On the Line: Matt Strickland of The Bruery, Part One
Photo by LP Hastings
Who is Matt Strickland, and why are we interviewing him? That's the OTL question of the week. His job title is wood cellerman. No, really. Matt makes sure clients get their beer, and that it tastes exactly the way it should. Comparable to a winemaker, he works very closely with his product. You'll probably never see him, except perhaps at the tasting room or Provisions, where we met after a long day of being the sole member of his barrel management team.
Your earliest food memory:
Chocolate-chip pancakes at IHOP. The whipped cream smiley face was the best part.
Favorite meal growing up:
I grew up on a cattle farm, so steak and potatoes adorned our plates pretty frequently. Steamed broccoli, a lightly salted baked potato, and a rare sirloin . . .for better or worse, that meal helped to make me the loveable guy I am today.
Most recently I stopped into Hi-Time Wine Cellars and realized they carreid a ton of stuff from Corsair Artisan Distillery. These guys are based out of Nashville (where I'm from) and are currently producing some of the most impressive and complex spirits in the craft distilling community.
The best beverage find I've ever had, though, was a bottle of 1990 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale that I was able to sucker the store owner into selling me for about $4 because he didn't realize what he had. I drank it on New Year's Eve of 2008 with a girl I was on a first date with. We're about to celebrate our second year wedding anniversary.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Time. I know of a number of breweries that are starting to get into the game of producing sour ales, and one of their biggest concerns always seems to be how to speed up the process and accelerate turnaround. We don't do that. If a beer isn't ready or hasn't matured enough for our customers to drink, then we will wait as long as we have to until it is.
Please define what a "wood cellerman" is.
Ha! I'm still trying to figure out that one myself. Essentially, I mange all aspects of The Bruery's barrel aging program. This includes everything from managing inventory, beer blending, adding extra ingredients, buying and selling barrels, transferring beer from barrel to barrel and a whole lot more. I am also very proficient with a mop.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
I've only lived in Southern California for a few months, but I've been really impressed with the food trucks that we get outside The Bruery's tasting room. I love great street food. I had Short Stop BBQ's holiday fries-- it had a cranberry-based barbecue sauce, and it was fantastic! My wife and I stopped at Bacon MANia recently, and I've been plagued by impure thoughts about their food ever since.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
I will admit to all of it except for Taco Bell. Not even on a dare would I endanger my gastrointestinal health that much.
Tell us about some of the unconventional ingredients used in your beer.
I guess it depends on what you mean by "unconventional". One person's "unconventional" may be completely normal to your weird neighbor who still thinks Beanie Babies are cool. We do use a lot of non-traditional ingredients, though.
Right now we're brewing our seasonal Autumn Maple, which is our version of a spiced pumpkin beer, except that we use yams instead of pumpkins. We also use a lot of different fruits in our beers such as guava and kiwi. One of my favorites, though, is our Vitis series, where we make wine from grapes we source from various vineyards and add the wine to a base beer. It's fantastic stuff.
Tell us about the expansion.
We're expanding just about everything in our operation right now. We've just added a bunch of new tanks, and we're brewing on a 24/5 schedule now. I get new barrels almost weekly now. We just opened the new tasting room, and we're adding in a 3 bbl (1 bbl = 31 U.S. gallons) pilot brewery for smaller, experimental, one-off batches. Last year we brewed just over 5,000 bbls, and this year we're shooting for over 9,000 bbls.
One food you can't live without and why:
Pizza. And not the Pizza Hut/Pig-slop-in-a-box variety. I'm a Chicago-style guy.
Where was your most recent meal?
My wife and I went to a local sushi restaurant in Downtown Long Beach. I won't mention the name of the place because the meal was the gastronomical equivalent to the last Indiana Jones movie-- it was a serious let down.
Best tip for the home brewer:
Patience. Always have patience.
We read Oude Tart is your favorite Bruery beer (like us!); what makes it your favorite?
Oude Tart has all the complexity and subtlety of Old-world sours, but adds the charisma and assertiveness of New-world ales. It's a beer that is both balanced and nuanced, but at the same time it's not afraid to get in your face.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food/drink?
They're food-obsessives, and I totally get it.
Favorite chef or brewer.
I could be "that guy" and say the brewers at The Bruery because we definitely have a lot of talent under one roof. For me, though, I really admire a lot of the traditional lambic brewers in Belgium, especially the guys at Cantillon. They just do such a fantastic job of creating those beautifully rustic beers in the Old-world tradition. One of my dreams is to go spend a few weeks at Cantillon, studying their methods and techniques.
How has the tasting room been doing since it launched on July 4th? Are there good/bad times to go?
It has been doing great! 40 beers on tap, all from The Bruery.-- it really puts things into perspective regarding how big our portfolio is and that we can support so many taps. The tasting room can get pretty busy, but I can't say that I've ever found a "bad" time to go.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
I was at a restaurant in Paris several years ago and somehow managed to order the spinal discs from a cow. They had this strange jellylike consistency. It was actually pretty good.
Favorite places to drink (besides The Bruery).
Being new to the area, I can't say I'm too familiar with a lot of the hot spots, so much of my bar time is spent at The Bruery Tasting Room or Provisions. But when we're not in Orange County, the wife and I tend to frequent Congregation Alehouse in Long Beach.
We noticed you started a blog on The Bruery's website . . . .
Yea, the guys asked me to start writing pieces on what's happening in the barrelhouse. I could talk about barrels and barreled beer all day, long after everyone has stopped listening and left the room, making me look like a crazy person.
You're going to dinner. What are you having to eat or drink?
Anything I can pair a good bottle of Sonoma County Zin with and I'm a happy camper. Maybe grab some funky blue cheese like Stilton paired with our Anniversary beer for dessert.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
The bosses have me locked away in our barrelhouse [Editor's Note: It's about three miles down the road in Anaheim.] like some twisted-beer-infused version of Rapunzel, so I don't interact with our customers directly too often. However, quite a few people ask us to brew more White Oak Sap, our wheat wine. The funny thing is that we've never actually released it on its own (we blend it into other beers), so no-one outside The Bruery really knows what it tastes like.
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