From her days attending high school in the far west suburbs of Chicago to the chemistry labs at the University of Illinois to stints with Anheuser Busch and PepsiCo, a mind for science has always been at the core of what makes Mary Bauer tick. As the head brewer for Lagunitas’ Chicago brewery since it opened in 2014, she has been able to channel her knowledge of and passion for food science and brewing into making some of the tastiest, most popular beers in the world. With Lagunitas housed in a jaw-dropping, 300,000-square-foot facility using a system capable of producing up to 500,000 barrels a year, this has been no small feat for Bauer, who was honored as a member of Crain’s Chicago Business’ 40 Under 40 Class of 2014. After spending an hour with her in the brewery, it was plainly obvious to me that Bauer isn’t phased one iota by the magnitude of her role and is a perfect fit to handle the reins of Lagunitas’ evolution in Chicagoland and beyond.
Which Chicagoland brewery inspires you most and why?
Penrose in Geneva. Tom Korder, the brewmaster and co-founder, is an old friend. That brewery was created with a true love of brewing and in the entrepreneurial spirit. Tom and his team built the brewery from the ground up with their own two hands. Penrose has great Belgian-inspired beers that intertwine wild yeast and barrel aging. Tom and the Penrose team are a great success story, and I am very happy for them!
In 10 words or less, sum up your view of the current Chicagoland craft beer scene.
Exploding, diverse, innovative and talented. The best is yet to come.
Would you be in favor of retailers/bars filling growlers of your beer? Why or why not?
Without delving into this issue and its challenges and learning more about it, I would say that it would depend on how the program is run. At our taproom, when someone wants a growler, we know for sure it has been properly cleaned, sterilized, rinsed and will be filled correctly and sealed. And we only fill our own growlers.
What’s at the top of your professional wish list over the next 3 years?
I am excited to grow the Lagunitas brand both domestically and internationally. We will be starting up our third brewery in Azusa, California, in 2017. We have many lessons learned from Chicago. It will be great for us to go out there and help the Azusa team. Each brewery startup gets easier…I think.
I hope to see more innovative beers become part of the Lagunitas portfolio. We did a lot of great stuff this past year with our first barrel-aged package release (High Westified), our wet hop beer (Born Yesterday) and launched our Fusion series in Chicago. We are already kicking off 2016 with sours beers – get ready for a wild ride!
I want to see my brewing team grow and develop. I want brewers to build careers at Lagunitas, which includes creative projects, growth, training opportunities and ownership in the process. I hope to add more Lagunators to our team as we continue to expand and offer opportunities for employees to grow into future leaders of Lagunitas.
What makes your brewery different or stand out in Chicagoland?
We are one of the founding breweries that made IPA a flagship beer style and brought people to craft. We have been making it for 20+ years, and we do a damn good job! Lagunitas can do things with hops that the industry has never seen before. The aromas that come out of our beers are unmatched.
Also, does anyone else have an amphitheater in their brewery? We will be starting this fall! Come catch some great shows…and great beer!
Tell us something about your brewery that we probably don’t know.
We are brewing our hot-side sour, Aunt Sally, exclusively in the Chicago brewery. It is a very drinkable sour mash beer with a tart, yet sweet, taste. It has a great tropical fruit/citrus aroma from the dry hop and clocks in at 5.7% ABV. We had to retrofit our brewhouse equipment in order to make this process work. This project definitely got us thinking out of the box, and the brewing team came up with a pretty awesome design to make the process work.
What’s your brewery’s toughest challenge day in/day out?
One of our most difficult challenges is balancing production demands with new products/research and development work. The Chicago brewery supplies all the beer east of the Rockies, so we make A LOT of beer every day (usually around 2000 bbls/day). It is really fun for us to play around with new beers, but many times you have to work the kinks out as you go. It can be pretty stressful when you need to supply half a country with IPA and Little Sumpin’, but we just stuck our grain bed in our lauter tun because a recipe called for 6000 pounds of rye in one brew. Those are the tough days!
If you could go back and change one thing when starting your brewery, what would it be?
I would have made sure to get our spent grain silos up and running sooner for the farmers to come collect to feed their livestock. We thought we could get by with a 6-inch-diameter hose tied to a dumpster until it came time to grain out. The hose started flying around like an elephant trunk, spraying spent grain all over the brewery. That one took a while to clean up.
What aggravates or annoys you most when it comes to the current craft beer scene?
Anyone who says Lagunitas isn’t ‘craft beer’ anymore because of our size or partnership with Heineken. Lagunitas makes flavorful, unique beers with the best ingredients – made by inspired people that have a passion for this industry. We have always been that way, and we will always be that way. The industry is changing, and craft beer is getting harder to define, but in the words of our owner, Tony Magee, ‘Craft beer is like porn, you know it when you see it.’