Drinking Beer and Talking Sh*t with Lauren Salazar of New Belgium Brewing

Two of Salazar's Lips of Faith Beers
Two of Salazar's Lips of Faith Beers

All images by Nora McGunnigle.

(Author’s note: this is the first in a series of articles focusing on women in the beer world. If you have any ideas for future stories, please leave a comment on this post.)

Lauren Salazar, Wood Cellar Director/Specialty Brand Manager at New Belgium Brewing, told me that she planned to “drink beer and talk sh*t” while visiting New Orleans and Baton Rouge for the first Louisiana Craft Brewer’s Week in late September 2013. According to Salazar, the highlights of her New Orleans trip was not only interacting with beer industry professionals, but also “going out to Tipitina’s [live music club] two nights in a row with the amazing folks from NOLA Brewing… and standing in Chef Jeff [Talbot]’s charcuterie room at [local Neapolitan pizzeria] Ancora - incredible!”

Her joyous approach to drinking and discussing beer, I would discover through the week, inspired everyone who crossed paths with her. She charmed her fellow brewers, distributors, sales reps, bartenders, chefs, retailers, and consumers with her enthusiasm and love of sharing beer. One woman asked me to point Salazar out to her at an event, saying, “she brewed my most favorite beer in life, and I want to tell her that.”

Behind her title of Wood Cellar Director, Salazar’s work at New Belgium includes overseeing the huge barrel aging program that is utilized to create such beers as La Folie, an annual release. She plans, ages, blends, tastes, and tinkers with the beer in their amazing Lips of Faith line of beer.

One of the reasons that 2013’s lineup of Lips of Faith beer was fruit-centric, she shares, is that she was able to taste a wide variety of exotic fruits from a food trade show in New York last year and fell in love with the flavor profiles. That inspiration led to Yuzu Imperial Berliner Weisse, Pluot (a Brett-inoculated Belgian style ale), and Heavenly Feijoa Tripel, a collaboration with Dieu de Ciel brewing which features the feijoa fruit.

Salazar says that 2014 will be more botanically inspired, using flowers and plants like elderflower, hoarhound, and violet. She’s looking forward to brewing a traditional gruit, an ancient beer style which used herbs instead of hops, since hops weren’t used in brewing at that time. Her other plans for next year include the 2014 vintage of La Folie, about which she gleefully reports, “we just made the blend!” Transatlantique Kriek will make another annual appearance, and Salazar says that they are planning “more fun one-offs” with their Leopold whisky barrel aging series. “Cherry whiskey is up next,” she adds.

Lauren Salazar and LA NBB Ranger Todd Dudley
Lauren Salazar and LA NBB Ranger Todd Dudley

The Lips of Faith beer is much more than the sum of its ingredients, however. The New Belgium barrel and wood cellar program ages beer in large wooden vessels called foudres. Just in 2013, the brewery doubled the number of foudres they use from 16 to 31, and will be up to 62 by the end of the year. Young beer is transferred to these giant barrels that are inoculated with bacteria, harvested from New Belgium’s original barrels, in order to age and sour with strains of lactobacillus and Brettanomyces. Once the beer is aged and soured, different batches are blended to create the perfect balance for the final product.

Salazar’s palate tastes what most others cannot; she has become so skilled in this that she created the sensory analysis program at New Belgium and brought it to the beer community through teaching at Chicago’s prestigious brewing school Siebel Institute of Technology and other programs. Applied sensory science, Salazar says, is a completely objective approach to evaluating beer. It utilizes statistical analysis and other methods to obtain objective facts about taste and smell. She’s recently passed the torch on her groundbreaking work to her colleagues at New Belgium, since she needed to focus more on working in the brewery’s wood cellar.

New Belgium Brewing is well known for its employee-owned business model, but it is also very heavy on female top-level team members. Its CEO and co-founder, Kim Jordan, is an inspiration to women in the brewing and business worlds. New Belgium also has women as CFO, COO, as well as in other top positions. The gender parity trickles down through every level of the company, even in the science-focused (and traditionally male-dominated) testing laboratory area, where women make up half of that department. It’s a great example of an open-minded environment that doesn’t put limits or labels on its employees’ capacities