Matt Wiley is not your typical 19-year-old student. After finishing high school, the Burlington, Vermont native took the fall semester off before moving to England to participate in the 9-week Brewlab program at the University of Sunderland. The school is located in the heart of Sunderland where the students actually brew for local pubs and taverns. There, he spent days listening to lectures about beer and nights buried in books about hops. Instead of learning in a classroom, he got his education in the brewhouse, under the watchful eye of professional brewer Arthur Bryant.
Wiley started homebrewing in 2010. When he was 15, his mother suggested he try brewing beer as a creative outlet. Wiley got a brief run-down of the “whats” and “hows” of brewing from the employees at Vermont Homebrew Supply. After a short shopping spree, Wiley and his friends set out to make their first beer, which, according to him, “didn’t come out so great . . . I couldn’t get anyone to drink it.”
After the disastrous first batch, Wiley was hooked. Even at a young age, the art of brewing held an appeal. Beginning with no formal training and only a brief explanation of the brewing process “was a little overwhelming at first,” Wiley admits. He spent hours reading books and scanning articles online and, through the always-effective process of trial and error, Wiley slowly began crafting beers that attracted the attention of those who tried them.
Despite speaking with a few local brewing companies, Wiley decided to wait to kick off his professional brewing career in the United States, saying, “the biggest struggle is doing all this while being a kid . . . I’m just too young [and] it’s not a very kid-friendly world.”
In spite of the difficulties posed by his age, Wiley still makes a great beer. He often looks to professional brewers like Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, for inspiration and motivation. Calagione has traveled the world in search of different recipes and ingredients for his beers, resulting in unique brews. Like Calagione, Wiley focuses on finding creative ways to combine ingredients that blend together to form a smooth, crisp, delicious final product. The freedom involved in creating his own recipes is Wiley’s favorite part. “There are unlimited possibilities,” he says, “sometimes I’ll be making a batch [and] I’ll just go into a Whole Foods store and just start grabbing random food ingredients.” In fact, the batch he is working on right now has several different types of flowers in it, including lavender and roses to add a floral aroma and taste.
Wiley is currently living in New Zealand where he is going from brewery to brewery, crafting beers in exchange for room and board. Aside from being able to legally drink the beer he makes, Wiley has been drawn to New Zealand by the opportunity to be at the start of another beer explosion. “The craft beer scene in New Zealand is just starting to grow. It’s cool to see how closely connected the bars are with the brewers; it’s basically just like one big group of friends.”
In the next few years, Wiley plans to move back to the United States to start his own brewing company. Given his experience in New Zealand, his knowledge base from Sunderland, and his lifelong passion for brewing, it’s safe to say that his return will be welcomed by craft beer drinkers all across New England.