Back in 1996, telling folks that you were opening a craft brewery provided a lot of blank stares. “You’re gonna do what?” they’d ask. “We’re gonna make beer!” we’d declare. And so, the journey of Firestone Walker began.

We set out to build a small brewhouse on the back acreage of a vineyard, dubbed Area 51. Our first beer, a British Pale Ale called DBA that was fermented in oak barrels, was born and we set out to change the world of beer. After a few years, we realized that Area 51 and a small brewhouse, wasn’t the most ideal place for a full-fledged brewery, so we began searching for an existing facility we could move into. In 2001, we purchased a brewhouse in Paso Robles which was formerly the home of SLO Brewing (which now operates in the city of San Luis Obispo) and this set the future for Firestone Walker.

“The original brewery was a 12,000 square foot metal building housing a JV Northwest 50-barrel system, cellar, IDD manual keg filler, and an old Crown soda pop filling line,” said co-founder Adam Firestone. While this brewery was a vast improvement from our Area 51 days, soon it wasn’t enough. We needed upgrades, we needed expansions, we needed capital.

2009

“For the first 15 years, everything we purchased was secondhand, mostly via auction. Limited finances meant a tight shopping budget. As we grew, there was no secondhand market, so we started ordering new tanks. That also meant adding new vessels to the original brewhouse so it could turn faster,” Firestone said. “Squeezing over 200,000 barrels out of the original brewhouse was possible via 12-14 turns per day and brewing 6.5 days/week. Maximizing our capacity became a core business principle and helped delay huge capital outlay.”

“When you run out of space, go vertical.” – Adam Firestone

While our secondhand equipment served us well and was what we could afford at the time, it did prove to have its challenges as well. For the most part we were lucky, however there were some failures. For example, two matching used palletizers came at a total bargain. Unfortunately, we ended up spending more re-working the mechanics and electronics than we might have spent starting new. “Hindsight is always 20-20,” Firestone said.

From 2001 to 2012, we utilized every inch of space in the brewery and worked as efficiently as possible, but we knew it was time for a proper expansion. In 2012, we upgraded our 50-barrel system and combined it with a new brewhouse, giving us much-needed breathing space (or so we thought) brewing on what was now a 65-barrel system. That year, we introduced a little beer to our community called 805 and we quickly realized we had run out of capacity…. again.

2012

“Since capital was always tight, we needed to keep brewing to ensure we had the cash flow to fund new equipment. We never managed to build much excess capacity, so each addition was sorely needed. This meant better capital utilization but made production planning far harder; there was no buffer,” Firestone said.

In just a few short years, we needed another expansion, and ultimately added a 300-barrel Huppman brewhouse in 2016, which will give our brewers some breathing room for the next several years to come. The original brewhouse is still operational for small-batch beers but completely surrounded by new additions. Luckily, we had space on all four sides to allow the expansion.

2017

So, what’s one of the many things we’ve learned over the years after multiple expansions and securing capital? “When you run out of space, go vertical,” Firestone said. “You will be surprised how much more space exists in your facility if you look up.”

Want to see for yourself? Book a brewhouse tour in Paso Robles and discover the building of a brewery while sipping on our award-winning beers. Additionally, check out our “cathedral of barrels” in Buellton where all the wild beers live at Barrelworks, or geek out on research & development beers at our Propagator pilot brewery in Venice.