Matt Cole is the award-winning brewer and co-owner of Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon, a brewpub in North Olmsted. Fat Head's also is in the process of opening a production brewery in Middleburg Heights so it can start bottling and distributing its beer statewide this year.
Question: You went to college for criminal justice. How did you end up in the brewing industry?
Answer: I began all-grain homebrewing while attending the University Of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. To help pay my way through college, I worked nights at a bar with a nice selection of beers. It was here I was exposed to some great beers and met the national sales manager for the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. and he offered me a part-time sales position. Attending beer festivals and meeting young brewers inspired me to take the steps to turn pro. Ed Stoudt of Stoudts Brewing Co. was my greatest influence. Intimidated about making the jump, Ed asked me: "Do you like to cook, clean and read books?" Thanks Ed.
Q: You’ve opened your own brewpub and now are opening a production brewery. Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into the industry?
A: Opening and operating breweries isn't as romantic as it might seem. Any person planning a life as a craft brewer should be prepared to do the following: Travel North America and Europe exploring beer styles and visit as many breweries as you can. Network with as many brewers/owners as you can. Get to know what makes their products and processes successful. Take their free advice, most people in this industry are cool and willing to share. Attend a credible brewing school, even if it's only for two weeks. This will show you how much you really don't know! Starting a brewery is an expensive venture. Most breweries that fail are grossly undercapitalized. As the saying goes, "It takes money to make money!" Last and most important, be prepared to be a workhorse! Brewing requires long hours and tons of cleaning. Think glorified janitor with a reward (BEER) at the end!
Q: You’re big on collaborations with other brewers. You’ve collaborated with Troegs, Stone and Bear Republic, among others. And you plan to do more collaborations when Fat Head’s opens its production brewery. Why?
A: Collaborations are a way of taking brewing outside the box. The aim is to produce something different than what we would normally do. Whether it's an ingredient, process, yeast ... etc. It's going to yield a different product and also adds insight along the way. Every time I step into another brewery, I gain knowledge. Every time another brewer steps in my brewery, I gain knowledge. Knowledge is king in this industry! We have another brew planned with Troegs as our first brew at Fat Heads production brewery. Good friend and respected brewmaster Chuck Silva from Green Flash Brewing Co. will follow. Two are better than one!
Q: What’s your best-selling beer and why do you think it’s so popular?
A: Head Hunter IPA is our best-selling beer. For the last couple years, I've been part of a hop selection team for Hop Union. Visiting the fields and growers and being involved in the hop selection process has helped me incorporate the desired characteristics in my finished beer. Winning back to back medals (silver 2010, bronze 2011) in the American India Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival has helped propel the brand.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: Bamberg, Germany, and its eclectic array of beers are most intriguing. Spezial Rauchbier is a 5.3 percent ABV smoked marzen that gets its flavor from smoking malt with aged wood from the local beechwood forests. The dark, malty brew has a strong smoky flavor and crisp balanced finish. It pairs beautiful with Schweinshaxen!