2016 Beer Person of the Year: New Belgium’s Lauren Woods Salazar

lauren-salazar-vertical-crdt-carmel-zuckerLauren Woods Salazar might have the most wonderful nose, taste buds and brain in brewing. As New Belgium’s specialty brand manager and wood cellar blender, she collaborates with brewers, cooking up a Salted Belgian Chocolate Stout and a mixer-ready Pear Ginger Beer. Other days, she’ll visit the Colorado brewery’s forest of 64 oak foudres, sample the evolving elixirs, then devise blends that combine ballerina gracefulness with algebra intricacy. “I think of blending as a flower, with the sour as the middle,” she says of creating beers such as La Folie. Next come petals—one fruity, maybe one funky or malty. Like a kid with a Crayola box, “just because I have 64 crayons doesn’t mean I have to use them,” she says. “If you throw in too much magenta and periwinkle, you’re off the reservation.”

This career saw Salazar travel off track. In her mid 20s, the Georgia native relocated to Colorado to snowboard, temporarily mothballing her career in geriatric social work. Upon moving to Fort Collins with a master’s in mind, she scored a part-time assistant job at New Belgium that quickly became full-time. To bone up her beer knowledge, she asked questions, lots of them, seeking ways to benefit the brewery. She noticed New Belgium had no sensory lab. Sensory labs help breweries safeguard quality, ensuring flavors hit the bull’s-eye. To create one, she spelunked online sensory blog groups and devoured books and methods, stumbling across guru Rebecca Bleibaum. Salazar participated in a prototype program for sensory studies at UC Davis. “That was the most amazing year of my life,” she says. “It helped me understand how powerful sensory science really is.”

As sensory specialist, Salazar evaluated Fat Tire and Abbey, as well as barrels filled with New Belgium’s growing sour program. In time, her sensorial acumen led her to create, not just evaluate, elixirs like Le Terroir, twinning a barrel-aged sour beer’s floral, citrusy and peach-y notes to Amarillo hops. “That’s how Lips of Faith came about,” Salazar says of New Belgium’s series of risk- taking, collaborative beers, which she oversees.

“Every single job I’ve had at New Belgium didn’t exist,” she says. “I don’t actually have a business card.”

If she did, it would omit the word brewer. “I’m a terrible brewer,” she says. However, she’s an excellent teacher; she created the Beer Confidence and Beer Mentor educational programs, teaching sales associates, distribution partners and brewery employees about brewing history, raw materials, beer production, packaging and, yes, sensory secrets. “It’s all about being very inclusive and empowering people,” she says. While Salazar may have deviated from her intended career, she’s landed where she belongs. “Beer,” she says, “is its own form of social work.”