Brewer Magazine Q&A: Chris Lawson, Santa Monica Brew Works

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.
Chris Lawson, Director of Brewing & Facilities Operations​, Santa Monica Brew Works — Santa Monica, California​

​BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
LAWSON: ​The attitude of adaptation has never changed. This is a constantly evolving industry and you must always be prepared for shifts in consumer preference. In the past few years we’ve seen breweries expanded their portfolios to include offerings beyond traditional beer; including hard seltzer, kombucha, non-alcoholic beers, etc. As independent craft brewers we need to be vigilant of those trends to remain competitive and relevant in the market while at the same time always adhering to our brand’s core values. I think it’s more important than ever to develop the competence and intuition necessary to differentiate passing fads from legitimate innovations.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
LAWSON: ​I’d say my biggest mentor was collectively the San Diego brewing community, especially around the time I started my career in 2007. Back then, San Diego was the Wild West of innovation. It was mostly about making a better IPA than the next guy. Boundaries were constantly being pushed. If an issue, problem, or challenge arose all you needed to do was reach out to the community. There was almost always someone who had been there, done that. And if they hadn’t, we’d brainstorm to find a solution … usually over a pint. I’m proud of what we did in San Diego to contribute to the global craft beer scene, especially pushing the envelope with West Coast-style IPAs. I think our joint innovation helped fuel the explosion of the craft beer revolution. Since then, L.A. has quietly become one of the most influential beer cities over the past few years. I’m excited to be surrounded by the forward-thinking team we have at Santa Monica Brew Works.

BREWER: ​Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
LAWSON: ​During one of the many hop shortages that has affected our industry, the brewery where I was working in San Diego could not get the hops needed to brew our flagship IPA. Not wanting to compromise the flavor profile, we brewed pilot batch after pilot batch (…after pilot batch) using only the hops we had available to us. We were trying to dial-in the exact same flavor as our familiar flagship. After about a month of daily micro-batches we finally nailed it. In blind sensory, you couldn’t taste a difference between the two recipes. It would have been easy to throw in the towel. There was a legitimate excuse that was completely out of our control. But I was proud of how the team rose to the occasion and embraced solutions instead of excuses. As a result, I try to instill that same can-do attitude into every team I’ve been part of since. Instead of saying “It can’t be done” ask, “How can we get this done?”

BREWER: ​Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
LAWSON: Santa Monica Brew Works is the first and only independent craft production brewery on L.A.’s Westside … and we’re growing! We were able to obtain an additional 20,000 square feet in the space next door. A huge accomplishment for us. We’ll have an expanded tasting room and an outdoor beer garden sometime in 2020. We also have plans for the addition of a 40-bbl, 4-vessel brewhouse, a cellar expansion consisting of 80-bbl and 120-bbl tanks, along with a larger distribution cold box and packaging area. All these will help facilitate our recent distribution expansion into Nevada and beyond. To prepare for the coming expansion the production team has been hard at work bolstering our Quality Assurance program, cross training team members, and standardizing procedure. All of which will pay dividends as the team grows to become the future leaders of Santa Monica Brew Works.

​BREWER: ​If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
LAWSON: ​Don’t chase every trend that comes down the road. Spend your valuable time and resources pushing boundaries and making great beer. I’ve lived through the great craft beer revolution which defined the current industry. Now, our goal at Santa Monica Brew Works is to make beer that forces people to take notice. With over 7,500 breweries in America, you’d better be focused on your own craft. My strategy has always been to create trends, not to follow them.

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