Long before sour beer could be found at nearly every craft brewery, Lauren Woods Limbach was experimenting with French-oak foeders and wild yeast—since 1998 to be exact. From those early days, she remembers the initial consumer reactions to the taste of La Folie, New Belgium’s first sour beer, which debuted in 1999. “It seemed like people were just so offended and couldn’t wrap their head around the taste,” she says.
But before Limbach was at the helm of New Belgium’s sour beer program headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado, she started as a part-time assistant, helping with everything from packaging to quality assurance. While working her way up to a full-time employee, she bounced around from production assistant to specialty brand manager, while getting her certification in sensory science, something she relies on in her current role as director of the brewery’s wood cellar.
Equipped with a collection of foeders (large wooden vats typically used for aging wine) and the prompt to think outside of the box, Limbach was charged with making 12 new beers a year for the brewery’s small batch Wood Cellar Reserve collection. From there, the experimentation began with beers like Belgian dubbels blended with apricots foeder-aged for a year before adding lavender, and Painkiller-inspired golden sours re-fermented with pineapple, blended with saison, then blasted with nitrogen. “Wood Cellar Reserves, to me, is being able to open your eyes and make anything possible,” says Limbach, “it just has to be sour.”
After years of maintaining New Belgium’s foeder collection—which has steadily grown to a collection of 65—Limbach has become accustomed to their nuances. While most people call them wild and unpredictable, she disagrees. “They have their own qualities, and they have their own names. The foeder is telling you what it wants, whether it’s hot, cold, or hungry. It’s the same way a baby cries. It’s not words, but you know what they need. But you have to figure it out.”
So what does Limbach do when she’s not navigating her foeder forest of 65 barrels? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her disdain for Clamato juice, the first time she ever got drunk and her favorite bar.—Tatiana Bautista
Wood Cellar Director and Blender at New Belgium.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank:
The Game Changer at Home Team BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina. Greatest beach drink ever—it’s a warm spiced rum cocktail with sweet notes of citrus. It has orange juice, pineapple juice, dark rum, spiced rum and cream of coconut. Blended with ice and topped off with a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Clamato juice. It’s clam juice in tomato juice, and not my jam. Especially when people put it in beers like a Michelada. Again, I can’t get with that.
First time you ever got drunk:
Blue Hawaiians out of my friend’s sink. Blue Curaçao is even worse the second time, ugh.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Allman Brothers Band, Dreams box set.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Worm farming in our basement.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Five years is such a short time at this point. That’s 2014. Things are pretty much the same as then. I guess I’ve been having such a great time in the last five years, but I knew that was going to be.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Not weird, awesome—Satan’s Circus [rye, Cherry Heering, chile-infused Aperol, lemon].
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Gardening or camping.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I’m no bartender, but I guess Durian Sour is up there.
Your favorite bar, and why:
The Social in Fort Collins, Colorado. When you walk in, you feel like you’re in a big city and the drinks are amazing. Ty and his staff are so pro and the place is gorgeous, then you walk back out to little ‘ol Old Town Fort Collins and bike home—the BEST! Also, The Star Bar in Denver, Colorado. I’ve had the best times of my life at Justin’s beer/dive bar in LoDo Denver, if I could only remember half of them.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Fresh Walleye, sweet corn and a salad at my sweet husband’s parents’ house on the banks of the mighty Mississippi in Lansing, Iowa. Plus, my Mama’s homemade spaghetti sauce.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a dive bar?
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Ice-cold coconut water and time.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
White Claw, gross.
The last text message you sent:
“wanna go to The Rio?!?”