firestone Walker in 1996 attempting to keep the funk out of the flagship Double Barrel Ale, and recently began his pursuit of just the opposite when he became the director of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks alongside Master Blender Jim Crooks and Brewmaster Matt Brynildson.
“There is a method to our madness,” said Richardson. Most of the beers at Barrelworks haven’t been released outside of the brewery, like the Lil’ Opal, a saison-style inoculated with brettanomyces, the Belgian yeast renowned for creating funk powerhouses. “We have another called SLOambic, fermented with olallieberry. We’re at the creative experimental phase.”
Richardson sources barrels from neighboring Paso Robles, Buellton and even as far as the south of France, from which a few large barrels made their way to the brewery.
Beginning this year, Barrelworks will bottle for the first time an anniversary blend of barrel-aged beers ranging in age from 18 to 36 months.
“Every year is slightly different because every barrel is slightly different,” said Richardson. “It’s like making wine; you have vintages.”
Like most master brewers, Richardson began as a home brewer, experimenting with all-grain brewing and the limited availability of ingredients in the 1980s.
“I had more questions than answers,” said Richardson.
For modern home brewers, Richardson’s advice is to realize that the sky is the limit with the availability of malts, hops and other specialty ingredients.
“Have some fun with it and be creative. You’re only limited by your imagination and what you want to make,” said Richardson. “Ultimately, if you’re home brewing you only have to please one person, yourself.”
Chris O’Neal is in the process of brewing his very first brew and is taking suggestions for names. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.