What Ass Clown Brewing Company lacks in production size is made
up in its wide range of mind-bending flavors and styles. Queen City Brewers Festival visited owner Matt Glidden at his nondescript brewery in Cornelius and was treated to a lineup of samples that would challenge the most sophisticated and curious of craft beer palates. All that was missing was a mad scientist lab coat.
A big part of your mission is to use local organic ingredients in all your beers; you also grow your own hops. What would it take for Ass Clown to become a farmer-brewer and why is it important to you to use local ingredients?
The farm idea is something that’s definitely in my planning. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds picking up and moving to a new location; the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau) is very thorough in their ways. So it will be a two-part process for me: first we’ll move into a larger production facility for three to five years, and then I’ll be looking for an area where I can have around 5-10 acres of land to grow my hops and some organic fruits and vegetables. Think of a tasting room where you’ve got hops vines winding around trellises; the smell, the look and feel will give you the complete experience that should come with visiting a brewery.
Bottom line is I want to know what’s in my beer. I’ve seen and read too much about crap like nitrates and preservatives being added to some beers. Eventually, I’d like to personalize my bottles with each batch number and the beer’s ingredients. I do some pretty complex beers so for people to see exactly what their drinking would be pretty cool.
What is the most challenging beer you’ve ever made?
There are two beers I’ve made that qualify as having “the most challenging” distinction. One is a buttered dough cinnamon beer. The butter (yes, real butter) works against the yeast, but I found a way to make them work together. The other is a black lager made with paradise seed and spruce oil. It must have taken me a good five or six times to get it right and I ended up using an eighth of the spruce oil I thought I’d need. Another challenging beer, because it’s so time consuming, is my wet-hopped beer. It’ll take me four and a half hours to do a normal 20-gallon batch, but with wet hops that’ll bump it up to close to seven hours.
Why has Charlotte become such a popular place to open a brewery and what’s your relationship with other breweries in the area?
It’s funny; you know you don’t meet too many people that are from Charlotte. I’m originally from Vermont and I ask people who visit my brewery where they’re from. I get a lot of folks from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia so that tells me we have a good mixture of people with different beer backgrounds that are looking for good beer. Plus Asheville has set the stage for craft beer in North Carolina nicely and Raleigh is really taking off too.
The folks at the other breweries have all been great. Suzie and Todd at NoDa Brewing are super nice, same with the Birdsong crew, Jon at Four Friends has helped me out in the past, Terry at Kind Beers has let me pick his brain and the owner at Skull Coast seems really cool.
Fellow Vermonter, Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids won the National IPA Champion of the Year contest last year. What would that honor mean to Ass Clown Brewing Company and where does the inspiration come from in creating your beers?
Sure, we all like to be recognized and receive awards, but I don’t enter contests specifically to rack up medals and ribbons. I think it’s the owner’s taste that dictates the kinds of beers he makes and I am all over the map when it comes to flavors and styles. Some people say you need two or three standard beers or a flagship and I just don’t agree with that. But hey, call me hard-headed, I’m going to find out for myself if I can keep it up when I get to a larger scale.
I’m constantly searching for the perfect beer. At this point I’ve done about 60 or so and have no plans to stop experimenting with new recipes and refining my catalog. You can create a great beer even through mistakes. But the source of inspiration comes from food. I’m really big on the aroma of beer, so I’ll try to trap your nose and not so much your palate. What I mean by that is some real aromatic beers for example end up tasting too sweet and it’s a chore just to get through half of it. I want a beer that has those aroma qualities, but allows you to still enjoy more than one.
What advice would you offer someone starting a brewery and what’s your vision for Ass Clown?
You’ve got to go with your gut instinct. No matter what business you’re in people are going to tell you there’s a certain way to do it or not do it at all (laughing). It’s important to love what you’re doing. I absolutely love brewing and no matter how many hours I work, it’s not work. I think you also have to start small and work your way into a bigger operation. It’s nice too if you have some supplemental income, which is why I’m still operating my mortgage business.
I’d like to get my business to say the size of a Dogfish Head. If I have to start compromising my recipes and ingredients I’ll know I’ve reached my limit. I got some perspective a while back when I was talking with the head brewer at Stone Brewing Co. and he operates on a 140-barrel system. They were starting an off-shoot on a 10-barrel and you could tell he was giddy to get back to more of the experimental beers. Put it this way, the beer I make you’ll find at places like Common Market and Total Wine and not next to the cases you’d find at a Food Lion or Harris Teeter.