This past Saturday, Matt Cole, head brewer at Fat Headís Brewery & Saloon in North Olmsted Ohio, graciously let me follow him around as he brewed a batch of their Oktoberfest. As I sipped on some deliciously hoppy Hop JuJu Double IPA, I was able to ask Matt some questions about how Fat Headís has been going, his award winning beers and Fat Headís First Annual IPA Fest that is coming up in October.
Question (Q): So how did you get into brewing?
Matt Cole (MC): Homebrewing mostly. I took a liking to quality beer like anybody else and began homebrewing. I was tending bar while at the University of Pittsburgh, and became friends with the sales manager from Penn Brewing. Later I became a sales rep for Penn Brewing and got involved in the brewing operations.
Q: Did you have any formal schooling?
MC: I took the Seibel short course in í95 and then took a course in England called Brew Lab at the University of Sunderland in í96.
Q: Where else have you brewed?
MC: I did an apprenticeship through Baltimore Brewing Company, Great Lakes Brewing Company for about a year, then Rocky River Brewing Company for about 10 or 11 years and now here at Fat Headís.
Q: Fat Headís has been open since April, how are things going so far?
MC: Sales have been booming. Iím pretty sure were on a clip to probably be one of the highest, per capita, brewpubs in the state of Ohio, probably ever. I donít know who else has sold more beer, or will sell more beer, than we will in one year. In hindsight, I could have made the brewery bigger if I would have known we were going be so busy. I mean, we have all of these guest taps to compete with, so I though it would be about 50/50, but itís really more like 85/15. So things are better than I anticipated.
Q: Why did you go with a franchised brand instead of starting your own concept?
MC: We were going to do something different, that didnít happen because literally, no pun intended, we could not get up off the ground (the original concept was going the be called Aviator). We fell on some really hard economic times during that course of a year and were werenít able to secure, we had an SBA loan, but we couldnít secure it because we werenít able to come up the collateral needed for the loan, so as a last ditch effort, I went back to my friend Glen at Fat Headís to see if he would invest in Aviator. After a couple meetings it switched gears to become a Fat Headís. We had an established name, established brand, track record, I had financials and a lot of concrete things I could take and put in front of people that had legs, and I love Fat Headís, I used to live there when I lived in Pittsburgh. Thatís where I used to like to hang out, and I liked the concept and it was fate that brought the concept here.
Q: What was it like opening a Brewpub from scratch?
MC: Miserable! Itís everybodyís dream, supposedly, but it was absolutely the hardest thing I have been through and have no desire to try to do this any time soon. The not knowing, we signed a lease on this building, we knew it had a lot of potential, but we probably pulled the trigger too soon on signing the lease with not having all of our ducks in a row, like financing, other things, we struggled really hard for a while. There were periods without pay. It was rewarding when we finally opened the door, but up until that point it was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of sleepless nights.
Q: Did you ever think of doing a production brewery instead of a brewpub?
MC: There will be a production brewery in the future. The physical location will most likely be back in Pittsburgh. First stages right now, we are in the process of doing all of our label design for Head Hunter IPA, Voodoo Monkey Chocolate Stout and then some of our seasonal beers like the Phantom Pumpkin and Christmas Ale. Iíve got a three head filler here, so in the next month youíll be able to go home with a six pack, so some of the bottling is coming and the brands are going to get out in some select places and that is phase one of bottling.
Q: Many of your beers seem to be fairly adherent to style guidelines, is that something you intend to do or just the kinds of beers you like to brew and drink?
MC: I experimented a little more over at Rocky River, and Iíd like to do a little more experimentation here. We only use traditional imported barley, so right now we are making classic styles, but experimenting with custom mashing, and that makes a difference. Weíre looking to make wort with the right percentage of fermentable and unfermentable sugars, the ability to decoct. A lot of the beers that we have done so far are stylistically correct but we are still being creative with processes. We smoked the barley on our loading dock for the Up in Smoke Porter, for the Battle Axe Baltic Porter, we caramelized the sugars, we decocted the Gudenhoppy Pils (which is awesome FYI) and the Head Hunter uses mash hops, some first wort hops and crazy amounts of dry hops. Some things that might happen in the future is some barrel-aged stuff, maybe blending the porters together (Smoked and Baltic), you know, dry hopping the pilsner a second time, so weíre having fun creating beers that are stylistically correct, but there is definitely some more experimentation in the future.
Q: Head Hunter IPA seems to be your flagship beer, was that intended?
MC: That was intended. That was one that was definitely a good beer, it has a cool name, and it can go in bottles. The cult breweries seem to be the one popular ones and I think this beer can have a cult following. Iím not trying to say we want to be the next Three Floydís or anything. Iíve got a lot of friends that helped me with that beer. Iíll be quite honest with you, Iíve got a lot of friends in Northern California that do it very well, and that have shared some very cool things with me that they probably wouldnít share with a lot of other people. I went out there, worked in their breweries for a week, slept on their couches, picked their brains and left with recipes. Do I follow them? No, but do I use a lot of the same procedural operations, absolutely. There is a lot of Racer 5, a lot of Russian River, not that Iím trying to knock there beer off, thatís not what Iím trying to do, but if my beer tastes as good as their beer, then Iíve done my job. Itís more so about getting that big dank nose, that right balance of bitter sweetness and the drinkablilty where it needs to be, crazy aromatics, those are the kind of things Iím trying to achieve.
Q: Speaking of Head Hunter, Head Hunter just won the Bistro IPA Fest in Hayward California. How did you feel about that win?
MC: That was probably, in my brewing career, the biggest accomplishment. Iím very hard on myself on the quality of my beers and I donít think Iím ever getting to where I need to be. Very rarely do I go, fuck man, thatís it! Its comforting to know that we went out there with the best or the best, in an industry thatís dominate with guys that wrote the style, and a small little brewery from Ohio beat them. That means were on the right track at least.
Q: And speaking of IPA Festsí, Fat Headís will be holdings Witís First Annual IPA Fest on October 17 as part of Cleveland Beer week. Can you give us any insight as what to expect?
MC: We are going to have a large abundance of west coast style IPAís. We are also going have some local IPAís on tap as well, as well as beers like Ithaca Flower Power, Avery Maharaja, but I also want places like Hoppiní Frog, Ohio Brewing and Buckeye to be able to go head to head with the west coast brews. We have put together a judging panel and these beers are going to be evaluated. We are trying to mimic the Bistro IPA Fest, but we donít have quite as many beers to pull from as they do, but when its all said in done we will have around 37-38 IPAís, where as they had around 70. But that is what we are working to and this one is to get the seed planted.
Q: Any other events here at Fat Headís during Cleveland Beer Week?
MC: We are having three ďMeet the BrewerĒ nights. We have Richard Hargrove from Bear Republic, Fred Karm from Hoppiní Frog and one of the owners of Weyerbacher. Itís going to be more of like an IPA week. Whatever beers we donít go through during the fest will be on, and we are pretty much going to line up the board with IPAís all week. Itís going to be a celebration of the hop. I love Buckeyeís 420 Festival and this is going to beer a week long event of good hoppy beers. Weíll have our double on (Hop JuJu Double IPA), Head Hunter and our Pack-a-Wallop Strong Pale Ale. We are also going to do some things like double dry hop them and put them on cask, so it should be fun.
Q: Also coming up is Great American Beer Festival and I see that a handful of breweries across the country have each brewed a beer called Collaborative Evil that will be showcased there. Who are some of the other breweries and whatís it all about?
MC: Put together by a friend of mine named Todd Ashman, heís a legendary brewer from Flossmoor Station in the Chicago area. They did it last year, made sort of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale and used unique sugars and a unique spice of some sort. This year itís a strong golden ale. Most of the breweries are from the west coast, FiftyFifty Brewing, Flossmoor Station, Speakeasy, Sacramento Brewing Company, Oakshire, Valley Brew and a couple more, there are nine total. They gave us a table at GABF and they are allowing us to go up and talk about our beers for a little bit. We blended four yeasts, used candy sugar, corn sugar, some of these guys used some weird sugars, I kept it kind of simple, let the yeast do most of the work, and then we added a little bit pepper. You know, what it is for us as much as anything is a way for us to market our brewery, itís a networking thing. We are all going to go to breakfast on Saturday morning, just kind of pick each others brains and hopefully one or two of us will get on stage.
Q: What other beers are entered at GABF?
MC: We entered the Oktoberfest, Gudenhoppy Pils, Battle Axe Baltic Porter, Up in Smoke Smoked Porter, Headhunter, Hop JuJu Double IPA and out Tree Hugger Honey Rye in the Specialty Honey Category.
Q: All the rage among many craft beer enthusiasts is big beers, barrel aged beers and sour beers. Any interest or plans for anything along those lines?
MC: Iím not a big sour beer fan, but I am starting to appreciate them more and learn about them, but I donít want to bring lactic acid into my brewery. So I doubt sours beers will be coming out of here. It we do make anything tart, it will be yeast driven. Big beers, yes, we are planning on a Barley Wine, Imperial Stout, I want to do a wheat wine, but right now we donít have the tank space to tie up for beers for a long period of time. Barrel-aged, yes, I just need to get down there and get some barrels. We have the space, we lifted our tanks up for a purpose to put things under them, so we have the ability to roll barrels in and out.
Q: And last, but not least, whatís your favorite beer that you brew, your favorite import and favorite American craft beer?
MC: Right now our Pils, if I want to drink beer and not fall down, thatís what I want, and when the Head Hunter is right on itís awesome. Our best Belgian has been Sorcerer; I really like the yeast character on that one. As far as the beer that I like, it probably goes back to a pilsner, there is this little brewery in Bamberg called Keesmann. They make a pils called Herren pils that is the hoppest pils Iíve ever tasted, just tons of Spalt hops, itís magical. I really respect Victory Brewing, those guess mentored me, they make some awesome lager beers. Obviously Russian River, itís hard not to respect Russian River. He (Vinnie Cilurzo) is so innovative, thatís a guy that is a pioneer.
Fat Headís IPA Fest is Saturday, October 17 from 12 Ė 5. Tickets are $25 and include 6 beer samples, tasting glass and t-shirt. For ticket information call Fat Headís at 440-801-1001