Beer expert Julie Baggett discusses everything from being a lab tech with Bell’s Brewery to being a woman in the world of brewing.
I am a part of an exclusive circulating email group for beer writers, pub owners, brewers and straight-up beer nuts. We talk about everything from who is selling limited releases of ales and lagers, to leading a rally to get rid of laws that compromise our rights to sip whatever kind of beer we want. Well, during various exchanges in cyberspace, a woman named Julie Baggett consistently offered her two cents in frank and often hilarious fashion. I always loved what she had to say and judging from her input, proved to know a helluva load about the suds.
The brew gods had us finally cross paths at a beer pub gathering and Julie, a native Atlantan, was even funnier in person, yet passionate about everything regarding beer. From selling sanitizing solution for brewing tanks to consulting pubs worldwide on how to store, serve and preserve what she terms “the ultimate beverage,” Julie had some fascinating stories. It was only right that I feature her as the next expert of my Pioneers of Beers Interview Series. My last edition featured Richard Roper, one of the three winning brewers of the latest Samuel Adams Longshot Series with his Belgian Hop Ale here.
Just finishing her latest gig as a consultant with the new pub in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points called The Wrecking Bar (Make sure you check it out!), Julie and I got together at The Porter a couple blocks away (here’s my vid with owner Molly here), ordered a few Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stouts on draught and, well, here ya go!
Ale: Let’s start simple. What is 'beer' to you?
Julie Baggett: Beer is the ultimate beverage as it has been used as food, medicine and mind-altering sacrament since the beginning of man's existence. It even played a major role in the transformation of mankind from a hunter-gatherer clan to actual agriculture and ultimately civilization. Ultimately, a well-made beer should be a solace to the soul and a joy to the senses whenever consumed. Brewing of beer is equal parts art and science.
Amen! That was tear-jerking. Okay, tell us your story.
I started my beer journey 20 years ago when as a junior pre-med in college. I met the analytical chemistry prof from England and was introduced to Mackeson's Sweet Stout, Woodpecker Cider and Chimay Red. I took a graduate course in the chemistry of beer and winemaking from him and brewed ginger beer, spiced brown ale and the first incarnation of my Mojo Metheglyn—a mead with both medicinal and flavoring spices. I was hooked by the brewing bug from then on.
When medicine started turning into managed health care, I nixed my reconstructive surgical medical career for pursuing professional brewing on the advice of my now deceased sommelier brother. I started working without pay at Marthasville Brewing Company and Blind Man Ales to get my hand in the profession. I worked for 9 months straight, 7 days a week as a postpartum CNA in hospital as well as a home health aide to raise tuition and living expenses to attend the 1996 UC Davis Master Brewers Certification. I was the only woman in my class and the third to attend the program.
You go girl! So you got love from major breweries after that course, right?
Yep! Anheuser- Busch sent me interview paperwork before I'd even completed my final at UC Davis. I worked at A/B Cartersville for a year before I became Senior Head Brewer for Abita. I also worked as staff brewer and lab tech for Bell's Brewery.
I've worked for a variety of brewpubs, homebrew stores and production breweries in Atlanta and I have learned a great deal about what not to do in business over the years, which I feel is more important than knowing what to do. I spent over five years in technical sales with Loeffler Chemical, meeting brewers from around the country and learning the chemical solutions to any potential sanitary issue that may come up in a brewery. In 2006, I finally had the opportunity to brew my own recipes, of which I did well and was very proud of. In 2008, I did it again, restoring befouled brewing equipment to pristine, sanitary condition and producing great, award-winning beers that were distributed from Raleigh to Pinehurst, NC. I look forward to making great beers or spirits again very soon in the future.
It sounds like you have done some serious traveling. What U.S. city has the best beer scene and what city abroad is kicking ass with the suds?
In my travels, Brussels, so far, is the best beer city worldwide. In this country, Boston and surrounding suburbs has had the best beer offerings.
Well Atlanta is definitely moving up in beer city recognition. Speaking of which, what are you doing in the ATL?
I just wrapped up at the Wrecking Bar Brewpub as a lackey and consultant. I got really dirty helping Brewmaster Chris Terenzi get the brewery cleaned up and ready for brewing. It's been a great opportunity to pick up new skills like soldering copper pipe, dealing with what construction needs to be completed in what order, passing inspections and getting permits.
So what’s next?
I can eye proper real estate sites, choose appropriate equipment and utilities for the job within a budget, get the site ready for the receipt and installation of equipment and plan recipes according to the client's preferences. It's also a good way for a future boss and yourself to try each other out, insuring that your future dealings will be harmonious and constructive as you transition into brewmaster.
Who knows? I could end up in a brewpub, production brewery or distillery.
Staying on the topic of Georgia’s capital, who are the gangster brewers out there you respect?
The Atlanta brewers I respect the most include Chris Terenzi (Wrecking Bar, Max Lager’s, U.S. Border Brewery and Cantina) who's got mad construction skills and a good eye for saving money; John Roberts, who continues to brew good beer year after year without making a fuss about it (Max Lager’s, Atlanta Brewing Co.); Spike Buckowski and John Cochran who have the most savvy business skills in the industry (Terrapin); and Brian Campbell, who despite working full time for Loeffler, brews nearly every weekend as good as professional (an awesome homebrewer).
Good calls. You named all gents, but as a woman in this industry, what is that like? Is it difficult?
As a woman in brewing, it's not difficult working in a man's industry, but you have to prove you can do as much work as they can and not take any crap off them, but not be too easily offended or hung up on political correctness. I'd love to see more women in the industry, but it's very physically and mentally taxing work and you have to be of a certain mindset to put up with it.
Word! So what would you change in the brewing word if you could?
If I could change anything in the brewing world, I would want government to eliminate some of the more blatant examples of restraint of trade from its books and let capitalism do its thing. Make three tier optional. Let brewers self-distribute if they choose. Let them give away
POS schwag and advertise on their websites where you can find their beer. Let brewpubs sell growlers and attend beer festivals without having to align with a distributor. Oh! And let people buy beer 7 days a week, which is coming in Georgia I heard. I liked that Cruisin’ For A Brewsin’ episode you did on it, by the way! I am sure it helped.
Thanks homey! I need to have you in one. You are hilarious and know your beers!