Matt Strickland – The Wood Cellarman

I am the Wood Cellarman for The Bruery. What is a “Wood Cellarman”, you ask? Well, going beyond the fifth-grade level innuendo that is giggling through your brain right about now, it means that I take care of The Bruery’s barrel program. Essentially I cellar a lot of wood…There ya go; you can get it all out of your damn system…
If you’re reading this blog right now it probably means that you’re a fan of The Bruery or that you have some insatiable and disturbing fetish that I promise you, even on my best day I couldn’t satisfy…so move along. However, if you fall into the first camp then you probably already have an idea of what it is I do.
The Bruery currently boasts one of the largest (I believe we’re in second place right now behind Goose Island) barreled beer programs in the country. When I interviewed for this job back in February we were sitting at 1300 barrels filled with another 200-300 waiting to be filled. When I started this gig a month ago we were at 1700 filled with another 300 on the fill list. And in 3 weeks or so we’ll have a total of 2500 barrels in the warehouse with another 500 on the way by the end of the year.
It reminds me of a joke that Jerry Seinfeld once told about painting his apartment every year and the room felt just a little bit smaller as a result. (Except in my case the “paint” is barrels and I don’t have a TV show that will inexplicably turn all my friends’ careers into road kill.) Every day I walk into that enormous warehouse and it feels just a little bit smaller.
In addition to maintaining one of the largest barrel programs in the U.S., I believe we also have one of the most complex programs as well. Between our Bourbon Barrel program and our sour beer program we have nearly 20 different beers sitting in barrel. Within each beer there are often multiple batch types, differing production methods, and barrel selections. Some barrels we age for years and won’t make it into this year’s blends while other barrels will. It’s as much a science as it is a craft – Take that Stephen Hawking!
When I tell people about my job, two questions usually come up: 1. Why would you want to be a Wood Cellarman? And, 2. How did you get the job?
The answer to the second question is that I interviewed with Patrick and Tyler months ago and I imagine most likely they went out that night, drank a bit too much Black Tuesday and one of them dared the other to hire me.
The answer to the first question is a bit more involved.
Barrels have a long history in beer and wine. Millennia have passed with very few changes or advances in the art of coopering. Barrels are still largely put together by hand with rudimentary tools, by skilled craftsmen and artists whose very existence should be celebrated in the form of a national holiday. (Even Beauty Queens get an entire week in August and not a single one of them has come through on their promises for bikini-clad world peace.)
Wood has an amazing impact on beer. It can impart a wide array of flavors and aromas. It can alter the beer’s texture. It can act as a home for microbes looking to get messed up on some beer sugars. Or it can simply act as a container for the beer to slowly mature in. No other material can have the same effects on beer and this is why beer has been sloshing around in barrels for centuries now. It is very much a part of the storied craft beer tradition and I’m very fortunate to play a part in it.
My day to day is rarely routine. Some days I’m racking the contents of puncheon barrels into smaller sized wine barrels, or maybe adding some cocoa nibs and vanilla bean to some bourbon barrels. Other days have me receiving barrel shipments, taking samples, or performing mini-blends. My mop has also become a close friend.
As a fan of The Bruery you may have noticed that we are in the middle of a substantial expansion process right now. As I mentioned above, our barreled beer program is roughly doubling in size this year and it’s not like it was the runt of the litter to begin with. Nearly half our production goes through my warehouse at some point and in the coming months I plan on sharing more about what we do here and about barrels in general. So keep pouring glasses of Oude Tart, Sour in the Rye, Anniversary, and Black Tuesday, because I promise you, we’ve got more on the way. Until then, I swear to keep a watchful eye on them for ya.

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