When we opened our Propagator R&D brewhouse in Venice, California back in 2016, it immediately became our proverbial test kitchen – a place where we could experiment with new beer recipes without disrupting the daily production flow of our main brewhouse in Paso Robles.
Today, Firestone Walker stalwarts such as Mind Haze and Hopnosis owe their origins to early test batches first created at the Propagator. From those trials, the recipes were refined, perfected, and ultimately scaled for full production at the Paso Robles brewery.
In the words of Brewmaster Matt Brynildson, “The Propagator is a little hot-rod brewhouse that has allowed us to take bigger risks and test wilder concepts than we ever could before.”
For example, Mind Haze was built upon a nearly year’s worth of Propagator R&D batches as the brewing team tried to nail the hazy IPA style “the Firestone way,” which included incorporating wheat and oats into the grain bill, as well as developing a proprietary blend of hops to hit all of the right tropical notes.
The Propagator also serves as a working neighborhood brewery to produce unique one-off beers – some of which graduate to the big stage. A recent example is Psychedelic Arcade, a West Coast Golden Rye IPA, that will land in our upcoming IPA Mixed Packs later this month.
Retool & Refine
At the heart of the Propagator is a state-of-the-art small scale Kaspar Schulz brewhouse from Germany, which is ideal for small-batch experimental brewing.
The Propagator R&D process is driven by Matt, Propagator Brewing Manager Sam Tierney, and R&D Innovations Manager Brad Miles. Together, they conceive not only the next big flagships from Firestone Walker, but also the special release beers that appear in our tri-annual IPA Mixed Packs.
These beers are not created in a straight line from Venice to Paso Robles, but rather with concurrent contributions from each location. While Sam is working on test mashing at his tiny 10-barrel Propagator brewhouse, Brad is developing hop blends in a series of mini fermenters in Paso Robles, a.k.a. “the little MFers.”
“By combining the work that Sam and Brad are doing in their respective locations, we can start to triangulate our initial recipes,” Matt said. “The Propagator is this amazing resource that allows us to brew and evaluate early test batches from these recipes, and then quickly retool and refine things until we get them just right.”
Platform For Innovation
As far as getting a recipe “just right,” it takes a village. This is where sensory Research Analyst Craig Thomas and Analytical Chemist Kevin Troxell come into the picture. While Craig creates technical panel tastings for the brewing team, Kevin analyzes the aroma componds and flavor-active compounds of each batch.
This union of hard science and personal sensory evaluation is what ultimately guides the recipe to the finish line. From there, it’s a matter of scaling up the beer for production at our main brewery.
This is how small batches brewed at our tiny 10-barrel Propagator R&D brewery in Venice can ultimately spark a year-round behemoth from our Paso Robles brewhouse, including beers like Mind Haze and Hopnosis.
In Matt’s words, “Having this R&D brewhouse in Venice has given us a new platform for innovation, continually setting the pace for what’s next from Firestone Walker.”