Things were put on ice for almost three years, but that only made the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival all the sweeter to crack into this year. The Invitational has long garnered praise for being one of the country’s can’t-miss beer events, and this iteration was no different.

The ninth edition of the Invitational couldn’t have been more perfect. We had thousands of joyous craft beer friends descend on Paso Robles, California for it all. Everyone was happy to celebrate being back, enjoy a beautiful Saturday, and, of course, try amazing beers from all over the world.

“We didn’t miss a beat–once again, the fest was an epic celebration of craft culture,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson, who is the mind behind the event.

Each year, Matt reaches out to old and new friends in the global brewing community and asks them to join us at the festival, hence the name “Invitational.” The common thread among all the invitees is simple: world-class beer. Even better, the brewers themselves come out to personally rep their beers, making it a fest like no other.

“This is a day when we can all put down our sales and marketing pitches and simply commune and share our beers and stories with people who are passionate about craft beer,” Matt said.

This year, we welcomed an unbeatable lineup of more than 65 different breweries from just about everywhere for the occasion. It was truly an international affair. Breweries from Brazil, Australia, Argentina, England, and more made their presence known alongside brewers hailing from California, Florida, and most states in-between.

Attendees lined the gates, entered the grounds, and were poured a glass of Parrotphrase, a refreshing Dry-Hopped Grisette we brewed in collaboration with Green Cheek Beer Co. specifically for the Invitational, before being let out on the festival grounds. The beers they then sampled included everything from the highlighted and well-regarded to the experimental.

Attendees could come and go from as many booths as they wanted, and try tastes of whatever caught their eye. And while there wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch, lines suggested that Monkish, Russian River, and New Zealand-based brewery Garage Project had more than just a cult following.

We also had around 30 local restaurants join the fold. Free samples of tacos, ceviche, and a whole lot more were there for the tasting. Festival-goers could grab some food if they were looking to cleanse their palate, or just wanted to enjoy a delicious bite to eat.

There were other offerings outside of regular beer and food tastings on tap as well. One particular highlight was the Brewmasters Collective Lounge. Ahead of the Invitational, Brewmaster’s Collective members were given lottery access to buy tickets to the otherwise sold-out event. This members-only lounge offered an air-conditioned respite from the hot California sun, plus extra-comfortable seating and an on-sight masseuse. If you’re interested in having access next year, consider joining the Brewmaster’s Collective for the 2023 season. We also offered tastes of club-exclusive beers to the general event public. Pours included Vintage selections like our first-ever club exclusive, Dark Ray, and Collective Choice, a stout with a selection of adjusts chosen by 2021 Brewmaster’s Collective members. There were also member-favorites like the rum-aged Wild Pirate and a collab with the Bruery, Apricot Krisp.

Festival-goers could also enjoy live music from the Shawn Clark Family Band and Lil Smokies, who played on the main stage just next to the Firestone Walker booth. Speaking of our booth, anyone who stopped by had a chance to grab tasters of Pivo, UDBA, Hopnosis, and a series of rotating vintage and Barrelworks selections. David Walker even came down to man the taps for a bit and pop open rare three-liter bottles of select Barrelworks sours. Bottle after bottle opened with a satisfying pop and the hordes descended, empty glasses at the ready.

And while it was a veritable who’s who of brewing, there was only one brewery that walked away with the title of fan-favorite. Garage Project took home the honor, winning the hearts and minds with their selection of impeccable sours. This is their second consecutive Invitational win, so the flight home shouldn’t be too difficult knowing they’ll have plenty to brag about once they touch back down in Wellington.

Thank you to everyone who came out this year to make this festival truly special. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing some of the best breweries come together and showcase their beers with passionate fans. We were more than happy to help fill your glasses, and we can’t wait for the next one.