Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker on Being Awarded the Order of the Hop

Matt Brynildson and his family pose for a photo after he received the Order of the Hop. (image courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Co.)
Matt Brynildson and his family pose for a photo after he received the Order of the Hop. (image courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Co.)

Over the past two decades, hops have become the shining star in craft brewing. And it has been craft brewers that saved many hop farmers, especially farmers here in the Willamette Valley, that were only growing a handful of varieties that were being purchased by the big breweries at a time when they were purchasing less amounts.

As craft breweries expanded around the United States and then the globe, it brought the need for additional hop varieties to be developed and grown. Many of these brewers studied and learned the chemistry and nuances of these new varieties and shared their knowledge within the brewing industry.

One such brewer that has been studying hops and contributing his knowledge to the international brewing industry has been Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster at Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles, California. For his hard work and dedication to the art of brewing and more specifically, hops, Matt has been awarded the prestigious Order of the Hop. A rare honor for someone outside of the hop growing community.

History of The Order of the Hop

The Order of the Hop dates back to 14th century when John the Fearless was given the mark that was meant to honor all “gentlemen”, who contributed to the development and prosperity of the “noble” plant. Its current charter was established on September 30, 1971 during the International Hop Growers’ Convention (I.H.G.C.) in Munich, Germany. Now for the past 51 years, the Order of the Hop is a designation that the International Hop Congress bestows on individuals every two years at the I.H.G.C. to those individuals that make an impact on hops in brewing.

Matt began his career in brewing as a hop chemist in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the 1990s. As he moved into the brewhouse, he moved across Lake Michigan to Chicago to brew at Goose Island. In the year 2000, he relocated to California to take the position as Brewmaster at SLO Brewing in Paso Robles. This was short lived as the brewery was financially unstable and was purchased by Adam Firestone and David Walker a year later. Those two were wise and kept Matt on as he flourished in the brewing industry.

While at Firestone Walker, Matt was a founding member of the Hop Quality Group. He also became a lecturer for the Hop Growers of America where he teaches brewing students and professional brewers about hops and focusing on hops grown in the U.S.

Being Nominated for the Order of the Hop

It was this work and steadfast dedication through the years that allowed Matt to be nominated and then awarded the Order of the Hop. It’s unusual for a brewer to be awarded this honor.

“I’ve worked with Hop Growers of America now for well over a decade, probably closer to almost two decades,” said Matt. “And it started with a request that had come in long before U.S. hops were as popular as they were internationally. The Hop Growers of America saw a need for some education internationally. I suppose in some ways help market U.S. hops abroad.”

“I had been asked by one of the organizers at HGA by the name of Ann George, if I’d be willing to, at first fly to Germany and do some teaching at Weihenstephan, Doemans, and VLB, some of the major brewing schools and put on workshops on U.S. hops and essentially go and talk to brewing students about U.S. hops.”

“And I was like yes, where do I sign up for that? So I did a couple trips and a couple workshops, and then that led to more funding. Some of the funding was government funding and other funding from growers. We would show up at some of the trade shows internationally, went down to Brazil, then spent some time in Chile. and over the course of the last decade and a half, crisscrossed the globe, I spent some time in Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand.”

So the nomination was from the hop education that Matt has provided to the brewing industry and the work he put in on behalf of the HGA. “I’d love to say that it was because of my hop forward brewing that got the attention of the world, but it really was, was the time I put in doing these workshops and helping teach brewers on behalf of HGA.”

The Receiving of The Order of the Hop

So in July, Matt traveled to Europe to attend the International Hop Growers’ Convention in Prague that took place from July 25 – 29, 2022.

The Order of the Hop is awarded every two years. “There’s always a number of people in the hop community worldwide that are awarded the Order of the Hop,” stated Matt. “But it’s very rare for anybody outside of that community to receive it.”

“So as far as I know, the only other American brewer that I’m aware of that’s been given that honor is Steve Dressler. It was right around the time of his announcement of his retirement as he was also knighted in the Order of the Hop. He’s been one of my idols throughout my entire brewing career and he has become a good friend. It’s pretty cool!”

Matt wasn’t the only American to be honored with receiving the Order of the Hop on this go-round. Two Oregonians received the designation as well with Doug Weathers of Sodbuster Farms and Bill Coleman of Coleman Agriculture. Plus, two prominent industry players from Yakima, Washington were also honored as the Order of the Hop was granted to Leslie Roy of Roy Farms and Pedro Venegas of Yakima Chief Hops.

While in Prague at the I.H.G.C., Matt’s wife and two kids also were in attendance and even joined him on stage as he received this honor. “It was really awesome that they could be present. This is one of those esoteric awards that you kind of have to be in the hop world to really understand it. But they know how passionate I am about brewing and how much time and effort I’ve put in to support the hop growers of America. They’ve kind of lived with it, with me traveling all over the world. So yeah, it was really nice having them there for sure.”

“A lot of these folks in the hop industry have become really close friends of ours. So in some ways going to these events is like a big family reunion for us.”

It’s the next generation that Matt is truly excited about as he sees the future of hops being a prominent fixture in craft brewing. And he seems excited to pass on the torch.

“It’s amazing. Just when I think back to my first job in the brewing industry was working as a hop chemist back in the 90s in Kalamazoo, Michigan. So I started in hops and, then started working with HGA a decade and a half ago. And to have seen the evolution of the U.S. hop industry going from being the world dominant alpha producer and there’re not being a lot of investment in these farms to this generation switching to aroma varieties. All these new cultivars and all the money they’re pouring into their farms and growing.”

“It’s just been so fun to watch. And so it’s almost like this whole craft movement has just reinvigorated the whole hop industry.”