Tina Spurr: Mother of Barrels at Indeed Brewing Company

Tina Spurr with the barrels at Indeed Brewing Company // Photo by Tj Turner

Tina Spurr with the barrels at Indeed Brewing Company // Photo by Tj Turner

Walking around Indeed Brewing Company’s barrel house, tucked just off Territorial Avenue between MN-280 and University Avenue, assistant brewer Cristina (Tina) Spurr points to chalk markings on a few of the hundreds of barrels racked four high and two deep along the walls. The numbers and letters are arranged in what look like unsolved algebra equations to the untrained eye but tell Tina exactly what she needs to know about each barrel: Who last sampled the sour beer aging in it, how much volume it contains, how acidic the in-progress beer is. Strands of globe string lights illuminate the room and classical music streams from the desktop computer perched on the end of the bar. This is the center of Indeed’s Wooden Soul program, and Tina’s second home.

While her official title at Indeed is assistant brewer, there’s another, unofficial title that better describes Tina. “I am the Mother of Barrels—these are my babies,” she says, motioning to the barrels and foeders around her. 

If Tina is the Barrel Mother, Wooden Soul’s head brewer Adam Theis is the Godfather. Adam began the program in 2014 and ultimately has the final say on what goes into and what comes out of the barrel house, while Tina oversees the everyday TLC of the barrels. 

Tina’s path to full-time brewing wound its way through a few (very different) careers. Immediately after high school, the Mendota Heights native moved to Los Angeles to study and work as a special-effects film makeup artist. She didn’t know anyone in California but had always appreciated film and enjoyed doing other people’s makeup. (As she puts it: “I wouldn’t go to prom, but I’d do everyone else’s makeup for it.”) That was enough for her to take the leap, and she worked in L.A. for a little over a year before returning to Minnesota. 

It was the early 2000s, and the film industry in Minnesota was still thriving thanks to the Minnesota Film and TV Board’s Snowbate program, which uses rebates to lure film projects to the state. Tina worked as a freelance artist on commercials, corporate training videos, one “pretty bad horror film,” and a handful of feature-length movies, including “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2006, for which Lily Tomlin requested Tina as her full-time artist. (Unfortunately Tina wasn’t a member of the union, and therefore couldn’t accept.) 

For three years there was enough work for Tina to sustain her career in film. Then, in 2010, Governor Tim Pawlenty severely reduced film production incentives, and much of the work dried up. “That was the reason it was easy to get out of [film] and take on a 9-to-5 office job,” Tina says. “A lot of films being set in Minnesota were being filmed in North Dakota and South Dakota because it was cheaper for Hollywood.”

Tina had done some office management work while freelancing and used that experience to land a full-time job in human resources. The job paid well but did little to sate Tina’s creative drive. “I liked HR, but it just wasn’t right. There wasn’t any culture,” she says. “For me, if I’m going to be spending 40-plus hours a week with other people, I want them to be like-minded people that I get along with. I was the youngest in the department by 15 years. There were never any happy hours or anything; everyone just showed up and then would leave.”

An opportunity to satisfy her artistic side presented itself one day in 2012 when Tina stopped into Vine Park Brewing in St. Paul. After chatting with the owners for a while, they asked her if she was looking for a part-time job. She wasn’t, but accepted anyway and started the next week as a brew coach.

Being a brew coach is exactly what it sounds like: coaching people through the process of making their own beer. Tina loved it. “Vine Park was my fun job after a bunch of stressful HR bullshit,” she says. “There was never anything stressful about that job—nobody was ever unhappy or upset; everybody was really excited to come in and make beer and two weeks later come back and bottle it themselves and drink it.”

The more involved she got with beer, the more Tina wanted to do in the industry. She started volunteering at festivals and attending Barley’s Angels meetings. At some point she met a sales rep from Excelsior Brewing Company and arranged to pour a couple times at their taproom to meet more industry people. Finally, in 2014, she went all in and took a job as a shift brewer at Burning Brothers Brewing. 

“My parents called it my quarter-life crisis—I left my cushy HR job and took a 50 percent pay cut”

“My parents called it my quarter-life crisis—I left my cushy HR job and took a 50 percent pay cut,” Tina laughs. But she was being challenged and putting to full use both her analytical, checklist-making-and-achieving side as well as her creative side. She was happy. 

Tina stayed with Burning Brothers for a year, then took the job with Indeed in April 2015. For the first year she worked full-time in the production facility in Northeast Minneapolis. But when Nick Walby left in 2016 to go to Pryes Brewing and a spot opened up with the Wooden Soul program, Tina jumped at the opportunity. “I’ve always been a big fan of sour beers—traditional Belgian-style lambics and stuff. So when that position opened up, I was like, ‘Mmhmm, me!’” she says. “I love it over here. I love the variety. I’m still assisting, [but it’s] part-time now that I’m over here.” 

At first glance it seems like Tina’s career paths as a professional makeup artist and a brewer have nothing in common. In one life, she was working to achieve a director’s vision armed with mascara and foundation. In the other, she’s pitching yeast and blending barrels, sanitizing tanks and racking beer. But the worlds of Hollywood and craft beer aren’t quite as different as they seem to be. “The tough schedule and long hours, being on your feet all day—there are a lot of similarities,” Tina says. “Sometimes the timing, like, okay: there’s a deadline, we gotta get this done, and people are waiting on you.” 

The challenges inherent in both industries energize rather than discourage Tina—especially those involved with making sour beers. 

Indeed Brewing assistant brewer Tina Spurr enjoying a glass from the Wooden Soul barrel house // Photo by Tj Turner

Indeed Brewing assistant brewer Tina Spurr enjoying a glass from the Wooden Soul barrel house // Photo by Tj Turner

Every Wooden Soul beer requires a bit of babying—careful blendings from the right barrels, multiple rounds of taste-testing, hours spent peeling ungodly amounts of citrus fruits for an infusion. The same beer style can be completely unpredictable from batch to batch, and brewers have to wait months or even years to learn lessons and implement changes. “It can be two years before we taste it and get to learn and say, ‘Okay, we should do this next time,’” she explains. All this creates an environment in which someone seeking stability would flame out instantly—and where Tina thrives.

Even on the hardest days, like the 16-hour marathon brew day for her first batch of Cherry Dust, it’s worth it. “My coworkers like to joke and call it ‘Tina’s Tears,’ because I probably cried into that beer,” she says, recalling the Friday a couple years back when 200-plus pounds of Door County cherries arrived, still frozen, and she and Adam underestimated how long it would take for Tina to single-handedly add all the cherries to the beer. “But then the finished product was like ‘holy shit,’” she continues. “So it was worth the pain and the few tears; there usually are a few tears.”

Adam is also a co-owner of Milk & Honey Ciders, and as the cidery’s production has ramped up over the last year (including adding a taproom in St. Joseph and planting a second orchard), so, too, have Tina’s responsibilities with Wooden Soul. At the barrel house, she is busy sampling, racking, transferring, refilling, cleaning, organizing—taking care of her babies. Whenever possible, Tina and Adam sample beer from the barrels together in order to determine how much to blend from each, with Adam ultimately deciding the final percentages. “We know each other’s sensitivities, if you will,” Tina says. “He’ll taste something and say it’s too acidic and I’ll think it tastes fine, then he’ll taste something and say it’s great and I’ll say I’d 100-percent send it back if I was served it somewhere. That’s where we determine how much volume to take from each barrel.”  

While the craft beer industry has certainly changed since Tina started at Vine Park in 2012, it still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. Tina cites a few women in the industry who have served as role models for her throughout her career: Melissa Rainville, a brewer at Summit Brewing Company; Lauren Salazar, New Belgium Brewing Company’s wood cellar manager; and Averie Swanson, the departing head brewer of Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas, who recently became the 18th Master Cicerone (third female) in the world. 

Tina has met Averie a handful of times, and says instead of spending their time together discussing the scarcity of female brewers in their industry, they talk about the thing they love: the beer. “I’m very much a feminist—I never want to sound like I’m anti-feminist—but I dream of a world where it’s not like, ‘Oh, female brewer,’” Tina says. “We’re just brewers. I just feel like we’re making strides but realistically it’s such a long way out. We’ve come a long way but just as far as stereotypes and sexism in general… now I’m speaking incredibly broadly.” She pauses. “But women in leading roles—managerial roles in typically male-dominated industries—that’s rare.”

When or whether gender parity will be achieved in craft beer remains to be seen. And while it’s a topic that’s important to Tina, ultimately her overriding priority is and always will be quality. 

“One of the reasons I’ve been at Indeed for so long is because I appreciate that quality and consistency, and if there’s anything that doesn’t meet the high standards we have, we’re not putting it out there. It’s as simple as that,” she says. Whether it’s Day Tripper, for which “every brewer has the recipe memorized,” or the house beers they make for Hai Hai, Hola Arepa, and Centro, or a Wooden Soul beer, it’s all about ensuring the customer gets the best quality beer possible. 

“I still get excited when I see someone order an Indeed when I’m out at the bar,” she says. “It’s humbling—a reminder that quality and consistency matters.” 

Indeed Brewing assistant brewery Tina Spurr pulling a nail from a Wooden Soul barrel // Photo by Tj Turner

Indeed Brewing assistant brewery Tina Spurr pulling a nail from a Wooden Soul barrel // Photo by Tj Turner

Editor’s Recommendation—Indeed Wooden Soul: Cherry Dust

The direct, fruity top notes are well restrained by a persistent barrel character; lengthy tannin mingling with a mellow funk. Secondary notes of aged vinegar and malt sweetness make for a remarkably well-balanced wild ale.   

About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.