Q & A With Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker Brewing
Firestone Walker Brewing, of Paso Robles, CA has become one of the most popular breweries in California. A lot of their success can be attributed to one of the brewing industries finest, brewmasters Matt Brynildson. As of the last two years, Firestone Walker’s stock has risen in the craft brew scene, due to their highly popular, highly limited anniversary offerings.
Firestone 10, commemorating their 10th anniversary, has been spotted on eBay for over $100 a bottle. 2007’s Firestone 11 is virtually impossible to acquire, and has been on the market a bit less than 2 months. TheFullPint was able to catch up with Matt Brynildson for a Q & A session, regarding Firestone’s skyrocket success into the craft brew scene, his past with Goose Island, the buzz surrounding the annual releases, and the future of the brewery.
TheFullPint: When you came to Firestone Walker, did you have any idea it would have taken off like it has?
Matt Brynildson: No idea it would blow up this huge. When I joined in 2001, they had brewed 9k barrels on winery property. It took 8 barrels a year to make Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale. Now we are up at 42 barrels in 2008. Never imaged it, it’s pretty crazy here in the Central Coast, it’s the number one selling draft brew. The locals have embraced it, and has a great reputation regionally.
TFP: How would you compare this run compared to your run with Goose Island?
MB: Similar in many ways. I feel real fortunate, my entire career has been with breweries with double digit growth, grown by the fans. Couldn’t think of a better brewery to start out at, with a great line up of recipes. An interesting fact, there are a lot of similarities between Honkers (Goose Island) and Double Barrel (Firestone Walker.)
TFP: The hottest item up for discussion online is revolving around Firestone 11. How long have you and Firestone Walker been working on this project and 10?
MB: A little over two years. We rolled into our 10th year in 2006, and we started talking about what to do for 10. Original discussions included English style, barley wine, etc. We thought, this is our one time to shine. We started putting beers in a tank to brew wacky beers. Tom Griffin from Wisconsin contacted us and supplied bourbon and wheat whiskey barrels. From the very beginning, we tried to stay away from oak aging, because they are into oak fermenting. I have spent so much time educating drinkers to the difference. Then we got the wine makers involved, studied solara (portugal style wine barrel wine making.) The rest is history. They are making 12 as we speak.
TFP: What do you think of the street price of a Firestone 10?
MB: You don’t want to take yourself too serious, I know what the value of beer is. Its pretty exciting to excite people. I don’t agree the beer should be worth that much. I think its more the state of craft brew business. It’s part of the craft brew revolution. People are now spending that much money on brew instead of wine.
TFP: What do you think of the way the distribution of Firestone 11 has been handled thus far, and people who are trying to cheat the honor system Firestone has set forth?
MB: I don’t know too much of the particulars. We limited it so more people could try it. I had a directive to limit the quantity. It’s fun, and I’ve never been to a Dark Lords Day at 3 Floyds, which has similar hype surrounding it. I would like to keep it out of the broad market, and keep it sold at the brewery, if I could. We can’t control whats gong on out there, if someone has dibs on it, there is nothing Firestone Walker can do about it. The majority of 1o went to the broad market. We didn’t know it was going to be so well received. This year, they held more for the tasting rooms.
TFP: Any chance of adding more annual strong ales to your line up. And any chance you will make a larger batch so everyone has a chance to try it, and not at double the suggested retail price?
MB: I think that for the blended beer series , I hope that we don’t release much more than we do. I think, if I have my way, we will release the single components, probably just on draft. The powers that be are weary of bottling it. I have a feeling we might have slightly more barrel blends as the program matures. Only the ultimate will be released. Probably sold at the brewery only.
TFP: Speaking of 11 again, what is the deal on those 11 ales put into the blend? Were they ever available on tap, or were these private batches?
MB: Some got leaked to the festival scene in 2007. That brew was made just for blending. People are looking for bottles, but there will probably be some tap offerings in the future.
TFP: What direction do you want Firestone Walker going in within the next few years? Has it gone the direction you desired it to be thus far?
MB: I speak entirely from the brew team side, and what we have done is build a great team. Bring talent in, refine them to the program, getting them comfortable with the oak barrels. The showing at GABF was a turning point. From a brewing team, we are doing great. National distribution is not being talked about, maybe the outlying states, Nevada perhaps. Many distributors nationally try to court us. We want to be the treasure of the central coast. Even from the sales sides of things. The changes of the labels will be to target the California market better. Marking is looking for more pizazz for people outside the central coast. At the same time, we don’t want to upset the central coast die hards. My job as brewmaster is to protect its central coast identity.
TFP: Firestone is in the final stages of perfecting their upcoming IPA offering, Union Jack. Could you share the story behind this brew?
MB: It’s funny because since the Goose Island years, it seems like every time I have been asked to make a beer, they want it done on the fly. I got to spend a year to perfect Union Jack. It’s with the mindset of English malt, obvious American double dry hops. Trying to maintain balance will making a strong IPA. Falls into the American IPA category. I am very close with Vinny from Russian River, and he inspired me with this. I went for trying to make a strong session ale.
TFP: Finally, what is your favorite non-Firestone Walker brew?
MB: The freshest beer on tap! Actually, as of late it has been Two Hearted by Bell’s. Also, I am a fan of Goose Island IPA, which I had a hand in creating.