Last week, before things got a bit crazy around here, Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker dropped in on New Mexico. He was checking out the landscape, seeing just how his beer was faring in our fine state. I was lucky enough to catch up with him at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, and once we were done talking about all sorts of other things (he is a bit of a beer history buff, in addition to being a genuinely good and fun person), I did a quick formal interview.
So why did one of the most venerated breweries on the West Coast decide to start distributing in a state of 2 million people?
“To use one expression, the terroir is very similar to the central coast of California,” David said. “It’s rural, it’s beautiful, it’s sort of an artisanal vibe. People enjoy the same things. The tastes are similar.”
The folks from Premier Distributing and the Firestone Walker regional sales reps took David to multiple places throughout the state, giving him a good look at both the setup for beer stores and our local beer scene. He got to make stops at Marble Brewery and Rowley Farmhouse Ales.
“It’s a really vibrant sort of domestic state of brewing,” David said. “There are local breweries that are making great, well-constructed beers. There’s an enduring philosophy. I think you have educated consumers and we all do very well. You go to most stores and 20 to 30 percent is devoted to good breweries.”
Firestone Walker had also seen the success of many of its craft brethren in still being able to carve out a niche in the state in terms of sales.
“Don’t take this as a derogative, (but) it’s not a sort of a number one tier beer market,” David said. “It’s a state that’s not on everybody’s radar when they have a launch plan. Obviously, it wasn’t ours (in the past). Here we are 20 years later. A lot of our good friends are here, Odell, Bell’s. It just felt very comfortable for us.”
Now that Firestone Walker is finding its comfort zone, expect to see a lot more seasonal and specialty offerings.
“New Mexico is going to see everything that we do,” David said. “My hope is that there is enough desire in customers’ palates that we’ll be able to send everything. Our vintage beers, our wild ales, to our experimental IPAs. I feel really good about this state. It’s a few states away from California but it feels close.”
He even said some of the upcoming variants of Parabola will be coming here, which is just what all of us in the Crew were hoping to see happen.
As I told David, when I first moved to Southern California in 2004, the first local beer I tried was Double Barrel Ale. Firestone Walker has been a big part of my craft beer experience over the years, so having their beers here is a mix of nostalgia and hope for the future. Anytime a quality out-of-state brewery arrives, I also feel that it helps push our local breweries to be even better and more creative. David said that was something he hoped for as well. The more good beer, the merrier, right?
A big thanks to everyone at Nob Hill Bar & Grill for setting up the meet and greet, and for David in being a good sport with all of our questions and the many, many photo requests.
Look for the Crew’s outsized Great American Beer Festival preview Tuesday.