You could say the hops aligned for beer nerd Matt Reynolds.
The University of North Texas grad had been putting his engineering degree to use since 2011 while maintaining a healthy homebrewing habit on the side, but Reynolds, like so many others, wanted to make beer a career. In January, he enrolled in an intensive American Brewers Guild program to, as he puts it, "get some credentials" in beer brewing, and that's when he landed his first professional gig.
"Basically beer consumes my entire life now," Reynolds says of his days working in Malai's modest brewhouse and nights studying the nuances of water and malt.
Once you get to know Reynolds, it's evident he's a fitting pick for Malai Kitchen: Both parties are relatively new to the brewing scene and hope to make a name for themselves.
Malai Kitchen opened in 2011 as strictly a restaurant in Uptown Dallas, but once the craft beer revolution took hold, co-owner Braden Wages began brewing in-house on a 5-gallon system. Like the food at Malai, the beer represents Southeast Asian fusion flavors, including its signature Bia Hoi, a light lager traditionally drunk from sun-up to sundown in Vietnam, where Braden and partner Yasmin Wages visited to develop the menu for Malai Kitchen.
Fast forward a few years, and the restaurant graduated to a 1.5-barrel (50-gallon) brewing system. When the owners began looking at the prospect of a second location in Southlake, an affluent suburb by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Braden knew they needed a full-time brewer.
"Of all the brewers I've ever met, he's so into it," Braden says of Reynolds.
Reynolds signed on last December, a month before Malai opened its suburban satellite, and has since been learning the beer recipes and perfecting them for consistency. The transition wasn't too difficult, he says -- "It wasn't too much of an endeavor to scale recipes up from 5 to 25 gallons."
So what's to drink?
Malai Kitchen currently offers 10 beers on rotation, each brewed at its respective restaurant. In addition to the Bia Hoi, staples include the Thai-P-A, an India pale ale infused with ginger and galangal, and the Golden Triangle dry-hopped saison. The Southlake outpost also has one nitro tap behind the bar, a feature that attracts avid drinkers because of the smooth, less carbonated pour it provides. And because Malai is a licensed brewpub, patrons can take the beer to-go in growlers, as well as have a pint onsite.
One of Reynolds' goals is to play with spices and herbs the way Malai's chefs do, and he's already begun to do so with the Grasshopper Lemongrass Wheat, a perfumy and bright beer that utilizes lemon drop hops to accentuate the flavors.
Here's what Malai is serving:
- Bia Hoi, a sessionable Vietnamese-style lager
- Thai-P-A, an IPA brewed with ginger and galangal (another spicy root)
- Golden Triangle Saison, a dry-hopped farmhouse ale
- 3-C Porter, dark beer with chilies, chocolate and coconut
- Viet Coffee Stout, infused with house Vietnamese cold brew
- Samui Pils, which has a boilder and brighter body than traditional pilsners
- Grasshopper Lemongrass Wheat, an unfiltered beer made with lemon drop hops
- Malai Bock, a medium-bodied lager
- Belgian Tripel, a light ale brewed with palm sugar
- American IPA, a soon-to-be-released recipe using azacca hops
Going forward, Reynolds hopes to distinguish his beer by experimenting with yeast, which he believes "is sometimes disregarded for how important is it to beer." He recently visited White Labs Brewing Co. in San Diego and was inspired by the tasting room, where brewers served several versions of the same beer recipe each fermented with a different yeast.
To that end, Reynolds also hopes to play with Brettanomyces, a yeast known for souring beers. But first thing's first: Get Malai Kitchen on the map as a legitimate craft beer operation.
"We're really small, but we are another D-FW brewery," Reynolds says.