You may recognize Natalie Baldwin for appearing in countless articles on the rising tide of female craft brewers, or perhaps even the Wildfang clothing campaign that she was featured in. She probably would be preferred to be known simply as a brewer who makes great beers, which she does, at least ever since winning the Willamette Week Pro/Am competition as a homebrewer and beertender before she was hired professionally as an assistant brewer at Burnside Brewing. Baldwin credits veteran brewer extraordinaire Dave Fleming for recognizing her talents and recommending her to be drafted up to the big leagues. At Burnside Brewing she began work under Sam Pecoraro, who later left to brew at The Commons Brewery, and she replaced him as Lead Brewer. Now both Baldwin and Pecoraro brew at Portland’s most award-winning brewery, Breakside Brewery.
Baldwin grew up in a Colorado mountain town about 15 miles west of Vail called Edwards. She graduated about a year early from high school and moved to Denver in 2007 to attend the University of Colorado as a biochemistry major with intentions of being a veterinarian. After becoming perhaps a bit disillusioned, she worked a variety of jobs from barista to valet before moving to Portland.
Baldwin’s gateway beer was Colorado classic Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide Brewing. She says, “I first fell in love with beer drinking Great Divide Yeti. The bartender at the time was also involved in the back of the house ( brewery) and was very knowledgeable about beer. I would drink beer and he would tell me about style origins, I was hooked.”
It makes sense then that her first beer brewed professionally was the 2014 Pro/Am Competition beer she made with Dave Fleming – a Coffee Stout. She also became known for using a lot of vanilla in beers and Burnside Brewmaster/owner Jason Mcadam coined the nickname “Nilla” for both the flavoring and her platinum hair color at the time. After two and a half years Baldwin took a job at Breakside in January of 2017. Now she is both the full-time R & D brewer at Breakside Dekum, and when not there she also works at the Milwaukie production facility in the cellar; she has a full schedule, as you may imagine.
This is chapter ten in a monthly-ish series in which we check in with brewers on what they are drinking, eating, enjoying and what’s currently bubbling away in their fermenters.
Natalie Baldwin attending GABF in Denver, circa 2015
Q: What is your favorite style to brew and drink right now?
Natalie Baldwin: My go to beers right now to drink are lagers, saisons, and big stouts. I love drinking wild and funky beers, too. Since starting at Breakside I’ve been drinking more IPAs because we make so many great ones.
Lagers, Belgian table beers, and low abv saisons are wonderful to make ( and drink) . I really enjoy layering delicate, beautiful flavors to build an overall complex beer. I’ve been really into using tea, spices, botanicals, flowers, fruits, and looking forward to use more herbs and vegetables as Oregon warms up this summer.
Q: What are some of your favorite beers you have been enjoying lately (Breakside and others) ?
NB: We just released ‘In the City of Flowers’, it’s an effervescent sour beer with jasmine flowers, chamomile, and peaches. Tom has been brewing some Dekum original beers like Willy Buckets ( altbier) over at Slabtown, it’s really neat to taste identical recipes that are brewed on direct fire and steam powered kettles. Slight yet noticeable differences; so delicious. One of our production brewers, Daniel Berg, and I collaborated on a I really fun beer that should be on draft soon. Daniel has been wanting to make a juniper beer, he enjoys gin made in Corvallis at the Vivactiy Distillery, they were kind enough to give us spent gin botanicals. The beer is an IPA with citra and Amarillo hops, grapefruit zest, and spent gin botanicals. Beer is named Apothecary IPA.
Q: If you could eat anywhere in Portland right now, where would it be and what would you order? Same goes for spirit/cocktail ?
NB: Food: I’ve been dying to eat at Langbaan and made a reservation for June ( there’s a long wait). I believe they create a new menu each month, but I keep a look out at the menus. I cannot wait to eat there because I LOVE PaaDee, Kim Jon Grilling, and Hat Yai, other restaurants the executive chef has also opened.
Cocktail: Gin and tonics at Bar Casa Vale. The g&t’s are served in large, Oregon-pinot-like-glasses with fresh fruit, botanicals and other fancy things. I haven’t been yet but plan to soon.
Q: What are you most excited about in the Portland craft beer scene right now?
NB: I’m really excited to see breweries continue to make better beer by hiring the most qualified people based on skill and merit, not age, sexuality, race, or gender.
Q: What have you recently been brewing and what’s coming up that you are excited about?
NB: At Dekum, I have been brewing a lot of lagers (light lager diluted with deaerated water, dunkel, helles, black lager), Breakside classics ( Irish Stout, Rye Curious), remaking some archived recipes that Ben has made over the years (Wentworth by the Sea-mild) will be working on a couple of saisons (rose petal saison, Belgian table beer), and then some more lagers (collab with friends from Oklahoma, Rauch Helles). Ill be working on a series called Garden Party, each beer will have some ingredient that you might find in a garden: flowers, herbs, spices, vegetables, fruits, etc. All the beers I want to drink and can’t wait for people to try.
Check out our past Q & A’s with Whitney Burnside (10 Barrel),Brett Thomas (Sunriver), Ben and Rik of Baerlic Brewing, Austen Conn of Buoy Beer, Michael Kora of Montavilla Brew Works, Scott Sieber of Falling Sky Brewing, Coren Tradd of Pelican Brewing Cannon Beach, Sarah Resnick of Freebridge Brewing, and Tyler West of GoodLife Brewing.