Episode 156 Transcript

Steve:                          Welcome to BeerDownload.

Matt B:                        So I actually lived here in Chicago for five years. I moved here in late ’95 or early ’96, about 6 months after the Fulton Street Goose Island Brewery had been commissioned. Bronwyn Tulloch was the original brewmaster. Jim Cibak of Revolution fame and Three Floyds, and he also was brewer at Firestone for a while, had been working there for a while before I got there.

My story has deep roots here in Chicago.  I brewed with all the famous or infamous Goose brewers that have come through the halls, no pun intended, of Goose Island. I left in 2000 to go to California, but in those five years, that very first year actually, we brewed 25,000 barrels of beer and were recognized by the Brewers Association as the fastest startup, highest volume brewery in history.  I cut my teeth in a matter of very short amount of time working at Goose, just trial by fire.

Goose went from being a brew pub to being a production brewery overnight, and there was an insatiable demand for the beer back in the mid-’90s. So, Chicago is near and dear to my heart. I helped Bill Jacobs and Jonathan Cutler start Piece Brewing, so I still have a really good reason to come back to Chicago on a regular basis.  Now with the help of these two guys, Rob Salitore, who is our manager here in Chicago for the Goose Island brand.  We now are selling Firestone beers here. Did I say Goose Island?

Speaker 3:                   You said Goose Island, but we’re selling Firestone.

Matt B:                        We’re selling Firestone.

Steve:                          Hello, and welcome to BeerDownload. I’m Steve Mastny.

Matt A:                        I’m Matt Arata, and you are?

Matt B:                        Matt Brynildson.

Matt A:                        And you are?

John:                            I’m John Bryan.

Matt A:                        And you are?

Rob:                             Rob Salitore.

Steve:                          BeerDownload is the only podcast that pits beers head-to-head in a tournament style competition to find out which beer reigns supreme.  This week we are going to be drinking Schlafly’s Rye Bock found out of St. Louis, Missouri, versus Lakefront from Milwaukee Fixed Gear.  I just had Jim and Russ Klisch on the show not too long ago, and we’re looking forward to drinking their beer.  But we’re looking forward even more to talking some Firestone Walker.  Thanks very much for joining us here Matt, and John, and Rob.  Firestone – I’ve kind of had a love affair with it personally since David Walker came on our show about two years ago and introduced me to Firestone 14.  I was just utterly blown away.

Matt A:                        Looking for some on that show that we had that, that day?

Steve:                          That was the very first time we ever tried it, and I actually listened to that show the other day again, and in the postscript we were just kind of rambling about how wonderful it tasted and everything.  You guys do some great things out there.  You focused on how you came up through Chicago and Goose Island.  You were also a former hop chemist which I think is pretty interesting.  What is hop chemistry?  What did you briefly do?

Matt A:                        Yeah, what is a hop chemist?

Matt B:                        It’s really interesting that there are very few hop chemists really in the world.  Most of them either work for the major breweries, or they work for hop extraction or hop broker companies.  It just so happens that in Kalamazoo, Michigan, there’s a company called Kalsec, Kalamazoo Spice Extraction Company.  They started with Chicago connections, oddly enough.  They started extracting spearmint and mint for Wrigley Gum, and that’s how they got on the map.

Then they broke off and did a whole bunch of different spice extracts, rosemary, turmeric, all these different things, and it just so happened that they were also extracting hops.  One of their major customers early, early on was Miller Brewing Company and later became an international company.  I studied organic chemistry at Kalamazoo College, and did an internship at Kalamazoo Spice Extraction.  I was doing some home-brewing at the time, but I got fortuitously got placed in their hops division, and then chose to work for them for about three and a half years after college.

They’re the ones who sent me to Siebal so that I could learn brewing better and interface better with our customers.  It was during that Siebal class, it was just a short class – 2-week class – Greg Hall came into the class and offered … well, basically put a job offer out there, said “Hey, we’re looking for brewers so if anybody in this class is interested, come see me.”  I promptly resigned from the hop extraction company and went on to work for Goose Island.

Steve:                          They footed the bill to kick you out the door.

Matt B:                        Yeah, and I still have a really good relationship with those guys.  God bless them because they should be probably kind of pissed at me, but they’ve been very supportive of my entire brewing career.  I have a lot of thanks to give to Kalsec.

Steve:                          Excellent.  I understand you worked with the former Strohn’s brewmaster over there?

Matt B:                        Yeah, Rudy Held was one of the brewmasters in the great Stroh days and the Detroit days, but he’s a [inaudible 00:05:02] trained German-born brewer.  It wasn’t so much that I interned under him or actually ever brewed with him, but I was doing so much home-brewing and kind of pilot-brewing for Kalsec in those days.  He would mercilessly critique my home brews, and turned me on to a lot of professional brewing literature.  Taught me a lot of just kind of the basics of brewing which what it all comes down to is attention to detail.

Speaker:                      Yeah, that and cleanliness it seems like – close to godliness.

Matt B:                        I think when I left and told him I was going to be a brewer, he had a look of great concern because he didn’t feel like he had bestowed enough knowledge on me.  But I always was able to call him and ask him questions.  Probably if you talked to him, he wouldn’t remember really telling me that much, but everything he said I soaked up like a sponge.

Steve:                          I think a decade plus on here that your track record kind of speaks for itself.  I hear that there’s kind of a funny story.  Your transition … you went out to California.  Worked for SLO, Sant Luis Obispo Brewing which then promptly … something happened with the bubble or bankruptcy something, and you were kind of hanging around at the brewery and met a couple of guys.  Is that accurate or not?

Matt B:                        Well, I don’t know exactly the story you heard, but …

Speaker:                      Think he just made it up.

Steve:                          I heard it somewhere.

Matt B:                        It wasn’t very funny at the time, and I guess looking back it is kind of odd.  Basically what happened there was that Scholl Brewing had some financial hard times, and there was a transitional period between Scholl Brew shutting down and Firestone actually purchasing the company and firing the brewery back up.  There was a time when there were a lot of …

Speaker:                      Was there still beer in the tanks at that time?

Matt B:                        Yeah, that’s just it.  Basically, I just showed up at work one day and my boss told me, “Hey, we’ve got to shut it down and let everybody go.”  It was a really sad day, but this was a working brewery and they put it up for sale.  Basically the bank was looking for someone to take it away from.  Then I basically felt – and so did many other people – that a working brewery is worth much more than the scrap value or the land.

Speaker:                      A bunch of empty tanks.

Matt B:                        So if we kept the brewery running … and I think the bank kind of agreed with me on this too, but anyway … if we kept the brewery running, it was going to be much easier to move that brewery than it would be as a scrap.  So I would sneak in and brew, and I basically – with the help of Jim Crooks, our quality manager, continued to keep the brewery operational for that transitional period of time.  We would-, we literally-, I couldn’t do bottling because we didn’t have enough people to run the bottle line.  But we could move beer all the way to the racking line and fill trucks in the dead of night and ship them off to L.A. to customers who were willing to pay for it.

Steve:                          So funny is maybe not the right adjective – certainly at the time – but this was not without hardship, your journey from …

Speaker:                      We’re scrapping though – we were scrapping to make it happen.

Matt B:                        You know, the other very fortuitous timing was that during that down time … basically when I ran out of grain and couldn’t make any more beer at Scholl Brew was exactly the time that Piece was being built out.  So I basically packed up my car, threw the dog in the car, and drove to Chicago and installed all the equipment for Piece during that time as well.  Then got the call from Adam and David, “Hey, we’re going to fire this thing up, and we’re going to do it.  Will you come back and brew for us?”  I turned around and went back out to California.

Speaker:                      A couple of cross-country trips?

Matt B:                        Yeah, it was cool – it was really cool.

Steve:                          Excellent … well-

Matt A:                        Let’s talk about the beers that we have on the table right now, the Firestone Walker beers.  This just came into the market?

Speaker:                      Yeah … you want to take that one for us?

Matt B:                        Maybe you guys can talk about that a little bit.

Speaker:                      Yeah, sure – we’re coming up on two years in the Chicago market.  Initially we started up with what we called a Proprietor’s Reserve Series which is our stronger beers, our barrel-aged beers, 22-ounce format.  Then perhaps a year ago we brought in a 6-pack beer – Union Jack, our stable IPA.  Starting this week, we’re selling our full book.  Our pale series we have Pale 31, our California Pale Ale which we have here on the table.  Double-barrel ale or DBA , our English-style pale, then we have our seasonal book – Velvet Merlin, oatmeal stout, and then Solace, our summer beer will come in as well.  Anyway – we’ll have … all Firestone products are available on the market.

Steve:                          I’ve been looking forward to it for a while, both because just kind of a love affair with the brand since that encounter with 14, but also you’ve kind of been here stealth for a long time because there’s this beer called Mission Street Pale Ale which you can pick up at Trader Joe’s, which is essentially a very good price point – $6.99 for a 6-pack of completely excellent pale ale.  I was looking at the old GABF and World Beer Cup competitions, and they keep leapfrogging each other.  One of them takes gold and the other one takes silver.  One takes gold and the other one takes bronze.  Obviously you guys know how to brew pale ales very well, and it’s exciting to have them come into our market.

I wanted to ask on your strategy … I don’t know how much you guys wanted to get into this or not, but when we had talked to David a couple years ago he had said, “You know, we don’t necessarily … it’s kind of a regional thing, and we have so much demand for these big beers and we want to get those out there.  Also, we don’t want to put beers on shelves that we don’t think will move, so you kind of developed the brand now.  You brought in the single … jack … the regular jack?

Speaker:                      Union Jack [cross talk 00:10:33].

Steve:                          The Union Jack, so now you’re coming in with a whole line.  But I understand based on recent news that you guys are going to be going into Texas in a couple markets, like whole hog all at once.  Is there a reason for the different strategy or what drives that kind of decision?

Speaker:                      You know, we brought in the Proprietor’s Reserve initially because they’re high interest beers.  Of course California’s not a local market.  We think initially that our beers … you know, it’s first session beer.  There’s local breweries here in Chicago that can fill that niche so where does – Pale 31 – where does that fit in  to the market here.  We’re a California brand.  We didn’t think we would get that kind of pull-through on the shelf at the retail level so we came in with our-, frankly our more interesting beers, our stronger barrel-

Speaker:                      More tailored to the beer-drinking crowd, less [inaudible 00:11:37].

Speaker:                      So we come in.  We get some awareness going with high interest beers.  Then once we have some awareness established in the market then bring in our more sessionalbe things.  It’s a neat strategy – I like it.

Steve:                          Kind of develop a beachhead with the big beers then follow on through.

Speaker:                      Right – there’s not a lot of marketing costs involved.  We don’t have five sales people on the street here, so we just sort of ease into our growth rather than trying to get the beer everywhere with all brands all at once.

Matt B:                        I was going to add there’s a quality control element to this as well that we were coming to market like this and didn’t know how things were going to go.  These are fragile beers – craft beers in general are fragile, and-

Steve:                          The session ones in particular.

Matt B:                        Yeah, and we’re kind of neurotic about the quality-control side of things.  We know that if these beers are warm-stirred on the shelf, or six-months, year – something like that – and they just are left to die, somebody’s going to buy those beers and they’re not going to have the experience that we want them to.  So as John was saying, we can come in to the market with these more robust, more interesting … when we say interesting, I mean they kind of draw the beer geeks out and it’s a good way to test the waters before we then kind of bring in our … I would say these beers are our children.  We want to make sure that we set them up for a good life, you know?

Steve:                          Not just wallowing away in holding somewhere.

Matt B:                        And honestly Chicago – maybe it was partly my connections to Chicago, but certainly Adam and David’s original plan was to be a regional California brewery.  The reason why states like Colorado and now Texas are getting the full book right out of the gates is that’s connected to the western states region that we’re slowly building.  If things go well, we’ll continue to open a state, maybe two states a year.  If we come up against some resistance, to be honest with you, we still sell 70+ maybe 80% of our beer in California.  Those outside markets aren’t necessarily part of the lion’s share of our brewing, but we want to continue to grow the brand carefully.

Steve:                          That makes total sense to me.  Talking about the beers on the table a little more.  We’ve got the DBA which is double barrel ale.  Part of what makes that special is the whole Firestone Union which is based on the bourbon union which I understand that you guys did a California Pale Ale on a couple of years back?  That’s what David told us anyway.  I’m curious – what are the … if you could briefly describe what a Marsden Union, Bourbon Union system would look like.  What does yours look like?  What was the inspiration, how did it start, where is it now, where’s it going?

Matt B:                        Yeah, I mean it can be a long story, but I’ll try to make it relatively brief.  When Adam and David started the brewery, they’re wine makers and so using barrels is very natural to wine makers.  Their notion of barrel-fermented ales came from their experience in making Chardonnay in oak barrels.  Their cocktail napkin business plan as I always say just was like hey – we’re going to do barrel-fermented ales.  We’re going to use huge Chardonnay barrels which are essentially free to us, so we basically have this pretty solid plan.  Then when they tried to make those beers they realized that the microbiology wasn’t exactly agreeing with them.

Steve:                          Sounds like a recipe for [inaudible 00:14:58] at the very least.

Matt B:                        Yeah, although I never tasted those beers I always say that they probably tasted like mediocre salad dressing or malt vinegar at best.  They kind of had to scrap that plan, but they still really liked this concept of barrel-fermented ales.  They hired Jeffers Richardson, their first brewmaster, and his first task was to figure out how to get this done.  His research led him to what was the state of the art in fermentation and technology in Burton-Upon-Trent, 3-hours north of London – the epi-center of ale brewing back in those days.

Sure enough, breweries like Bass Ale and Marsden and the list goes on and on.  There were a lot of great brewers in Burton-On-Trent because the water source was so good.  Used the Burton Union system – they used oak barrels for primary fermentation.  If you follow that history even further back, it was started by the Monks in that region.  The Monks realized that when they did, they almost used the barrel like a union tank fermenter.  They were actually able to do primary fermentation and secondary maturation, and it afforded them a nice, clear beer that was marketable.

Then when brewing became commercial, these things turned into what is known as the Burton Union which is up to 50, maybe even 100 barrels in a single room that are filled with fermenting [wort 00:16:16], and then the fermentation is allowed to proceed in those barrels and then after seven days when the yeast has been separated, that beer is moved on to a secondary tank for further clarification, maybe racked into casks.  That was a very rudimentary fermentation method that became-, those beers became widely popular.  Those were the beers that were exported to India.

Steve:                          Now are these barrels all tied together with the yeast and everything?  That’s the one thing that’s always confused me a lot.

Matt B:                        Yeah, if you were to look at a picture of the Burton Union, these barrels have a squaw neck that comes out of the top so any brown [heffen 00:16:49] or yeast or fermentation in foam would be ejected from the barrel.  In those days brewers were taxed on raw materials so it forced brewers to be very, very frugal and not want to waste any beer.  So they would collect that material and separate the beer by just simply pitching the trough one direction.  The beer would run-, the beer that came out of the barrel would run down the trough and then would be directed in tubes back into the barrels.

Meanwhile, the yeast would stay in that trough, and they would actually harvest that yeast for subsequent fermentations.  When I did my guest brew at Marsden, the California Pale Ale you were talking about, I asked them … you know, all these barrels are so old they are essentially neutral.  They don’t impart any oak flavor on the beer whatsoever.  That’s the twist of our concept.  A Firestone Union means brand-new medium-toast American Oak and we impart a fairly substantial amount of oak flavor on the beer.  That’s our main reason – it’s the same reason that wine makers use barrels.

Theirs is a different reason.  They don’t want any oak flavor.  In fact they think that’s a off- flavor and they use it primarily because it affords them such good pitching yeast.  They continue to ferment in the union at Marsden which is the only Burton Union left in the world so that they have a harvestable yeast.  They get the advantage of this interesting geometry that a barrel lends.  I would say yeasts are a lot like goldfish in that depending on the environment that you grow them in so to speak, you’ll get different flavor profiles – you get different yeast activities.

Steve:                          Right – so an open square fermenter is where a lot of these different cultures started, and you can’t get those in tall, conical stainless fermenters.  You have to keep re-growing a pure culture, whereas if you’re doing it in the old traditional way, you can just get the yeast because that’s where the yeast came from in the first place.

Matt B:                        Yeah, they would pop crop out of an open, or in the case of a Burton Union system, the yeast would be ejected out of the barrel into this trough, and it made it very easy for harvesting.  And obviously in a cylinder/conical tank you’re harvesting yeast out from underneath beers.  You’re waiting for it to [inaudible 00:18:45] to the bottom.  Which in those days, wasn’t even a possible solution.  They didn’t have cylindrical/conical technology at that point.

Steve:                          I noticed that you have a iPhone on the table that appears to have a case that has a bottle opener built in to it … is that right?

Matt B:                        Mm, hm.

Steve:                          Well, that’s very fortuitous because my bottle opener is actually across the room right now so I’m going to ask you to-

Matt A:                        Lots of bottle openers here.

Steve:                          There are tons of bottle openers, and none are in my pocket at the moment.  We’ve got the Lakefront Fixed Gear that we’re going to be cracking open, and the Schlafly Rye Bock, and I will pass around some glasses to pour.  We will kind of get these things going.  The Schlafly Rye Bock is in a large 750 ml, relatively thick-walled, kind of champagne-style bottle.  It’s actually … Schlafly Lager for Whole Foods Market.  I think it’s exclusively available in the St. Louis Market.  Good BeerDownload friend and super fan, Peter Hail, procured this for us.  It is about 7% alcohol by volume.

The Lakefront Fixed Gear more standard, 12 ounce, regular brown bottles, and it’s kind of a hopped up but very balanced, I think, red ale – 6 ½%.  We’re going to get these into the glasses.  You had mentioned, Matt, you had mentioned a gentleman named Jeffers who was the original barrelmeister over there who was making potentially vinegar-esque beers initially-

Matt B:                        Well, he’s the one that brought it around actually.

Steve:                          You know, it’s sounds like it’s come full circle because now he’s your head of operations at this place that sounds like a magical fairyland that I really want to go which is your … basically it’s like a cathedral of barrels and sours.  I’ll just let you guys talk about it because my head feels like it’s going to explode because I want to go there so much.

Matt B:                        Yeah, and I can pick up where we left off on the story.  This Burton Union system is what then Firestone ended up modeling their fermentation program after.  As I mentioned, the twist was that we use new, medium-toast American oak to impart an oak flavor on the beer.  We don’t collect the yeast off the union, and we rotate new barrels in quite frequently every week to make sure that we keep the oak component up.  Essentially, we’re using the union to add this fifth element, this oak flavor, to our finished product.

That was kind of a long and tough experimental stage for Firestone to get off the ground because they were so dedicated to this barrel fermentation.  For the first 10 years of our existence we talked, “Hey, everybody – we ferment in barrels.  We don’t age in barrels.  We don’t make sour beer, secondary fermentation like the [inaudible 00:21:34] do.”  We are the only brewery in the United States and one of only two in the world that are fermenting in barrels and it was very hard to get that point across to people because they were like, “Oh, you know Russian River makes beer in barrels”- [cross talk 00:21:45].

That’s not what we’re doing.  We’re not aging beer in barrels.  We’re fermenting beer in barrels.  We spent so much time trying to separate ourselves from other barrel-using breweries, it wasn’t until our tenth anniversary for our 10 Beer that we actually did our first barrel aging.  Now, 17 years after the brewery was started, we’ve opened up Barrel Works, and then we’ve opened up our third barrel project.  We ferment in barrels for our main products; we age for the Proprietor’s Reserve products in spirit barrels predominantly, and now we’ve taken on – like you said – full circle.

We’re bringing wine barrels in to a separate facility.  We’re brewing beers for those barrels, and then inoculating them, or in some cases, just allowing the natural micro-flora in those wine barrels to do a secondary fermentation.  Essentially create wild beers, sour beers, whatever you want to call them.

Steve:                          This is down, I think, about 105 miles, something like that, south of Pasa Robles in Buellton, California which from the map at least looks pretty small.  It’s not too far from Santa Barbara.  Is that location because that’s where the initial Firestone Winery and location is, or …

Matt B:                        It’s actually very close to the original Firestone Brewery which was on the Firestone Winery property.  Zaca Mesa Road in Santa Ynez Valley, and Buellton is just down the road a little ways.  They built an approximately 15,000 square foot – plus or minus a few thousand square foot – building that was supposed to be the Firestone Brewery when they outgrew the original facility.  They moth-balled that project because the slow-brewing company came available.  They’ve had this space available to them.  We’ve converted it into bonded wine storage, and there’s been wine stored there for years and years.  We essentially moved part of that warehousing component out and moved these sour barrels in.

Steve:                          Okay – that makes sense.

Matt B:                        Jim Crooks, our quality manager, has been working on this for years now just kind of on the back burner playing around with critters and wine barrels.  We finally got to a point where we’re like you know, if we’re going to do this, and do it right, one – we want to keep it away from our clean beers.  We’ve got this warehouse-

Matt A:                        A whole separate facility many miles away.

Matt B:                        Adam Firestone and David both are pretty serious about when they do something, they want to do it right, so they really did.  They built a cathedral of sorts.  It’s a beautiful space; I’ll show you some pictures so if you do get to deal with them.  It’s a nice destination spot, right?  It’s a little bit off the beaten path so if people are going to come and visit we want to make it worth their while.

Steve:                          It seems like logistically it would be challenging to truck all the beer a 105 miles or whatever it is.

Matt B:                        Yeah, and even that isn’t so bad.  However, sending brewers there to do the work … so Jim’s been on the road a lot moving back and forth between his day job as quality manager for Firestone’s main [cross talk 00:24:37] facility.

Steve:                          Right – hour and a half, two hour commute.

Matt B:                        His passion is making sour beers.  So it’s interesting.  It’s in the infancy stage.  We’ve filled 400 barrels plus already, so I mean we’ve actually got a lot going on there.  But what’s neat – there’s a separate tasting room there that’s dedicated to the Proprietor’s Reserve beers and the sour beers- [cross talk 00:24:58]

Matt A:                        The tap list looks pretty awesome.

Matt B:                        When you go there-.  Yeah, it’s an insane line up of really interesting beers.

Matt A:                        Single-barrel stuff – the single, double, double-barrel ale … single-barrel, double-double barrel ale.

Steve:                          I don’t know if you guys … the naming conventions on these gets … who goes first?

Matt B:                        Well, it was so funny in our inner spirits barrel program and the aging program, we have one section of the warehouse we call Cosmic’s Flop, and it’s all the barrels that didn’t make the cut at some point in time for one reason or another.  Jim’s been tapping into that, and he’s found some 5-year old [rufus 00:25:30] that just takes like heaven.

Speaker:                      We had some of that at the [inaudible 00:25:34].  Yeah, it was, I think, the smoothest beer I’ve ever had.  It was like-, it was just like-, it was so mellow.  It was like, “Ohhhhhh.”

Speaker:                      The [inaudible 00:25:43] on that beer was amazing.

Matt B:                        He found some Velvet Merkin that had been more than three years in barrel.  From a single barrel, that’s what you call the Barrel 22, or whatever barrel it was.

Speaker:                      I think it was Barrel 22.

Matt B:                        It’s a lot of fun, and we have all these barrels at our disposal.  Our brewers, when they first show up at the brewery, and they’re told that they’re going to fermenting beer in barrels think we’re absolutely out of our minds.  Then a matter of-, a very short amount of time, a few months after they’ve done it for a while, they realize there’s no other way to make Firestone beer.  We have a staff that’s really capable like amazing at moving beer in and out of barrels.  Doing this project is actually quite natural with the exception of the wild critter portion of it which as long as we keep it away from the clean beer …

Steve:                          So my understanding is you’re still doing this beer barrels mostly at the Pasa Robles facility.

Matt B:                        Yeah, there’s been some … I noticed that in some of the press release they talked about the fact that we may store some spirits barrels down in Buellton, but currently we are not.  We’ve haven’t moved any of that project down.  There’s ample room, but I’m a little hesitant.  I think we get more and more comfortable with it.  We were at Goose Island the first day we got into town just a couple days ago.  If you’re set up right, you can do wild beers and clean beers in the same environment.  They’re set up really well for it; it’s a great example of somebody successfully making both in the same facility.

Steve:                          I’ve been told Goose has never lost a barrel of bourbon [inaudible 00:27:11] which is totally remarkable to me given that it’s right there with the other things.

Matt B:                        I think the reason for that is both Goose and Firestone as well have just a super-solid quality control program so the scientists behind the scenes are keeping well ahead of any issues that could rear their heads in those barrels.  As long as you’re plating these things … simple microbiology, as long as you’re crossing t’s and dotting i’s you shouldn’t have problems.

Speaker:                      In the first place, if you’re doing-, if you have your procedures right even before you get testing, if you have all your procedures right then that goes most of the way there.  Testing is just to make sure someone didn’t make a mistake somewhere along the line.

Matt B:                        Let’s face it – before the advent of stainless steel brewers, all beer was made in wood vessels, right?  More beer had been made in wood barrels than probably in stainless steel-

Steve:                          And before that, clay which is where [Pantheon 00:28:02] is taking it back [inaudible 00:28:04]. That will be interesting once that happens.  So we’ve got two beers here on the table in front of us.  Speaking of all this sour and wild and everything else, I am getting kind of an off-note, I think, out of the Doppelbock.  It’s like a … I don’t know … probably like a sharp twang to me.

Speaker:                      The red?

Steve:                          No, not the Fixed Gear, but the Schlafly Doppelbock.  It’s … I don’t know … any uh …

Speaker:                      Oh, Rye Bock.  Yes.

Steve:                          I’m sorry.

Matt B:                        Honestly, yeah, I was going to say the distinct flavor for me is something that’s almost like a chocolate note or maybe … it’s like a roast or a chocolate note, and it could be the rye as well, or maybe [inaudible 00:28:45] can’t read this, but …

Matt A:                        Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking anything wrong.  I was just thinking that’s probably the rye, but I don’t know.

Steve:                          We had this beer in the first round.  I don’t recall what against.  I don’t remember … there’s this … I don’t think it’s a spicy rye component.  For me, it’s more of a … like I say kind of almost an acidic twang, although acidity you would typically taste.  I don’t taste it so much, but it’s an aroma that I get.  But for whatever reason, it turns me off a little bit.  It sounds like I’m the only person at the table coming up with this so I’ll … I’ll take-

Matt A:                        Yeah, well, now that you say that, maybe you can find something in the nose more than in the taste, but I don’t know.

Steve:                          Well, flip it over to the Fixed Gear, the American red ale.  Any initial thoughts, Matt?

Matt B:                        This is a nice beer.  It’s got a hop component to it that’s interesting.  It may have a little oxidation that’s maybe hiding a little bit of that.  Actually, in my opinion, both of these beers are pretty solid.

Steve:                          The Fixed Gear, I was looking, was bottled first week of October, so we’re looking at about three months in the bottle which is not necessarily super fresh but also should be okay at 6 ½% beer at 90 days.  The Schlafly’s Rye Bock I’m really not sure.  Peter Hail picked this up a while ago.  I don’t know if this was like a one-off thing or whatever so I think that this one may have a little bit more age on it.

Before we dive into what we think, I’ve got one last kind of core set of questions – save the best for last at least for me.  I talked about, I loved the 14.  It was like a caramel-ly, bourbon marshmallow from heaven was my initial … the 15 and the 16 are also completely excellent.  I’ve had a little bit of the 12 and the 13.  I think that those are starting to trail off at this point.  One of the things I wanted to ask is that for me, for whatever reason, those barrel flavors – they’re so bright and crisp.

They really pop right when you guys first bottle, and I don’t know of anyone else’s beers that really do that.  Is that … do you know what I’m talking about first, and second, is that on purpose?  Does it have something to do with the way you age it?

Matt B:                        Well, I don’t … to be honest with you, I haven’t gone around and asked a lot of questions so I’m not sure how other people are doing it.  One of my observations is that a lot of brewers don’t have a dedicated temperature control area for their barrels so they would cycle with the seasons.

Steve:                          Right – which is what whiskey traditionally does and the bourbon.

Matt B:                        I know Todd Ashman from 50/50.  Formally he’s from the Chicago-land area, right? [cross talk 00:31:22].

Speaker:                      You guys don’t get around or anything.

Matt B:                        He believes in allowing the beer to cycle through those temperatures just like the bourbon does, but mind you, at those elevated temperatures, those beers are exposed to some amount of micro-oxygenation, and there’s going to be some oxidizing of the beer.  To me, when you start getting into the kind of bordering on soy sauce or sherry-like characteristics, some people love that – I don’t.  We do our aging program at quite low temperatures.  50° would be the absolute highest temperature that our aging storage would ever be at.

Steve:                          I think that’s got to be one of the big priorities.

Matt B:                        So what we notice – and this isn’t really a comparative study – what we notice is that we don’t have the sherry and soy sauce coming out of the barrel program because we’re at those lower temperatures.  Somehow we’re slowing down any kind of gross oxidation, and that really allows the flavor profile of the barrel to come through and radiate.  We also have a rule that these beers need to be in that program for one year before release.

We’re starting to get to the point now where we’re getting some carry-over so some of the subsequent blends from this point forward will have 2-year aged and more.  Our idea is that if we can keep it at these lower temperatures, we’d probably pick up flavors more slowly, but the end product is like you said – a little more bright, a little more less … kind of like Fixed Gear here.  This is obviously a great beer, a well-constructed beer.  I would love to taste it fresh because I think it’s somewhat muted by the oxidation.

Speaker:                     It is on tap at your hotel.

Matt B:                        We will be drinking some tonight.  [cross talk 00:32:54].

Steve:                          It’s interesting in the beer market because a 3-month-old bottle of beer you would think it should be okay.  Do I need to scour the shelves?  It’s going to take six weeks to get from the distributor to the … it’s a tough …

Matt B:                        Well we … at Firestone we have a cold library.  Which I always say is like blowing sunshine up your ass because people don’t always refrigerate their beers.  But if we taste out of that library at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days compared to our warm library which is held at 70° Fahrenheit, and watch those things over the course of time, there’s an obvious difference after 30 days.  There’s a gross difference after 60, and at 90, the warm-stored beer is pretty much shot.  Now that’s by the expert panels [cross talk 00:33:41] oxidation.  Basically what we say is after 90 days at warm-stored temperatures which would be a grocery store shelf-

Speaker:                     Denny’s, etc.

Matt B:                        Yeah, and that’s kind of the distribution world that we were born into so brewers shouldn’t use that as an excuse.  We need to build stronger.  I always say I’ll go to my grave trying to build a more robust beer that can handle what the market bears because you’re right.  Most of the time it takes six weeks to get beer to market.

Steve:                          I give you guys credit with the date coding on both the Mission Street and the Firestone-branded bottles.  That is very nice, and it helps you make a little bit more [cross talk 00:34:20].

Matt B:                        I was really surprised and actually really happy that Trader Joe’s allowed us to do that on their product as well because it’s not in our control.  Their distribution is they can take care of their own distribution, and that gives the consumer the information they need.  If they decide that 90 days of warm store oxidation isn’t off-putting to them, then they can make that decision.  And if somebody else decides that they only want 30 day or less cold beer, and they can hunt it down and find it-

Matt A:                        That’s all you can really do in the end.  You can’t pull everything off the shelves.

Matt B:                        No, a brewery could never afford to do that although we do guarantee freshness for 120 days.  We have on our website a page where people can go on and let us know where old beer is, and then we’ll go out and get it out of there if we can.

Steve:                          Good to know.  All right, well …

Matt A:                        We need to make a decision.

Steve:                          We do.  I have one last question that I want to ask which is … with the Firestone 14, 15, 16 series, I find that as they age in the bottle, they become more similar to other beers and that’s probably that oxidation happening.  Do you guys keep a library of those at some very low temperature and do they still drink the same way they used to?

Matt B:                        Yeah, so our library … unfortunately when we made 10, we had no idea how popular the beer would be.  To us it was like okay, well we’re going to do this release.  Let’s sell it all, and we didn’t hold any back.  So if there are people out there in the world please bring one to me.  I’d love to taste it kind of thing.

Steve:                          Especially if it’s done sub-zero.

Matt B:                        For 11 and onward, for 11 through the end of the series, we have.  We’re building a more expensive library because doing this vertical tastings is becoming more and more popular.  Definitely – I always tell people these beers are best cold-stored.  Again, unless you’ve developed a palette for these sherry, soy-sauce like characters that come over time and that’s your own deal, but our library is cold-stored at 45.  Yeah, the old beers taste amazing.  It’s amazing how well they hold up at cold temperatures, and we’ve done some verticals of warm-stored product.  You’re right – they start to kind of … these beers aren’t really falling apart.

Steve:                          The flavors just integrate; they lose that pop.

Matt B:                        Exactly.

Steve:                          All right, so at least we’re on the same page on that one.  All right, so we’re at a  … what’s your take on the beers [cross talk 00:36:38]?

Matt A:                        I am not voting against the Schlafly’s because I think that it tastes off.  It might be a little old, but it’s fine to me.  I think it’s more of the rye that I don’t really care for.  Rye beers aren’t my favorite in the first place.  I do like reds more, and so that’s the one I’m pulling off the table today.

Speaker:                     Which one you’re pulling off the table … the rye?

Matt A:                        The red.

Steve:                          The Fixed Gear.

Matt A:                        The Fixed Gear which is the red.

Speaker:                     So you’re taking it off the table?

Matt A:                        No, I’m saying this is the one that I want to drink tonight.  That’s the winner in my book.

Matt B:                        I’m probably on the other side.  I think I’m going to vote for the Schlafly beer.

Steve:                          All right, and as often happens, we’re going to throw the guests under the bus even though …

Matt A:                        These days it’s pretty mixed.  We go half and half.

Steve:                          Despite the fact that it might not be as fresh and popping quite as well as like when I go and drink this beer in Wisconsin fresh from Fixed Gear, and it’s like “wow – this is amazing!”. I still think it’s a solid beer.  It’s more of a negative odor for me a little bit.  There’s something about the Schlafly that’s bothering me and that’s what’s doing it.  You probably should trust Matt’s palate over mine.  Matt Brynildson versus Matt Arata.  With that being said, we are going to pass through the Fixed Gear.   Matt, John, Rob – thanks so much for joining us here today.  I really appreciate it.  I think our listeners will as well.  I’ve got a million more questions.  I’ll pester you if there’s ever any more time at [inaudible 00:38:02] or wherever else.  But it’s been great.

Matt B:                        Yeah, pleasure to be here and thank you so much for having us.

Steve:                          All right – then for the BeerDownload, I’m Steve Mastny.

Matt A:                        I’m Matt Arata, and you are?

Matt B:                        Matt Brynildson.

Matt A:                        And you are?

John:                           John Bryan.

Matt A:                        And you are?

Rob:                            Rob Salitore.

Steve:                          All right – cheers, guys.

Matt A:                        Cheers.

Speaker:                     Good to see you all.

Steve:                          Go have a beer.


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