Good Beer Hunting

Firestone Walker Discontinues Proprietor’s Reserve Series

Firestone Walker is phasing out and ultimately retiring its highly renowned Proprietor’s Reserve Series. The three beers that make up the line today—Double Jack, an Imperial IPA, Wookey Jack, an unfiltered Black Rye IPA, and Opal, a Dry-Hopped Saison—are all being sold as usual for now, though are expected to “dwindle from distribution” by the end of this year. “It’s a bittersweet occasion,” company co-founder David Walker said in a statement. “Each of these beers was forward-thinking and representative of some of our best brewing efforts, but they are now stepping aside to make room for the next generation.”

To get a full sense of why this move is so noteworthy, it’s instructive to trace the relatively short lineage of the series, and how it fits within the company’s broader portfolio.
It was only 2010 when the Firestone Walker decided to distribute the line (then comprised of mainstay Double Jack, as well as Parabola, a Russian Imperial Stout, and Walker’s Reserve, a Porter) beyond California to a wider audience. Steadily, though, the series grew to include Wookey Jack (added in 2012) and Opal (2014), while Parabola and Walker’s Reserve found themselves re-categorized elsewhere in the portfolio. As such, the final iteration of the Proprietor’s Reserve line was comprised of specialty hop-forward beers.
But the three beers share more than hop favoritism. The trio was originally released—each separated by two years—in 22 oz. bottles and very selectively on draft. Gradually, though, they were each treated to 12 oz. bottles. In that regard, the series occupied a middle ground between the company’s standard Lion & Bear core portfolio and its much more limited Vintage Reserve tier of barrel-aged offerings. In essence, they were specialty beers dressed up like core offerings.
Knowing that, it makes the most sense to view this move through the prism of invention. The language employed by company figureheads in light of the announcement declares as much. “This was a hard decision made for the sake of innovation,” company co-founder Adam Firestone said in the same statement. “These beers were born of that ideal, and now they are yielding to it.”
We know they're yielding to the ideal of innovation, but there are a couple ways to read that. Are they yielding to a reality in which hop-forward beers, even world-renowned ones, are ubiquitous enough to be considered expendable, in terms of carrying the flag of innovation? Or could it be yielding to its own internal pressure to stay ahead of the curve? The company doesn’t specify, but with the resources they have at their disposal, this next move could be an industry-changing one.

—Dave Eisenberg
A Farewell to Wookey? [Firestone Walker]