For the Oregon Beer Growler
Getting to watch Natalie Baldwin in her element is a treat.
A Vail, Colorado native, the 25-year-old arrived in Portland several years ago and says, “I never imagined that I would become a brewer. It just happened, and I love it.”
Natalie is hardworking, humble and talented. I visited her early on a Saturday morning at Burnside Brewing Company and followed her around for a few hours while she rattled off bits about what was happening. She was brewing her contribution for the Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland last month. The brew is aptly named “The Fifth Ellament” after the heavy dose of Ella hops from Australia, as well as one of her favorite films. She opened the kettle to let me inhale and I asked her how she got here.
“I fell in love with Chocolate Yeti, from Great Divide,” she explains. “I had craft beer before that, had things that were delicious, but that was the one that made an impact. I would go to the taproom and basically interrogate the beertender, who had goals of becoming a brewer, on how to accomplish that goal.”
When she arrived in Portland years later, she became a beertender herself, homebrewing and learning what she could in her spare time. I was instantly drawn to her a year and a half ago when we first met — her as the customer and me as the bartender. She loves talking beer (and knows her stuff), but is very modest. “In my former position, I met Alan Taylor, who is a very educated and talented brewer. He always answered my questions no matter how busy he was and created a program that allowed us (the servers) to brew with him. That literally changed my life.”
With Taylor, Baldwin created Hop Tart, her first commercially brewed beer. It was an exceptional grapefruit IPA (both batches) that was served around Portland and was a summer hit. Early last fall, Sam Pecoraro, the brewer she would eventually replace when he joined the team at The Commons, sought her out and encouraged her to apply for the cellar position at Burnside. In October, Baldwin and Dave Fleming won the Willamette Week Beer Pro/Am with a coffee milk stout. Of Fleming, she says, “Everyone knows Dave. He is very smart. I have yet to ask him a question he couldn’t answer. He helped me get the cellar position at Burnside.” When I asked her who has been significant in helping her on her path to where she is, she lists Fleming, Taylor, Pecoraro, “and of course, all my Burnside guys. Chip, Jason, Jay. They took a risk on me. They knew I wanted to be a brewer, and here I am.”
Her advice for other women looking to grow in craft beer: “Don’t let being a female in a male-dominated industry define you. Do your thing, work hard, and prove yourself. There are great resources that only us girls have. Pink Boots posts jobs and offers scholarships.”
And finally, on her goals for the future: “I just want to make really good beer.”