Class Notes Profile: Home brewer

Mary Bauer “Beer is where my passion lies,” says Aurora, Ill., native Mary Bauer, head brewer at Lagunitas, Chicago. (Image courtesy of Mary Bauer)
Illinois alumna Mary Bauer crafts California beer with Lake Michigan water at craft brewery Lagunitas in Chicago

When you sip a pale ale or pilsner from craft brewery Lagunitas, you probably don’t consider the enzymes involved or the pH of the brew. You just know it tastes good. Thank Mary Bauer, ’05 LAS—who was tapped to head the fast-growing company’s Chicago brewery in 2013—for doing the hard work for you.

“I love how chemistry breaks things down into small pieces of molecules and reactions that literally create everything in this world,” Bauer says. A junior-year food-science elective introduced her to the complexities of fermentation, and a campus recruiter placed her at Anheuser-Busch’s experimental brewery in St. Louis when she graduated.

After two years there, three at a larger Anheuser-Busch brewery in Georgia and a stint at Pepsi in Minnesota, Bauer now occupies a role that fulfills her both creatively and scientifically. “Beer is where my passion lies,” she says. “You have to be on top of what’s going on in our vessels. When things go wrong, you have to make decisions to maintain the quality of the beer. You have to understand chemistry when you’re adjusting recipes or creating new ones.”

The average day finds Bauer managing malts and hops, budgets and schedules, and a team of 18. She recently oversaw the buildout of a 300,000-square-foot facility that eventually will brew 1 million barrels annually. Then there’s the taproom—open to the public for tours—that Bauer calls a “grown-up chocolate factory.”

The best part? A daily roundtable where brewers taste-test their handiwork. Bauer ranks a black IPA named Night Time in the Winter and another called Born Yesterday that’s made with fresh hops among her favorites. “But I love them all,” she says.