In effort to learn about beer and appreciate it as a craft, I began searching for the people behind the taps. When scoping out articles of local brewers, one person in particular stood out from the rest. Once head brewer of Brewer’s Alley and now quality assurance manager of Monocacy Brewing Co. in Frederick, MD, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Lenz is one of few females making a name in the craft on the East Coast.
The University of CA, Davis graduate says the opportunity of entering the world of beer fell into her lap when choosing an emphasis to her degree in Food Science and Technology.
The “let’s give it a shot” moment landed Maggie into a brewer position at Brewer’s Alley straight out of college in 2008. Since then, she has created numerous flavors and award winning ales before taking a seat behind the microscope to ensure every batch is on point.
You chose brewing as an emphasis because it seemed fun, what about it keep you most intrigued?
“My professor, Charlie, or Charles Bamforth, had a great attitude toward the craft. He had a crazy way of teaching his lectures and made the chemistry behind it very interesting. Going into my major at UC Davis, I already had interest in cooking and the science behind food. I loved learning what chemical processes caused something to happen. Brewing was just really fun.”
The now brewmaster of Brewer’s Alley hired you right out of college. Did you ever have a moment of uncertainty entering a male-dominant field?
“Not at all! I grew up with brothers, and out of 25 cousins, three are female. The majority of my family is male, my mom was a tom-boy, and all my life I’ve been one of the guys. So, when I entered brewing it was never a concern.”
What’s your advice for someone wanting to brew?
“If you want to do it, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you. Do be aware that it is labor intensive — without having to complete an internship, and being used to a small lab at the university, I wasn’t used to rolling keg, moving hoses, and lifting very heavy bags. If you have the physical aptitude, by all means have fun!”
You actually switched roles in the brewery due to an injury, how has the transition been from brewer to quality assurance?
“I love it. I miss brewing, but I love experimenting with the beers and their components. The yeast is my favorite — sometimes I call them my little babies. All yeast look different under the microscope, and I’m consistently trying to grow or propagate them. In my position, I check on the yeast health and concentration; ultimately trying to create a consistent fermentation and clockwork beer process. After my years of brewing, the transition into the lab was easy as everything I learned at UC Davis was science. I just had to relearn it, which turned out to be simple.”
Do you have criteria when choosing a beer to drink?
“I love a dry hopped beer. That means that the hops are added after the boiling process and it has fermented. You end up with an aromatic beer without the bitterness of a tradition hoppy beer. Choosing a beer depends on both what I’m doing and/or what I’m eating. Am I eating meat? If so, what kind? What’s the spice level? There are many factors that can alter the beer I choose. If I’m sipping a beer with friends, I might choose something with a heavier with a high alcohol content. If I’m at a crab feast, I’d choose something lighter that I can have 3, 4, or 5 of. Also, a lot of it is what do you like?”
What has been your favorite beer and food pairing?
“When I was at Brewer’s Alley, I would help chef choose with beer pairings for beer dinners they host every few months. The weirdest pairing I did was a homestyle mac-and-cheese that had crab or lobster in it, and it was served with our blueberry wheat beer. You’re kind of like..what? But, our blueberry wheat is not sweet. The additives are not artificial or extracts — it’s actual pureed blueberries, and it’s purple, very purple with pink foam. The beer comes out very dry with a tart finish. It balanced the richness of the mac-and-cheese. The pairing was an oddball combo that worked out really great.”
Another note from Maggie — tasting and analyzing beer is completely different. Picking your beer apart is the worst way to taste! “Sensory science ruined chocolate for me for three weeks.”
[all images are courtesy of the CA Photography]