Q&A with the BrewerMatthew Callahan, our brewmaster extraordinaire

What do you get when you combine a former nuclear power plant employee, an ex-military man, a shy Irishman with a rather patriotic love for stout, some serious globe-trotting, the pleasure of fishing and our very own Toit?
An Irish brewer called Matt Callahan, that’s what. Matt is a man on a mission, a mission to traverse the world, for the sole purpose of promoting the noble cause of quality brewing, even if he won’t admit it himself.We sat down with the brewer and ended up talking travel, fishing and mouth feels. Over some hopped up beer, of course
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Q. How did it all start for you, your foray into brewing?

I couldn’t find a job that paid even half as much as what I was getting paid working at the power plant, so I went back to University.

Matt: Well, I started off working at a commercial Nuclear Power Plant in the United States, in instrumentation and controls, and also licensing and engineering support. Did that for about ten years, until it got shut down because of political reasons. At the time I couldn’t find a job that paid even half as much as what I was getting paid working at the power plant, so I went back to University, in England, and took up a brewing course they offered. And fifteen years later, here I am. *laughs*

Q. Wow! That’s quite an unusual background for a brewer. Tell us a little bit about your journey with brewing.

Matt: After Uni, I ended up doing an apprenticeship at the Isle of Mann. (This was his first serious brewing role, he worked on and off for two years after University.) I eventually ended up in Ireland where I worked at a couple of breweries. The last brewery I worked at there had a fire, unfortunately. So they decided to shut down. That’s when I went back to work at the Isle of Mann, to the same brewery I had worked at before and they welcomed me back.

I stayed there for about eight months, until i got offered a job in Micronesia, in a small tiny place called Palau. It’s an even smaller place than the Isle of Mann, a very small country. Out there I worked at a microbrewery called the Palau Brewing Company. That was a two year stint, which lasted until I got offered a job in South Korea. This place, I really enjoyed. The people there were really nice , and I really liked the cuisine. It was all just very nice.

After this I went to Australia for a bit, to help set up a brewery. On completing that, I went back to South Korea for a while, and this time I was offered a job in Denmark. This would be the place I would end up staying the longest, about seven years. The company I worked at there was a production brewery-they made a million plus litres of beer per year. But I got tired of the weather there. I’m not sure if it was my age or something else. *laughs again* But the place was just cold, damp and kind of miserable.

Q. All that travelling! How did India get added to that beer itinerary? 

I happened to mention the drab weather in Denmark, so he mentioned to me that he had gone to India, (after Sibi had gotten in touch with him), to help set up a brewery here.

Matt: Interesting story, actually. All this time I was meeting a friend of mine called Phil. Phil used to work at a nuclear power plant as well, and this is funny because we didn’t have a clue until later. Right now, he has the same job I had in Micronesia.

Phil and I would meet regularly at Manila, where we would catch up over a few beers. One of these times, I happened to mention the drab weather in Denmark, so he mentioned to me that he had gone to India, ( after Sibi had gotten in touch with him), to help set up a brewery here (Toit), and asked if I would be interested. I was on holiday though, and was supposed to get back to Denmark, but within a few weeks they asked me to come to India. So I went back and told my boss that I was going to leave.

Funny story behind that is that when he asked me where I was going and I said Bangalore, he informed me that he was planning on going there in a week’s time. He came here to adopt two children. I still had my two-three months of notice period to serve, so when he returned he brought back photos. My former boss actually ended up seeing Toit before me.

Q. So what motivated you to take up brewing full time? 

Matt: There’s some passion for beer  involved, but it’s just something I decided to do. Besides, I used to do some home brewing, which kind of pointed me in this direction.

Q. What was your first beer/brewing related job?

Matt: Wait, paid job?  My first experience of working with beer was as an apprentice, but apprenticeships aren’t paid. When we were in University (England), on the days we didn’t have classes, we would go down to the breweries and work part time. Weekends and evenings usually. That became a source of early experience. My first actual pay check was from the Celtic Brewing Company in Ireland. I’m not sure if the company is still there or not.

Q. Why Toit?

Matt: I’m a trusting person. *laughs* Well, Phil and Sibi convinced me. Between the two of them, I had no reservations. Moving to India wasn’t a problem either. My wife is from the Philippines, so it’s pretty similar.

Q. So you’ve clearly been around and worked at a lot of breweries. You must have witnessed some disastrous beer mishaps!

So when they come off, the beer comes rushing out. Essentially, you have beer shooting out all the way across the street.

Matt: I mentioned before that a brewery I was working at in Ireland burned down, right? That was when I was working in the Irish Brewing Company in New Bridge, Ireland. It was just another day, I finished work and went home, and the next morning, when I came back, the place was burned down. They had to shut down eventually. That’s the more serious side of the disasters I’ve witnessed.

Funny ones? Well, maybe funny in hindsight, are incidents where people have loosened the caps on brewing vessels. These caps contain a lot of pressure behind them. So when they come off, the beer comes rushing out. Essentially, you have beer shooting out all the way across the street. Sometimes that’s happened accidentally and sometimes I’ve seen people do it on purpose. You know, people nosing around.

That’s why when people come into the brewery now, I’m always a bit apprehensive. And a lot more vocal than I am now. *laughs*

Q. So what’s your favourite International beer? 

Matt: I prefer dark beer, a Stout. As far as as brands go, I like pint bottles of Guinness. Not draft, but pint bottles.

Q. What can you guarantee from the brews here? 

Matt: I’m not guaranteeing anything, but I’ll say this. The majority of people who drink our beer find it enjoyable and consistent, which is probably why we have a set of loyal customers, who come back again and again. That’s fifty to sixty percent of our customers from what I’ve seen. While our beer isn’t experimental, we do have a  wide variety. We don’t try to please every beer drinker, but we cover a lot of ground from very light beers to very dark beers; strong beers to bitter beers; and also milds.

Q: Which is your favourite Toit brew? 

Matt: That would have to be a stout – the Dark Knight. I brew two or three beers that I normally wouldn’t drink. But I still have to take samples every once in a while. Part of the job.

Q. When not brewing, what is your other favourite way of passing time? 

Matt: Resting *laughs* I’m getting old. Well, I haven’t been able to do it here yet but I really love fishing.  I’ve been in Bangalore for a  year and two weeks now, but I haven’t managed to go out. Sibi has been giving me a list of places to visit, and I plan on getting down to it. I also enjoy wine tasting sometimes. But at a very, very amateur level. So I go along with people who know what they’re talking about. My favourites are Italian wines.

Toit is one of the most different brew pubs that I have worked at.

Matt adds, “Toit is one of the most different brew pubs that I have worked at. I really can’t explain what it is. The people, the amount of the people that come in, the amount of beer they drink, the smiles on their faces, and them coming back again and again, makes the whole process of brewing so much more enjoyable.”
So if you ever see a tall Irishman walking about, beer glasses in hand, furtively looking to see if people are tinkering around with his brewing vessels, do walk up to him and say hello, because you’re sure to have some really good conversation, over some really good beer.