Arts & Entertainment

A look behind the bar

Yards brewer Matt Hall said he has always had an interest in brewing, even from a young age.

Matt Hall is a brewer at Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

Matt Hall moves around Yards’ brewery with a comfortable, deft ease, as if it’s his mother’s kitchen.

Something about beer makes him feel at home.

“Growing up, when the whole craft beer movement started taking off in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, my dad would always be looking for a brew pub or something on family vacations,” Hall said. “I was always intrigued; you can make beer in a restaurant? I always thought it was in a big factory in the Midwest.”

Hall, a brewer at Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company, was drawn to the beer-making process from an early age. While studying business at Bloomsburg University, the Bucks County native began working as a cashier at a beer distributor.

Hall wanted to try every beer in the store – his employee discount, he said, certainly came in handy. One day, a particularly interesting case of beer was delivered.

“[Samuel] Adams Brewing Company does a home brewing contest every year, and the winner gets their beer made on a large scale,” Hall said. “We got a large shipment of cases and I bought one, tried the beers and I was blown away. I couldn’t believe somebody made this in their kitchen.”

Hall immediately purchased a Sam Adams home brewing kit and began brewing himself. The first few batches were not more than “OK,” Hall said, but it got him thinking.

“I thought I could possibly make a career out of being in the beer industry,” Hall said. “When I graduated Bloomsburg, I ended up going into beer sales.”

From there, Hall worked for a wholesaler in sales for about two-and-a half-years. It was a well-paying job, Hall said, but he craved a hands-on position at a brewery. Hall said he had trouble getting his foot in the door.

So, he quit his sales job.

“I’m always like, ‘How did I pull that off?’” Hall said.

Hall said he attended a brewing school in Chicago, spending two months in the Windy City and another in Germany, learning everything from how malt is produced to packaging and retail.

“As soon as I graduated from there, I sent my resumes out,” Hall said. “Yards happened to have a position open on the bottom line.”

From there, Hall worked his way up from packaging to the brewing side, eventually taking on a full-time brewing position.

During the past few years on the job, Hall has learned that, in a nutshell, making beer involves breaking malt up and mixing it with hot water to break down starches into simple, fermentable sugars. From there, the sugary water is drained out of the water and malt mixture, called “mash.” With the solids left behind, the liquid is boiled and hops are added. After that, Hall said, the liquid is cooled down and sent to a tank, where yeast is added.

Making beer is “as simple or complex as you want it to be,” Hall said.

“There’s a lot of details,” he added. “You’ve got to hit specific temperatures, and there’s a lot of variables, like how healthy the yeast is and the quality of the grain, which fluctuates throughout the year. Making beer is not complicated, but doing it in a manufacturing setting where you have to hit details, that’s when it gets complicated.”

Hall said he prefers some things less complicated – well, his beer, at least. The brewer likes a simple, clean, crisp taste, all malt, not a “kick you in the teeth with hops” beer.

For Hall, the best part of his job isn’t the beer.

“I enjoy making the beer and then being able to see people sitting here at the bar, drinking it and being happy,” Hall said. “It’s seeing the customer enjoying the product and getting excited about it. That’s the ultimate reward.”

Victoria Mier can be reached at victoria.mier@temple.edu.

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