The Propagator represents the brewery’s third regionalized coastal California operation, following the main brewery in Paso Robles and the Barrelworks wild ales facility in Buellton. The Venice campus buildings include a restaurant, lounge and new barrel cellar that will condition and serve experimental rustic ales for local patrons. It also includes a retail space with merchandise, brewing gear, cold-stored packaged beer, and a growler fill station. There is also space for future beer education seminars.
“The Venice Propagator is another step in our brewery evolution that is now 20 years strong,” said David Walker. “Our hope is to create an idea laboratory for brewing while becoming part of the neighborhood and closer to the local brewing community.”
The Propagator restaurant presents a gastropub feel with a menu geared for beer. The adjoining bar offers Firestone Walker favorites, including taps dedicated to Barrelworks wild ales, guest taps and beer engines for select cask favorites (as well as future taps dedicated to Venice-made rustic ales). Favorite wines from the brewery’s Central Coast neighbors are also available on tap.
Brewhouse Dream Delayed
Firestone Walker’s planned pilot brewhouse for the Propagator has been delayed. More than $1 million was invested in acquiring a state-of-the-art small scale Kaspar Schulz brewhouse from Germany for this sole purpose. However, the brewery is still working on the necessary brewing permits from the multiple City of Los Angeles departments overseeing development.
“We hit many walls in the permitting process,” Adam Firestone said. “Some proved impenetrable so we made the decision to open before the brewhouse was fully operational.”
“It’s disappointing that this beautiful, perfectly formed, miniature brewhouse will not be operational for our opening, but we will continue to press the numerous city departments needed to make it happen," Walker said. “It’s all good, we have spent 20 years adapting to adversity with usually great outcomes.”
The Propagator Lives
The Venice Propagator is intended to lead the charge for Firestone Walker’s experimental and R&D beer programs. The first program specifically developed for the site is the maturation and blending of what Brewmaster Matt Brynildson calls “rustic” ales, splitting the difference between the barrel-aged strong ales made at the Paso Robles brewery and the wild, or sour, ales made at the Barrelworks facility in Buellton.
“The whole point of the Propagator is not to duplicate things going on in Paso Robles or Buellton, but rather to meet a specific creative need,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “This rustic ale program is one such idea.”
Brynildson noted that rustic ales—a loose category of unfiltered, largely barrel-conditioned, often farmhouse-style beers—have not had a fitting home at Firestone Walker until now, as they are too unstable to make at the clean production brewery but also too susceptible to souring influences at Barrelworks.
“We have dabbled in these types of beers with our original Lil' Opal and our Unfiltered DBA, and now we have a place where we can sink our teeth into them,” Brynildson said. “These will be beers that translate well on draft but don’t make a lot of sense in a bottle—unfiltered, small batch, barrel-conditioned beers that are not sour but remain charmingly unrefined.”
The rustic ale program began with the recent arrival of used Firestone Union oak barrels, and will continue to grow into the space with new beers and ideas as they develop. Brynildson ultimately hopes to collaborate with other local brewers by bringing in their wort, then conditioning and finishing the beers at Firestone Walker Venice.
The Firestone Walker Venice experience kicks off in early April with the opening of the restaurant, lounge and retail space, and the build-out of the rustic ales cellar.
The menu will offer a mix of small dishes, sharables, tacos, pizzas and large plates. Initial menu items include Smoked Brisket (16-hour brisket, grilled asparagus, smashed potatoes); Tempeh Banh Mi (marinated tempeh, pickled veggies, spicy soy may, crispy shallots); and Pork Belly Tacos (handmade corn tortillas, beer-braised pork belly, pineapple pico, chicharrones).
“The vision is to provide casual food that is perfect for pairing with our beers,” Walker said.
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Photo Credit: Nick Gingold