The annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest is the highlight on the craft beer scene’s agenda. It is organized by the Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Invitations were sent out by Firestone Walker co-founders Adam Firestone and David Walker as well as Matthew Brynildson (partner and brewmaster) to 50 selected, renowned craft brewers from all over the world. BraufactuM, pioneer in the German craft beer market and partner of Firestone Walker, are once again grateful for the opportunity of presenting some beers at this year’s festival. David Walker, co-founder of Firestone Walker (in the picture left) visited the booth of BraufactuM together with partner and brewmaster Matthew Brynildson (second to the right). (From the left: Markus Becke, Marc Rauschmann and Thorsten Schreiber).
5 Questions to: Matthew Brynildson
The third annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest in Paso Robles took place in May. The fact that within round about 20 minutes the festival was sold out can be seen as an indicator for the growing popularity of craft beers. Could you give us your personal view on this year’s festival?
First and foremost, we are honored to have so many amazing brewers come and join our event. It is very unique to have this many high caliber breweries from around the world come together for an event like this and be represented by the brewers themselves, Tickets sell out quickly because this is a rare opportunity for beer lovers to come and meet the brewers and taste some of the very best beers, many of which they could never taste in their home towns. I consider all of these brewers to be my friends and it makes me very happy and proud that they choose to return for a third year to participate in this festival.
In 2011 the event, whose proceeds are donated to charity, took place for the first time. How did you come up with the idea of organizing the festival in Paso Robles?
It started with the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum charity organization who approached us and offered up the venue where the event is held. They told us to design our dream event and that they would support our wishes. We took that challenge very seriously. There are already hundreds of beer festivals all over the United States, so it was important for us to create something original and something that was well worth putting our efforts into. The concept is simply to assemble the best brewers that we know, insist that the brewers themselves come and we ask that they bring their very best creations that they are most proud of. The first year we did not know what the response would be, but in the end the brewers took the challenge and helped us to create something very special. Our goal was to bring the best beers from around the world and create an environment that showcases the producers and elevates the craft beer experience. I am very proud of the event and what we had accomplished.
You as the brewmaster and partner of Firestone Walker Brewing Company have influenced the international craft beer scene on a massive scale since 2001. As an expert, how do you see the development of craft beers? Are there any innovations which are coming up next?
Well that is a kind thing for you to say and I certainly never set out to do anything other than make good beer and explore what can be done through the medium of beer. If that has influenced other brewers to take risks and create new beers, then that is pretty cool.
I have had the opportunity to see a few of the phases of the developing craft beer movement. The first phase was simply brewers making bold and unique flavors, which differentiated craft beer from the mainstream products. The handful of brewers who made these first craft beers were spread all over the country and access to market was difficult. Consumers often tasting beers from far away and they did not always taste fresh beer – but it was very different and that struck a chord with beer drinkers. A very important factor of that flavor shift was, that it was happening in food and wine at the same time in this country. People were exploring better foods and were willing to try new beer flavors along with that. As the movement developed, hops and the use of hops to create new, intense and interesting flavors became a real focal point of many successful brewers. IPAs and other hoppy styles are now the best selling craft beers in the market place and have dominated the second phase of craft beer in the United States. I believe that hops will continue to be a major theme as craft beer continues to develop; however, I believe that consumers will become more educated and will gravitate toward the beers that provide the most balance and drinkability while still delivering on flavor. Most of the time that directly correlates with freshness and the ability of brewers to execute at a high level and get their beer to the market place as fresh as possible. As more and more small breweries continue to come on line, craft beer lovers are gravitating towards their local producers further supporting the “local – fresh” theme that is pervasive in the better food movement in this country. As the movement gains more widespread acceptance, brewers will be challenged to create regionally relevant products that resonate with their communities. This will no doubt include flavorful yet sessionable beers with reasonable alcohol levels which can replace the industrial lager beers that have dominated the market for so long. We will see many more years of craft beer growing, not just in this country, but around the world in this same way.
Firestone Walker craft beers can be found in selected states of the US. Foreign craft beer connoisseurs can obtain your beers via BraufactuM in Germany. Apart from your close partnership and very friendly terms that you have developed with Marc Rauschmann and Thorsten Schreiber, what are the most important aspects for choosing BraufactuM as your exclusive international distributor?
We have never pursued distribution outside of the United States mainly because of the warm chain distribution systems that are in place throughout most of the world. We realize a key factor in brewing flavor forward, especially highly hopped aromatic beers, is that they need to be refrigerated, rotated and consumed fresh. This is difficult enough in our home market and nearly impossible when exporting beer. BraufactuM created a cold chain program that protects the beer all the way to the retail locations. When Marc did his research and developed this program, he realized that the key to successfully distributing craft beers in Germany would be to provide the cold chain system. This is the first time this has ever happened and Firestone Walker was happy to support this effort and join in the effort to bring craft beer to Germany.
You once described yourself as a “hop head”, who is fascinated by the incredible hop varieties and exceptional aromas. Why did you choose the German hop variety Saphir for your Pils which BraufactuM uses for its Colonia, too? What do you think about the traditional and the new German hop varieties?
Each time we formulate a new beer we try to incorporate a new hop variety to help set each beer apart. I am fascinated with hops and all of the flavors that they bring to brewing. There are new varieties being bred every year and craft brewing has helped to ignite some of this development and push hop growers to experiment with cultivars that would have never gained favor with mainstream brewers. Choosing Saphir for our Pilsner is an example of this. I must admit that I was always curious about Saphir as a hop but once I tasted BraufactuM Colonia I realized what a wonderful German variety it truly is and I just had to try it. We recently formulated a new beer called Easy Jack, which utilizes two new German cultivars, Mandarina Bavaria and Hull Melon. Interestingly these hops are crosses that utilized American Cascade to create hops with big citrus, fruity aromas that pair well with IPA style beers. We use a lot of traditional German varieties as well including Magnum, Tradition and Spalter Select to name a few. I cannot wait to visit Germany during the hop harvest this year!