How a juicy IPA brewery decided to break its mold with small-batch barrel beers
Between Grant Bolt and Patrick Jansen, there’s enough visionary brewing expertise (and hair) to go around.
The brewers and co-owners of Matchless Brewing have taken a brewing idea, moved to an odd little suburb of Olympia, Washington, and created some of the hottest beers in the state. The two (who have luscious locks and the beards many of us come to associate with brewers) are making waves nationally: Matchless was named one of Beer Advocate’s top 50 new breweries for its popular variety of brews.
Founded in December of 2016, Matchless was the first brewery to open in Tumwater, Washington since the Olympia Brewing Company opened in 1896, more than 120 years earlier (the Olympia Tumwater brewing facility shut its doors for good in 2003).
What Bolt and Jansen found was a very thirsty population. Matchless quickly moved to make beer people wanted to drink.
“The whole idea was just make beer people want,” Bolt says. “Not rely on the styles we wanted to make.”
What do Washingtonians want to drink? The answer, resoundingly, is fresh, juicy IPAs.
With eclectic offerings like the All Fluff (a NE IPA with orange and apricot juice), What the Fruit? and Hop Nectar (both fruity, hoppy beers without a hint of fruit), Matchless is producing hot-selling beers at a blisteringly fast clip.
Brewers Patrick Jansen (left) and Grant Bolt (right) selecting fresh hops
Bolt and Jansen are turning out 60-barrel batches of IPAs at a time, and the massive space in Tumwater can accommodate much more. In the first year of operations, Matchless hit its 2,000 barrel cap and is expanding rapidly.
“Our capacity is somewhere like a 500-600 barrel system,” Bolt says. “We’ve got a ton of room here, and the construction company who built this place for us can make even more room.”
Matchless is doing more than just pumping out the hoppy goods, they are also winning awards for just how damn tasty these beers are. In the 2017 Washington Beer Awards (again, just months after Matchless opened its doors) they won Bronze medals for Crack a Fruit IPA and Pink Moon (a foudre-aged saison), Silver medals for POG IPA and Bar Cocoa beer and a Gold medals for Shared Table - a spicy Belgian Saison.
Their barrel-aged oeuvre is a little more complex than the fresh, hoppy IPAs they have become known for, but Jansen and Bolt want to add another page to their resumes.
“We are developing our oak program now. We have 200 wine and spirit barrels right now,” Bolt says.
The barrel project is somewhat of a departure for Matchless, but not for the brewers and owners. Before opening the brewery, both Bolt and Jansen worked at Three Magnets Brewing in neighboring Olympia. Bolt tended bar while Jansen made some of Three Mags’ most lauded beers - including the GABF Bronze winner Old Skook Barleywine. They’ve used foudres for beers in the past -- and currently have 40, 50 and 60-barrel foudres in the brewery -- but distinct barrel-aged beers are going to bring a whole new element to what Matchless can produce.
“We’re really excited about working with some more barrels,” Bolt says. “We’re going to work on some sour beer with fruit in it, which will be a fun challenge.”
Matchless plans to release some of its first barrel aged projects around the greater Puget Sound region this month, including a blueberry beer at a few select accounts.
“We make the beer that we know is going to sell fast to make money for our barrel projects,” Bolt says. “We like sour beer, it’s just not budget friendly.”
Jansen will direct his focus to the barrels, while new addition to the brew team Aaron Blonden (previously of Chainline Brewing) will become the Lager and IPA guru in house. Blonden and Jansen’s friendship and collaborative partnership grew out of their first collaboration with the It’s Ake, a Japanese Lager.
Matchless has quickly become a landmark in this small wooded town just south of Washington state’s capital -- they even have a state-sanctioned sign on Interstate 5 pointing motorists toward the brewery.
“We’re just the neighborhood pub, and that’s a place we’ve always wanted to be,” says Rachel Bolt, Grant’s wife.
As for the future? Bolt said he’d like to continue to make some fresh, hoppy IPAs with Blonden while dabbling in the sour and mixed-fermentation field with Jansen, and continuing to expand production and distribution.
“I feel like we are just hitting our stride,” Bolt says. “We kind of expected to be noticed, we just didn’t expect it to be so soon. We’re going to keep up this manageable growth, but we’re excited to be making the beer you love.”
Written by Ryan Murray
Images from Matchless Brewing Facebook Page