Podcast Episode 171: Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson is Relentless in Pursuit of Quality

The force behind so many now-classic Firestone Walker beers has won just about all there is to win in the world of brewing, but Matt Brynildson isn’t resting. The brewmaster is constantly looking for new ways to build quality and character into every beer.

Jamie Bogner Feb 1, 2021 - 7 min read

Podcast Episode 171: Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson is Relentless in Pursuit of Quality Primary Image

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For many brewers, winning a medal at the Great American Beer Festival or World Beer Cup is a career-defining accomplishment. Winning two or three establishes a reputation. Win a dozen and it’s a legacy. Yet Matt Brynildson, the brewmaster and creative force behind so many now-classic Firestone Walker beers, counts more than 90 such medals over his brewing career, now stretching into its third decade.

For analogues in the sports world you’d have to consider names like Brady, Messi, or Jordan—but unlike them, Brynildson plays just about every position. The medals he’s won cross a breadth of styles, from helles to IPA to barrel-aged stout and mixed culture Brett beer. Under Brynildson’s brewing leadership, Firestone Walker has won GABF medals for the past 18 years straight, taking home four Mid-Size Brewery of the Year honors along the way.

Sports hyperboles aside, there’s a method to these winning ways, and it all comes back to quality and constant improvement. With a background in chemistry, Brynildson has matched a technician’s perfectionism to the soul of an artist, absorbing and deploying technical processes to make the best beer possible, while also exploring the creative edge of differentiation and expression that helps his beers stand apart from the crowd.

In this extended episode, he discusses:

  • The knowledge he recently gained spending a year brewing in Europe with Duvel-Moortgat
  • The importance of the 162°F (72°C) rest when mashing less-modified malts
  • Takeaways from the 2020 Hops Growers of America annual conference
  • How the Hops Quality Group has worked to close the loop between farmers and brewers
  • The necessity of foam
  • Evaluating new hops, from selecting away from negative traits to running parallel trials
  • Why Citra doesn’t figure heavily in the brewery’s approach to hops
  • Coaxing punchier results out of German varieties like Mandarina Bavaria and Huell Melon
  • Differences in practices between German and US hop farming
  • The key indicators of quality in hops
  • Creating the 805 blonde ale and building a brewery to handle it
  • Firestone Walker’s entrance into the hazy IPA world, with Mind Haze
  • Current R&D with fruited iterations of hazy IPA
  • Building quality into the DNA of the brewery, so that it lasts for generations

While Matt loves hops, he’s particularly fond of swimming against the tide, and finding creative ways of building compelling flavors without resorting to more common default approaches.

“We actually have a harder time integrating a high percentage of hops like Citra and Mosaic into our beers,” says Brynildson. “We’re probably one of those rare West coast IPA brewers [where] Citra isn’t a major deal. I sell more Citra to Duvel to make Duvel Triple Hop than I use in this brewery, if that tells you anything. Over time, we’ve found that rather than it being the main player—because everybody else’s beer kinda tastes and smells that way—it has found its way into more of a niche of enhancing, amplifying, not being the star.”

This episode is brought to you by:

G&D Chillers – As the brewing industry’s premier choice for glycol chilling, G&D Chillers has set the standard on quality, service, reliability and dedication to their customer’s craft. New this year, Redundancy meets Efficiency! G&D’s Micro-Channel Condensers are built with all aluminum construction which eliminates galvanic corrosion. Using half the refrigerant of conventional condensers with fewer brazed connections, translates to a lower GWP and less opportunity for leaks. Call G&D Chillers today to discuss your project or reach out directly at Gdchillers.com

This episode is brought to you by Rahr North Star Pils. A new base malt to set your compass by. Rahr North Star Pils is crafted for brewers looking for a domestic pilsner malt with low color and low modification. North Star Pils carries overtones of honey and sweet bread, supported by flavors and aromas of hay and nutty character. Suitable for any beer style, but particularly craft brewed versions of classic lagers. Let Rahr North Star Pils guide your craft by visiting bsgcraftbrewing.com, or contact us at 1.800.374.2739.

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].