USA: Firestone Walker completes $15 million expansion

Last weekend, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, part of Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat brewery, opened the doors to its new $15 million brewhouse extension and a visitor’s center, which is encircled by the brewhouse. The project was initiated in early 2016 and brings the yearly brewing capacity up to 600,000 barrels (704,000 hl).

The expansion adds a second brewhouse, which will operate in synchronicity with the existing brewhouse from 2012, both engineered and installed by Huppmann of Kitzingen, Germany. Part of the new system is a 200-barrel tank dedicated entirely to brewing 805, a blonde ale with 4.7% ABV, whose explosive growth fueled Firestone’s need to expand. The product was released in 2012 and named after the telephone area code of the Paso Robles area. In 2016, the beer that “embodies a California mindset that can be lived anywhere” became the No. 1 selling craft beer in California and made up nearly 60% of the Firestone Walker’s total production of 350,000 barrels (411,000 hl).

“This brewhouse extension is a fitting milestone in the wake of our 20th anniversary last year, as it deepens our local roots for the next 20 years and beyond here in Paso Robles,” says David Walker, co-founder of Firestone Walker. “805 caused us to grow faster than we expected — it’s the reason behind all this,” he adds.

Firestone Walker brewery was originally located in Los Olivos, California, where co-founder Adam Firestone was running the family vineyards and brother-in-law David Walker was growing grapes while working in Silicon Valley. The brewery was intended to be part of the winery but soon outgrew the wine business. In 2001 they relocated the brewery to Paso Robles and started focusing on Double Barrel Ale, an English style pale ale fermented in steel tanks as well as oak barrels, which gives the beers an oaky taste. The big success came in 2012, when the brewery launched its 805 Blonde Ale.

In 2015, Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat brewery became the majority stakeholder in Firestone Walker, with Walker, Firestone and brewmaster Matt Brynildson as minority owners. “They’re a high-integrity partner that will keep the brewery and vision running long after we’re gone,” David Walker says. “We couldn’t ask for a better patriarch.”

Duvel Moortgat, founded in 1871 by Jan-Leonard Moortgat and still managed by descendants of the family, is one of the fastest growing family owned brewing groups in Europe. The company owns 50% of Bernard Family Brewery in Humpolec/Czech Republic (acquired 2001), Brewery Ommegang from Cooperstown/New York (acquired in 2003), Brasserie d’Achouffe from Houffalize/Belgium (acquired 2006), Brouwerij Liefmans in Oudenaarde/Belgium (acquired 2008), Brouwerij De Koninck from Antwerp/Belgium (acquired 2010), Boulevard Brewing Company from Kansas City/Missouri (acquired 2013) and finally Firestone Walker Brewing Company from Paso Robles/California (acquired 2015).

In the 2016 financial year, Duvel Moortgat recorded a consolidated turnover of €401,4 million an increase of over 27% compared with the previous financial year. The various breweries of the group brewed 1.5 million barrels (1.8m hl) of beer with the United States with 0.6 million barrels (0.7m hl) and Belgium with 0.43 million barrels (0.5m hl) the most important markets.

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