Matt Brynildson is a Minnesota native who had a background in chemistry and was on the verge of enrolling in med school. Instead he got a job at Kalamazoo Spice Extraction Company (Kalsec) in Michigan and was fortuitously placed in their hops lab. He became a voracious home brewer and was inspired by Bell’s Brewery, “a pioneering craft brewery in the Midwest. Larry Bell, the original owner and brewer, was eccentric, brewing big hoppy beers before anybody in the industry was thinking about it.” Kalsec sent Brynildson to the Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy in Chicago, the nation’s oldest brewing school. When he returned to Kalsec, he was “no longer interested in being a lab rat,” so he got a job in Chicago at Goose Island Beer Co. He rocketed through the ranks to become a head brewer by the mid ’90s. Now Brynildson is brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. He recently discussed his background and approach over the phone.
How did you become so interested in beer?
When you live in the Midwest you don’t have this big wine influence, beer is predominant. I attribute a couple things to my interest in beer. As part of my undergrad studies, I spent six months in Europe and got exposed to a completely different brewing culture. I came home and started home brewing…being in Kalamazoo where Larry Bell was doing this amazing brewing…and I was working in this hops lab…I have this one memory where I went to this college party. It was a typical schlag keg college party, this guy tapped me on the shoulder and took me aside and had a little stash of beers that he brought home from the brewery and handed me a Bells Porter. “Holy shit that tastes so much different than anything else I ever tasted.” I was done with mass produced industrial lager and wanted to move on to the next level..Like they say, either make it your profession or go broke.
Would you say that you have any brewing mentors?
It’s a long list of people that I learned from. One person in particular is Rudy Held who was born and raised in Germany. He was a brewmaster at Stroh’s and later took over hops division as Kalsec. He was a brewmaster and I was a home brewer; whenever I had a question I’d ask Rudy. Being he was German, there were no grey areas in brewing…One of the moments I remember, he found out I was going to be a brewer, his words to me were “attention to detail.” Make sure it’s perfect or don’t do it at all.
I had a bunch of influential instructors at Siebel. Jim Helmke. Walter Swistowicz started brewing during Prohibition. His first brewing job was in 1933. By the time we went through school in the ’90s, he’d been brewing for over 60 years. One of his jobs during the war was to re-commission breweries for the Allied forces. Lynn Kruger, the current President of Siebel, started brewing in South Africa. These are people who have amazing wealth of knowledge.
What was the first beer you ever brewed?
A brown ale, a pretty simple beer. Bravery Tail Ale. It was a recipe I went back to many times and tried to perfect. I was never overly creative when I started. I was more fixated on the process and trying to perfect the steps, trying to make the cleanest, most perfect beer I could.
What’s your first beer memory?