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Matt Brynildson: Brewmaster of Firestone Walker

Firestone Walker's "Merlin" of brewing, Matt Brynildson
Firestone Walker's "Merlin" of brewing, Matt Brynildson

 


GO WEST, YOUNG MAN


Brynildson took a job in California at the newly built SLO Brewing Company in Paso Robles, whose brewhouse was the same as Goose Island’s 50-barrel JV Northwest system. But a year later, owner Michael Hoffman had to shut down the brewery and the bank stepped in, letting everybody go.

But Matt and another SLO brewer, Jim Crooks, weren’t ready to give up quite so easily. What happened next is local legend around Paso Robles. The bank didn’t lock the doors or turn off the power. Maybe it was an oversight, maybe not. So Brynildson and Crooks came in and kept making beer while the brewery was still in receivership and continued filling orders. The idea was to just hang on and hope someone would buy the brewery. They both loved the area and the brewery that they’d poured so much into. The gamble paid off and their harebrained idea actually worked.

Brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker had founded the Firestone Walker Brewing Company in 1996 and established the distinctive logo featuring the lion and bear. They were having modest success offering English-style ales brewed in a small space rented from their family on the Firestone Vineyard estate in nearby Santa Barbara County. They decided to buy the former SLO brewery and came to look at it, talking with Matt about staying on. Despite showing up at his next meeting with the new owners in ripped jeans and a tie-dyed shirt after three straight Widespread Panic shows in Los Angeles, Brynildson, who didn’t initially realize the meeting was a job interview, hit it off with them.

The first task was scaling up the recipe of Double Barrel Ale, Firestone Walker’s first flagship beer. Next, he reformulated Windsor Pale Ale to its current incarnation as Pale 31. By early 2002, they started bottling Firestone Walker beers.

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