Q&A with Brynildson on Beer • Craft Beer Restaurant


Matt Brynildson is brewmaster for the highly respected Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, California. He is extremely personable, always curious, and certainly a master of his craft. His beers are frequent gold medal winners at the top competitions. Brynildson’s work has been recognized as Mid-Sized Brewery/Brewmaster of the Year an unmatched three times at the World Beer Cup (2004, 2006, and 2010). Firestone Walker also won brewery of the year honors at the Great American Beer Festival in 2003 and 2007. He spoke with Craft Beer Restaurant’s Charles Bockway about the interactions among beer, wine and restaurants.

Eureka Moment

What’s been a common but not necessarily expected reaction to your beers by wine drinkers?

MB: I see it a lot with India Pale Ale. We get a lot of wine tourists through the brewery tasting room. Typically it’s a husband and wife. They’ve been out tasting wine all day. I’ll usually start them out with Double Barrel Ale because its our flagship. They’ll go ‘“Ooh, this is bitter.” Then I’ll pour them some Union Jack IPA and they get this huge hoppy blossoming fruity thing in front of them and they’re like, “Oh wow. This is great.” And then they’ll taste it and go, “Oh yeah, that’s wonderful.” They’ve just said the DBA was too bitter and now the IPA tastes good. You can’t make any sense out of it, but for some reason the IPA style seems to speak to them, especially if they have some wine background.

Wine-Beer Connection

Do you sense connections between any of your beer styles and any particular wines?

MB: Our Pale Ale in particular reminds me a lot of some of these big, all stainless-steel fermented Sauv Blancs or Chardonnays. It’s real fruity. It’s light bodied, and it’s not necessarily dominated by sweet maltiness or hoppiness. It’s got an easy drinkability and a lot of fruit qualities to it. In my mind I can make the association with some of those really fruity fresh white wines.

Beer and Food

What have you learned from working with chefs?

MB: When I deal with chefs I get a completely different take on beer than I get from the average craft beer consumer. Chefs are always thinking about how this is going to pair with food. I think that’s more akin to wine in many ways.

It seems that the chefs often don’t really go towards the hoppy beer. They really seem to like the malt accented beers—even beers that have a level of sweetness. They seem to find a connection with these more than the really hoppy or really high-alcohol aggressive beers.

Selling Craft Beer in Restaurants and the Importance of Story

What are some keys to selling craft beer in restaurants?

MB: I’ve learned more from listening to winemakers and chefs, and I think that the brewing industry is taking note. Brewers should think in terms of appealing language. Winemakers are so good at describing their products in ways that are not only descriptive but also in words that consumers find attractive.

Brewers are more like scientists. They talk about IBUs, degrees lovibond, bitterness. They use all these words that don’t necessarily draw in the non-craft-beer consumer. You read a wine description and you go, “That’s incredible.”  Beer descriptions often don’t do that.

A lot of times wineries have this wonderful story. These make connections with consumers who want to know where their beer and wine comes from.

We could probably make Double Barrel Ale some other way, but the barrels are such a great story. People hopefully remember that Firestone is the brewery that ferments in barrels.

The truth is, beer is still a very affordable luxury. That’s why beer is so fun. Cause even the most expensive bottle of beer is still relatively inexpensive when compared to better wine.

We’d like to thank Matt Brynildson for sharing some of his thoughts with us. For more information on Brynildson and Firestone Walker Brewing Company, follow this link to an in-depth article in our sister publication Wine Country Beer.

Photo Credits: Brynildson photo provided by Firestone Walker Brewing Company and used with permission.


Q&A with Matt Brynildson