Matt Brynildson – Your Jasper Beer & Barley Summit Ambassador
There is an old story about Charlie Chaplin entering a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest at a state fair and finishing 20th. Matt Brynildson, head brewer for Firestone Walker Brewing Company and one of the many amazing ambassadors who will be sharing their story at the Jasper Beer & Barley Summit, can relate to what Charlie Chaplin experienced that day. “I was at this beer festival where someone had gone to the trouble of having a professional dress them up to look exactly like me. This guy was walking around the festival pretending to be me. People were getting pictures with him thinking he was me. It was pretty surreal.” Turns out that some people from the brewery may have put the whole thing together. Matt gets a pretty good laugh from the memory. “Yeah, it wasn’t until they showed a video of this guy dressed up like me, and my reactions to him, at the Christmas party that I put it all together.”
Like many brewers, Matt got his start by home brewing, but his journey forward from that point might be a little different than the norm. “I was reading a lot of craft beer magazines, then worked in a brewing chemist in a lab for 3 years before ending up at Goose Island in ‘96 during the infancy of the craft beer movement in North America. “I went from entry level brewer to head brewer in 6 months. Things were growing so fast that John Hall, the owner’s son, needed to just focus on growing the brewery.” Goose Island continued to grow at a rapid rate, and with Matt now recognized as one of North America’s most successful brewers, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always a smooth ride. “There were a couple of stops on my way to Firestone Walker, and one of the hardest things I had to do was lay people off at the brewery I was at that eventually got bought by the one I work at now.”
There have been other challenges as well, and he has solid advice for anyone looking to get into the industry. “I’d first recommend that they get a mentor, and not just at the beginning either. The bigger things get, the bigger the challenges get as well. When the brewery went to running 24/7, I had to release some control because I couldn’t be there all the time. I learned to hire people that were smarter than I was, and that had different skill sets than my own. Not letting go is why some breweries never grow beyond a certain size. It’s like how my dad, who runs a restaurant, shuts it down when he goes on vacation.”
Speaking of his father and mentors, Matt knows he owes a lot of who he is to his father. “He’s a man of few words, but he really impressed certain values on me. He is a hardworking and honest guy – and I try to operate that way as well.” And you can see these values in action when he talks about what he is most proud of. “There have been so many highlights in the journey so far. We’ve done well in competitions – and that is validation for sure – but getting a team of over 100 people to work together at this level – not just me doing it – but everyone on the same page is pretty cool.”
Despite the growth of Firestone Walker, they have maintained their connection with the local area. “That’s something that we’ve been really proud of. When I started, we were only selling in 3 counties in California. Centre of the state. Had this fierce local following. Built the company on local beer – it’s what we drink around here (original slogan) – we grew – then watched the local following erode slightly as smaller breweries opened. When we brewed the 805 area code beer everything changed. We launched it in a defensive move because Anheuser Busch had bought Goose Island and done an area code beer, and rumour was they were going to move that way by brewing different area code beers around the country – so we did one just to counter them – that beer is 65 to 70% of our total production and sold locally – you see stickers in rancher’s windows, on surfboards, everywhere. 805 is now rivalling Sierra Nevada in Cali. Just started in 2012. Get it right and connect with your local community – that’s the business. Tried 805 further away and doesn’t do as well. One of the lighter beers in our portfolio. People who are very interested in local made products who don’t like breweries owned by big companies are attracted to us and what we do – and the 805 beer allowed people to participate at the craft level without having to drink IPAs.”
You may have read a lot about Matt and his accomplishments, but there is a lot more to the man. “I’m not a great drummer, but I definitely love it.” And then there are the really unique things about him. “Growing up, my father was a clown. He actually picked me up from school dressed as a clown one time – so I’m the son of a clown, though he was more of a church clown than an evil clown,” Brynildson laughs. “My wife is scared of clowns, so I guess that was an important distinction.”
The journey has definitely been different than what he anticipated. “Yeah – I really felt it was going to be about being in the brewery, focused on the process of making beer – turns out that the amount of travel and exposure to other folks/cultures/countries is what I do a lot of the time – our industry is universal and something that every country has – beer is embedded deep into the human culture everywhere you go – I can fly into just about any country or city and have a great friend in the brewer – it’s a great network.” And Matt would know, considering all the travelling he has done. “Feel so blessed to have travelled the earth in this job – just went to South Africa – and communed with the brewers there. In South America – I met some of the most enthusiastic craft brewers ever – super focused on North American breweries and what we are up to, while at the same time experimenting with fruits and nuts that grow down there.”
We asked Matt if he had a brewing super power, and he gave a laughing groan. “For the longest time, people called me Batman. In our brewery, we had passive solar – basically skylights. I was afraid things might get ruined if they were sun struck, so I made all the brewers do their dry-hopping at night. Thus the nickname.”
We look forward to having ‘Batman’ join us at the Jasper Beer & Barley Summit in February. If you get the urge to dress up like him, you should probably go for it – but just don’t bring any clowns with you.
The Jasper Beer & Barley Summit, hosted at the world renowned Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, is comprised of three major components: Seminars, Beer Festival and Retreat. During the day attend daily Seminars featuring industry leaders sharing their entertaining stories and then during the 2 night Beer Festival, sample amazing craft beers and spirits, as well as culinary sensations prepared by JPL’s incredible chefs! Retreat accommodation is at the world-famous Jasper Park Lodge with amazing service and scenery! Think League of Super Heroes, but more chill, brewer/distiller super powers, and way, way, way more beards.
Whether you are a current or future brewer/distiller, someone who is really into the beer/spirit scene, or just someone who loves adventures and new experiences, the Alberta Beer Festivals team has put together something for everyone at the Summit. Whether you are listening to successful brewers and distillers from across North America tell their stories, or hearing from former NHLer Charlie Simmer a member of the LA Kings Triple Crown line, you’ll be glad you decided to join us.
The Jasper Beer & Barley Summit will be like no other gathering on earth. Join the League of Beer, Spirit, & Agriculture Super Heroes in one of the most spectacular and secluded places in the world, February 4th and 5th, 2018.
Questions about the summit? Want to book an industry or Beer Geek VIP Weekend?