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Since firing up Mother’s Brewing Co. in 2011, Jeff Schrag has been proud to concoct a wide variety of beers to quench a wide variety of tastes. One notable is a unique twist on the India pale ale – a Midwestern vibe he says Mother’s created in its early days. This summer, he heads off in a new direction as his team launches 12 packs of locally made seltzer developed just over a year ago.
SBJ: What sets Lil’ Helper Midwest Coast IPA apart from other IPAs? And please tell us more about that name.
Jeff Schrag: A Midwest Coast IPA was very intentional on our part. It is an original beer for Mother’s and we have brewed it since we opened our doors. We examined the IPA landscape in 2010 by studying other ales, style guidelines and articles about beer and brewing. We started placing IPAs into two broad categories: East Coast inspired by traditional English pale ale styles and West Coast inspired by strong hop flavors and pronounced bitterness. Mother’s wanted to carve a different path. We sought to meld the hops and the bitterness with a strong, malt backbone to produce a full-flavored, yet approachable IPA. It took time to strike the right tone, but the result is a beer brimming with Midwestern friendliness: not too hoppy, not too malty. The term Midwest Coast just fit like a glove. Over time, other breweries have gotten on board and labeled theirs as a Midwest Coast, but Lil’ Helper is the original.
SBJ: You somewhat recently expanded thirst-quenching options from beers to hard seltzers.
Schrag: Seltzer was a truly local play. We believe there is room for a good local seltzer. We plan to just stick with southwest Missouri. The seltzer field is crowded, but local still matters.
SBJ: Where does inspiration for these products come from?
Schrag: Inspiration came from tasting lots and lots of seltzers. We use real fruit juice, and that in my opinion makes an enormous difference. If you drink one with real juice and one that is artificially flavored, you see a real difference. It’s more complicated to make and it’s more expensive, but it makes it delicious. We had some missteps. We had some manufacturing issues. There’s nothing to hide behind in seltzer.
SBJ: What is the appeal of keeping manufacturing in the Ozarks?
Schrag: One, I believe downtown Springfield, Missouri, is the cultural capital of the Ozarks, so I’m really, really proud to be a seed in the core of downtown. I belong in a creative center like downtown Springfield. What I love about the Ozarks of my generation is the blend between the natural and the metropolitan. The greater outdoors, I love that proximity. I make it a point to personally visit all the markets where we sell beer and being in Springfield makes that very possible. We’re a transportation hub. The nice thing about beer is you don’t need special soils or sun. Everything is brought in, and we have plentiful water.
SBJ: What’s on the horizon for Mother’s?
Schrag: We are working on a few new product offerings generally along the lines of fruit and hops. We also are focusing on some of those barrel-aged beers and improving our barrel-age portfolio. Our 22-ounce bombers sales have migrated away from retail and distribution – they don’t like them – and have moved to breweries. We sell every drop.
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