This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Matt Spann, who won numerous awards for his work at Idaho Brewing in Idaho Falls before coming to Slate Creek in Coeur d’Alene last October as a partner and head brewer; the avid outdoorsman seems at home in the similarly themed brewery.
Q: So how did you get into brewing, and what were you doing before you came to Coeur d’Alene?
A: I have a degree in environmental science and I was working for a private consulting company in Wyoming, and doing homebrewing as a hobby. I was spending an awful lot of time in North Dakota, out in the oil fields, I was gone for weeks at a time. That was kind of taking a toll on everything else in my life, and I decided it was time for a change. I love the outdoors, I grew up on a farm (in Wyoming) and never had an inside job in my life, so the thought of an inside job was kind of tough. And the thought of turning your hobby, which is your getaway from your reality, into your reality was a scary thought. I was really worried that my hobby, my escape, would just become a job and I’d lose my passion for it. But on the other side, you hope to be one of those people who dares to do the thing they love to do, and can spend the rest of their life doing that and being happy doing it. So it was worth a chance. I took a Seibel Institute course to help get my foot in the door. I applied to numerous places and interviewed in Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls, that was on the weekend and by the time I got home on Monday I had a job offer in Idaho Falls. So I landed out there in 2011, I started as the assistant brewer and six months later I was in charge of production and the head brewer. I was there until October, when I came up here.
Q: What brought you here, and how do you like it so far?
A: The major reason was I wanted to have greater involvement in the goings-on, the overall strategy of the brewery. I was going through a business plan for opening my own, and this came along. It was kind of a ground-floor entry, we’re not real big yet so it was a chance to get in at the bottom and work our way up. Also, I was looking for places I wanted to live. I grew up in the West, I want to live out West. So this was a great location at the right time, I was ready to move on and do something bigger and better, and there was the opportunity to work with people like (Slate Creek founders) Jason and Ryan (Wing) who want to do the fun things I want to do. We want to come up with fun names for the beer and do fun things with it, things we weren’t doing at Idaho Brewing and I didn’t see us doing that much in the future. Jason and Ryan were open to the ideas of new and different beers, beers that I had made that they didn’t have the experience making, and that was a big part of it. So I came up here to help out and be in a different area, an area where I could see myself wanting to stay. I love to do outdoors things like fishing and hiking and skiing, and it offers all of that. I like the community, I like the size of the community, I just bought a house here. So I’m looking forward to getting out and doing more.
Q: What are your goals at Slate Creek?
A: Straightforward, it’s to no less than double production over the next year, get to the 1,000 barrel mark. What I really want to do is get us streamlined in the back (the brewery) so we’re running at our optimal efficiency. And then we’ve had numerous meetings about marketing, what beers we want to market and why, and where, and what form we’re going to do it in, whether it’s cans or bottles or draft. This year it’s simply upping production, so we can reach a point where we’re sustainable and can start being profitable, so we can start putting that into expanded growth. When we have that, we’ll have better flexibility to do some of the fun things that breweries get to do. But if you’re just trying to get by all the time, your chances to have a barrel program, things like that just don’t materialize. We just want to focus on the core business of being sustainable, putting out a really consistent, high-quality product, and streamlining everything in order to accomplish those goals. We are relatively new still, so we don’t have a whole-hearted commitment to just doing things one way. We’re constantly going to be reassessing our core beers, and hopefully getting really honest feedback from people.
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