Brewer Magazine Q&A: Chris Baker, Mother Earth Brew Co.

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with brewers from across the U.S. Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers and others each Wednesday to help you, a fellow brewer, Brewmaster or brewing manager get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Chris Baker, Head Brewer, Mother Earth Brew Co. — Vista, California & Nampa, Idaho

BREWER: What is a lesson learned within your position that sticks with you to this day?

BAKER: Multi-tasking and time management. In my position I manage a lot of different facets of production, ranging from beer production and lab analysis, to meeting production volume goals and everything in between for two breweries located 900 miles apart. At times I need to develop and validate lab SOP, turn around and write a recipe, perform maintenance on a piece of equipment, and then make sure product is available on time for distribution, while being a manager to my team and making sure GMP are followed. The list is never ending so you learn to take good notes and support good employees and manager who help the team succeed.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?

BAKER: I’ve had many mentors throughout my career. Rolec brewers who helped commission and optimize new brewhouses at Stone, the management team at Stone, Dan and the management team at Mother Earth, and my fellow brewers and coworkers. Each have progressed my career in different ways ranging from automated systems to production logistics and inventory management to recipe development. Every facet of the business is important and everyone I’ve worked with has mentored me at some point.

BREWER: What have you added to your brewery lately that’s unique or making your business more successful?

BAKER: Our recent expansion in Nampa brought new equipment and improved our products a great deal. The two most impactful are a centrifuge (from Andritz) and dissolved oxygen meter (from Anton-Paar). The centrifuge allows us to control aroma and clarity in a way not possible with our DE filter. We get better yields, strip less flavor, and balance between spectacular clarity and the haze craze. Coupled with our CBOX (or dissolved oxygen meter) our packaged beer has never tasted so good.

BREWER: In today’s business climate for craft beer, how will your brewery grow?

BAKER: The industry is becoming a lot more competitive with more strong recipe developers and innovators than ever before. Plus market growth has slowed as the ripe fruit has been picked and more work is required to gain market share from big brands. I believe the best way to grow is a balanced approach with good beer and quality, coupled with good marketing and a good message. People want to drink local, or more importantly they want to drink beer from breweries that represent their point of view. The process of choosing a beer and eventual consumption is an experience from beginning to end. It’s not enough to only make great beer or only have good marketing, it has to leave the consumer wanting more, just like a visit to a favorite restaurant. Mother Earth will continue to grow as long as we focus on each phase of the consumer experience and adopt new and innovative ideas as the market matures.

BREWER: What sort of innovations in craft beer excite you?

BAKER: New beer style creation. I love when brewers are able to push the envelope with new styles, ingredients, and process. A couple good examples are new hazy IPAs (which originated a long time ago but has been improved upon in recent years) and blond stouts. I’ve been a part of brewing beers from both styles and I love the thought and spirit of each innovation. You ask yourself, how can I blow someone’s mind today? Take a blond stout for instance. Someone comes to the bar and orders a stout, you pour something resembling a blond or IPA, they make a face, take a sip and their eyes light up. Immediately you know you’ve expanded how they perceive beer. That will always be the driving force in craft beer and I’m happy to be a part of it.

BREWER: If you had one strategy that you could implement to better the craft beer business, what would it be?

BAKER: Education. The craft beer community is great at communication, if you have a problem typically you can find someone with an answer. But is it the right answer? I wish there were more brewer education courses available through traditional university programs instead of specialized programs. I feel the cost of specialized programs is too great for most brewers (typically lower income) so they aren’t taken advantage of. At best, some brewers get a 2 year program condensed into 6 months and walk away with resources but little to no gained knowledge. In my opinion, brewers with science degrees are more adept to brewery operation and development but chase money into other industries because brewers are traditionally paid less. The solution is to diversify university programs by creating focus on real life application while paying employees what they are worth based on their level of education. This isn’t only true in the brewing industry.

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