Have you experienced the joy of meeting a person who loves their job? Mary Bauer is one such person, so I’m especially pleased to introduce you to her. Mary is the Head Brewer of the Lagunitas Brewery in Chicago. She grew up in the suburb of Aurora and studied Chemistry and Food Science at the University of Illinois.
Mary assisted with the construction of the new Lagunitas Chicago brewery, manages the 500,000 bbl./year capacity, and oversees the current expansion which will double that capacity. The Chicago brewery has brewed 26 different beers since their April 2014 startup date, and Mary is excited for more great beer to come!
Let’s go back a few years and talk about what motivated you to get a degree in food science.
I always enjoyed Chemistry in high school and college. I randomly took a Food Science class in college to fill hours, and LOVED IT! Food Science gives Chemistry a practical application. Instead of making crystals and powders in chemistry labs, I was learning about the science that goes into canning foods, baking bread, and fermentation! Food Science showed me how chemistry impacts every person around the world.
And then how did you move from food to beverages, or, specifically, beer?
I interviewed with Anheuser-Busch my senior year of college. They had a really interesting position open in their Research Pilot Brewery, a 15 barrel brewery connected to the St. Louis plant. The position was very exciting to me because I was going to be the brewer and learn how to brew beer. I knew the basics of the fermentation process, but was very excited to learn more. I was also drawn to this position because I wasn’t stuck in a lab or behind a desk all day, it was hands-on and I was making something people all over the world love to drink! Lastly, the goal of the program was to move people out to the larger AB breweries where you would then supervise a team of brewers that made beer on larger scale. I liked that idea as well because I love working in a team environment. My experience at AB was fantastic and that is where my passion for beer started!
What is your day-to-day job like?
That is hard to say! No two days are the same – and I love it! We have a team of 15 brewers and two supervisors who work at the Chicago brewery. A lot of time is spent checking in with the brewers to see how their areas are running. If something goes wrong, we all jump in to troubleshoot together. I spend a lot of time coordinating and managing schedules with the packaging and brewing teams, overseeing capital projects, and improving our current process. Recently we have been preparing to brew sour beers in Chicago. When new beers come to the brewery, I do a lot of recipe tinkering, monitoring, and communicating to our sister brewery in Petaluma, California. My favorite part of the day is at 10:30 am where we get to taste the beer!
When I think of women in the beer industry, sadly, I think of how women are used to sell beer, not brew it. What’s it like being a woman, a head brewer no less!, in the world of beer?
Brewing is male-dominated industry. I often get asked “Where is your beard!?” when people find out I am the Head Brewer at Lagunitas Chicago! However, Lagunitas and my team have been absolutely amazing in supporting me in this position. Lagunitas is proud to have me as the Head Brewer and the brewers treat me just like any other teammate. I am honored to be in this role and show women that there are career opportunities in craft beer, but I also hope people realize it doesn’t matter who is behind the beer as long as it tastes good!
What advice do you have for girls who want to pursue STEM careers?
There are so many opportunities out there for girls interested in STEM careers, many careers you probably haven’t even heard of. I would suggest going to STEM panels, events, and get-togethers. These types of events often bring in speakers that can help you realize different options for people with a STEM education. These events may also help you find a mentor in the field you are interested in. It helps to have someone who has been down the same path you are going. A mentor can offer advice, present options, and provide motivation to go the extra mile.