The head brewer at Union Brewing Company, Matt Pennington, grew up in Plainfield and graduated from Plainfield High School. After high school, he got a factory job, saved up some money, and moved to Wyoming where he worked on a ranch. That was more work than he hoped and paid less than brewing. Back he came to the Indy area and worked construction operating heavy equipment. Meanwhile, he did some home brewing, moving from extract batches quickly to full grain brews.
The interest he developed in brewing at home led him to volunteer at the now defunct Cutter’s Brewing Company. Eventually, he quit his construction job (which he hated) and got a paid position at Cutter’s working on the bottling line, cleaning kegs, and cleaning tanks. He worked his way up to assistant brewer. A little over two and a half years ago he took the head brewer job at Union Brewing. His first brew at Union was a collaboration with Danny Boy Beer Works, another Carmel Brewery. The first of his own recipes he brewed at Union was the Breakfast Stout of Champions.
Pennington credits Dustin Brown (now at Danny Boy) with most of his knowledge of the brewing craft from their time together at Cutter’s. He has rounded out his on the job training with books and Google. His favorite part of the brewing process is mashing in as he loves the smell. While doing this he finds the calm of stirring refreshing. His favorite of all his brews was in his hand when we talked, the Diffie Milk Stout. He gravitates toward dark and malty beer, especially a sweet stout. Everything brewed at Union these days comes from Pennington’s collection of recipes.
Thirty to forty different beers are produced from Pennington’s recipes in a year at Union. They are brewed two barrels at a time and then are cask conditioned which allows him to tweak the flavor occasionally with vanilla beans or other add-ins during that process. During the colder months Pennington’s Diffie is the best seller at Union. However, business picks up in the warmer months since the brewery is located right on the Monon Trail. Traffic from the Trail gravitates more toward the light and hoppy brews. Those would include the Pale Rider APA, Saul Silver Pale Ale, the Juice IPA, and the Blue Marble IPA.
A recent specialty brew is the Red Velvet in which Pennington used chocolate and vanilla among other ingredients to simulate red velvet cake. Fifth Day IPA will be coming to Union pretty soon. It is a brew they make for baseball season every year. As warm weather approaches, the focus is on the hoppy beers.
Pennington’s advice for the fledgling brewer is, “be ready to clean a lot.” Apparently cleaning five gallon buckets is a big part of the job. If you are still in school, take classes that relate to the brewing process. If not, read books and volunteer at a local brewery. Many breweries are very welcoming and are happy to let a volunteer be exposed to how it all works, not to mention having the free help.
When he is not brewing up his many brews, Pennington spends his time watching sports or attending sporting events. He is especially fond of old pro wrestling, probably more so than wrestling kegs.