The Firestone Walker Brewing Company was ahead of the curve, barrel-aging its beers since the company first started brewing in 1996.

Barrel-aging beer is not a new idea, and today nearly every craft beer brewery ages some of its ales in various types of barrels.

However, the Firestone Walker Brewing Company was ahead of the curve, barrel-aging its beers since the company first started brewing in 1996.

The use of wooden barrels was a good fit because the brewery, founded by brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker, got its start at the Firestone Vineyard estate in Santa Barbara County, Calif.

"We started experimenting and really started pushing the envelope with the styles we did," said Walker. "What we did from the get-go was to use wood. We rented a barrel room from the family winery and it just took off from there. Even then, it was a tough deal. People didn't really understand craft beers. There were a lot of contract brews out there distorting what craft beer really was."

Firestone Walker is now one of dozens of standout West Coast breweries, and Walker, who is from England, said it's great to see all of these breweries that turned him into a beer fan continuing to grow throughout the years.

"California turned me on to craft beer," he said. "There are a lot of great craft breweries on the West Coast doing great things. Those beers were so distinctive, so much more distinctive than British beers."

Firestone Walker is most known for its series of pale ales. Unfortunately, most people will not get those beers. Walker said they prefer to keep those beers local and serve them as fresh as possible. Nearly all -- 90 percent -- of the beer the company sells is sold within 100 miles of the brewery.

Currently, there are two beers available outside of the area -- Double Jack, an imperial IPA, and the Walker's Reserve Porter.

Both are excellent beers and worth seeking out.

The Double Jack is essentially a double recipe of its Union Jack IPA. It has big citrusy/grapefruit notes from the hops and drinks a lot easier than a 9.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) should.

"It doesn't feel like a 9.5 percent ABV beer," said Walker. "A double/imperial IPA is an incredible invention. It's just a beautiful, sublime thing, and I like to think ours keeps up with the best of them."

Porters seem to be a forgotten style for many breweries, so it's always good to find a world-class example of the style. Walker's Reserve fits the bill perfectly.

There are flavors of chocolate and caramel in the beer, mixed in with the vanilla oakiness from the barrels. Phenomenal.

Firestone Walker is seeking to expand and hopes to continue bringing its beers to its fans, both in California and beyond.

"America is the most exciting place in the world for beer," said Walker. "Everyone is looking to America because that's where all of the interesting things are being done. Ninety percent of the beer drank in the country is fairly uniform. That other 10 percent that belongs to craft beer is incredibly good."

Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, email or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at