Matt Akin left his longtime post as AleSmith’s head brewer earlier this month, replacing Travis Smith at . Prior to his new gig, Akin spent eight years at the leading San Diego-based craft brewery, now seizing the opportunity to brew his own golden magic. I sat down with the former Irish dancer to find out what makes his hops hop, what he has in store for patrons and to discuss his fondness for three letter words.
La Jolla Patch: Where were you prior to AleSmith?
Matt Akin: I was a home brewer ... and that’s pretty much how you get your foot in the door, at least at AleSmith. I started scrubbing barrels and when I left I was head brewer.
La Jolla Patch: Do you still brew at home?
Akin: I don’t really brew at home anymore; the machines are a bit dusty. I’m hoping this takes some of that need to home brew away because I will be able to brew some of my own beers now. With AleSmith, I was brewing the same beers day in and day out. It was awesome to learn how to do that and master it.
La Jolla Patch: What drew you to La Jolla Brew House?
Akin: They were offering me the opportunity to brew a whole bunch of different beers and really run wild; that’s something that I haven’t been able to do.
La Jolla Patch: What was the greatest thing you took from AleSmith?
Akin: I’ve been brewing some of the world’s best beers for eight years now. I hope to be able to bring some of that here.
La Jolla Patch: La Jolla’s a different animal than where you were. Have you noticed?
Akin: It’s considerably more laid back than AleSmith was. I enjoy seeing what beers are selling from guest taps and helping determine what to create in the future.
La Jolla Patch: What spurred your initial interest in beer?
Akin: Beer. [laughs] It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. What got me into brewing or really deep into beer was learning that you could make beer at home. I got really excited about that. I found that out on the Internet. The Internet has saved my life; now I can make it at home. As many a home brewer finds, you start out trying to do something silly like save money on your beer bills and you end up spending way more.
La Jolla Patch: Ale, lager, pilsner, porter or stout?
Akin: Yes. [nods]
La Jolla Patch: What’s the most disappointing beer experience you’ve had?
Akin: There haven’t been many because beer is an uplifting thing for me. Even if there’s a bad one, there’s another one coming and it can be better.
La Jolla Patch: I don’t expect an easy answer to this question, and perhaps you can’t give me one: What’s your favorite beer?
Akin: What time is it? It depends entirely on the mood I’m in, what I’m eating. I’ve got four beers on tap at home, and I routinely can’t decide what to drink. I drink a lot of IPAs and I like a lot of ESBs as well. My wife says I should just answer that question by saying, "Any beer that can be abbreviated to three letters."
La Jolla Patch: Three letters, eh? The only problem is that would include Bud.
Akin: Well, that’s Anheuser-Busch.
La Jolla Patch: Be careful.
Akin: Yes, I know.
La Jolla Patch: What’s your vision for La Jolla Brew House?
Akin: It’s just a matter of trying to make the very best beers that I can and hopefully they’re some of the best beers in the world. That is my drive—to make the best beer possible.
La Jolla Patch: How important is ambiance in drinking beer? Does it matter where you drink it?
Akin: It matters to the situation where you’re drinking beer. If I want to kick back in a casual place, I can kick back at the brew house. I think fine dining is fun, too.
La Jolla Patch: Are you a fan of Chimay?
Akin: I’m a fan of many, many, many Belgian beers.
La Jolla Patch: Will you brew any?
La Jolla Patch: Do you have any idea what those will be like?
Akin: So very many ideas—something that I’ve spent a whole lot of time on at home. At Alesmith I made a bunch of high alcohol—10 percent or higher beers. We were well known for that. At home I would need to recover from that, [so] I made a lot of low-alcohol, [4 percent] Belgian beers—session beers that you can have a few of when you’re hanging out with your friends.
La Jolla Patch: San Diego is loosely considered the craft beer capital of the nation. Do you feel like you have lots of competition? Do you look at it that way? Does it even matter to you?
Akin: I have all these great beers around me [from the vast number of breweries in San Diego]. It’s good for everyone. Somebody drinking my beers from Green Flash or Ballast Point, it’s good for them—and drinking their beers is good for me, too.
La Jolla Patch: Any idea what your first beer will be?
Akin: I’ll give you the first four. A San Diego Session Beer, an IPA, Oatmeal Stout and Classic American Pilsner. I just need to figure out how to make the Oatmeal Stout into a three-letter abbreviation and then we’re good.
La Jolla Patch: What do you think people would be most shocked to find out about you?
Akin: I’m not a very shocking person. I am an equal opportunity drinker. I don’t turn my nose up at wine or a spirit or anything else like that, just so long as it’s well made and delicious.
La Jolla Patch: Do you have an interest in the way food pairs with beer?
Akin: I love food and I love to see the way it pairs with beer. Beer helps food and food helps beer. That said, I’m not very good in the kitchen but appreciate the work that goes on in there. That’s another thing that’s so great about San Diego. Beer is doing well, food is doing well. [In North Park, many] places have really good beer and really good food. I can just drink my way down the street.
La Jolla Patch: What was your most memorable meal out, beer in hand?
Akin: It was this tiny restaurant that I can’t remember [the name of] in the city of Bruges, Belgium. It was some Flemish name; it had maybe one vowel and 26 letters. The server comes out, greets my wife and I, translates the entire menu for us. She’s cooking dinner, baby on hip. Her husband comes down and takes the baby. She continues cooking. It was the very end of the chocolate festival in Bruges and my meal incorporated chocolate into it: Chocolate, beef, super fresh vegetables, and I was drinking Duvel that night. I was happy.
La Jolla Patch: What type of music goes best with beer?
Akin: That’s another one of those it’s all over the place. Earlier today somebody here turned my iPod on to random shuffle. I said, "Oh, I’m sorry about what’s going to happen to your ears now." It went from Janis Joplin to Sepultura, Pink Floyd and then there was techno weird random stuff going on, too. I told them, "I warned you." It’s just like, "Where do you best drink a beer?" It depends on what your mood is.
La Jolla Patch: What advice do you have for the home brewer?
Akin: Fermentation temperature is the most important thing.
La Jolla Patch: What advice do you have for your forthcoming customers?
Akin: Come thirsty; we’re going to have fun.
La Jolla Patch: What other surprises do you have in store?
Akin: I’ve got a whole lot of different recipe ideas and I’m not really going to give any of them away, but we’re going to hit it from every angle—not all at once, of course. But I’ll be throwing some pretty interesting beers in the mix.
La Jolla Patch: Give me a teaser.
Akin: I have done a lot of full-flavored but low alcohol beers at home, but I also like to see what flavor profiles can exist from a low alcohol beer to a high alcohol beer and everything in between.
La Jolla Patch: Anything else you’d like to add?
Akin: I might have more to say once I’m brewing and have some more beers on tap. Right now, I’m spending a lot of my time in the back cleaning and learning.
La Jolla Patch: Is it safe to say you might have more to say, too, once you have a few beers in you?
Akin: Oh, absolutely.