The growth of Springfield, Missouri’s beer scene is nothing short of remarkable. More than 15 breweries have popped up across the region over the course of the past decade, offering everything from California pale ales to honey-tinged mead. At the center of Springfield’s craft beer bonanza is Mother’s Brewing Co., known for creative, highly drinkable beers and an irreverent ‘tude that’s built the brewery a horde of followers known affectionately as Mother’s Lovers. Head of production David Soper has been there through it all.
Soper started volunteering on the Mother’s packaging line three months after the brewery opened, juggling shifts at The Coffee Ethic and working toward a bachelor’s degree in science while experimenting with his own home brews. When Mother’s opened in 2011, Soper and his wife were planning to move to a more brewery-dense region. Then, after a summer on the packaging line, Soper dropped out of school to accept a full-time position in the Mother’s beer cellar. He developed skills in yeast maintenance, dry hopping and other cellar tasks, eventually working his way into the brewhouse until he accepted his current position.
Most recently, Soper has helped lead the team through a difficult decision: the retirement of Towhead, one of three core beers that have been offered at Mother’s since the brewery opened. “We have a contract with our customers to make beers that we love and enjoy and they love and enjoy,” Soper says. “Month after month craft beer drinkers were not reaching for [Towhead].”
At the same time, the brewery has introduced a new easy-drinking year-round beer just in time for summer shenanigans: Step Dude, an American lager that the brewery’s website describes as “light, dry, and crushable.” Step Dude’s drinkability was a major factor in its introduction to the year-round portfolio. “This is a brewer’s beer,” Soper says. “We like taking the time to enjoy beer while we hang out. In Step Dude, we wanted a beer that was well-suited to that, and one thing we all had in common was we loved drinking lagers.” It’s not the crew’s first time working on a lager – Mother’s has been releasing lagers on a small scale since year one, including the popular seasonal Oktoberfest Märzen.
Despite the changes, Soper remains a passionate, personable beer-lover making brews for other beer-lovers. “We love getting to see other people enjoy it,” he says. “Nothing feels better to all of us – especially the brewers – than knowing that a beer we made made somebody’s picnic better or made their backyard barbecue more enjoyable.”
What is your favorite ingredient to brew with and why? Right now, I’m really enjoying trying to limit ourselves to just the base four. I love the idea of making beers that focus on process and the quality of our raw materials: malt, water, hops and yeast.
What's your perfect day of eating and drinking in Springfield? The toughest part [of living in] Springfield is trying to hit up everything I want to do. My favorite days in Springfield are the ones where I never get in a car and instead ride from place to place on my bike. We are lucky to have a city that has so many great places you can access on your bike, and it has only gotten better since I moved to the city in 2006. I always enjoy grabbing some coffee from The Coffee Ethic in the morning, and from there it's all too easy to swing into Mother's to check on stuff. Even on a day off, nothing ever stops at the brewery and it feels good to check in and make sure it's going well. From there, it's all too easy to ride to other great breweries in town. We are lucky to have so many new breweries located not only downtown but now in the Rountree, Galloway and Oak Grove Neighborhoods. From there, I like to head back downtown to grab some drinks and dinner at Golden Girl [Rum Club]; always a favorite when I have the time to get out. I really love the program there, and the drinks are on par with any tiki-rum cocktails I've had in any city.
What’s your favorite comfort brew? That was actually the jumping-off point that we used when we started making Step Dude. We polled the brewers, and we started to see this theme when we were talking about events – like what we did over the weekend. It was like, “Oh, I bought a six-pack of Firestone Lager and went to the park and hung out. Man, I just love that beer.” Whether it was Stammtisch or Urban Underdog from Urban Chestnut [Brewing Co.] or Modelo Especial or Pivo Pils from Firestone Walker, those are beers that you want to take everywhere and drink as your sidekick beer. That’s where Step Dude came in. At some point we said, “We all buy these lager beers, and we don’t make one. Let’s make one.”
If you could tell homebrewers one thing, what would it be? Invest in fermentation control. Make everything secondary to your process. I think as homebrewers, we get really excited by the idea of brewing this style of beer or that style of beer or making the clone of this beer. All the while, we end up varying wildly in the process or the approach. Until you know how to manipulate your system and your process, you can’t even begin to use your palate. The main place to start there is being able to control your fermentation temperatures. Yeast management, maintaining proper yeast health and pitch rates – controlling that aspect of the process is going to have a more profound impact on the quality of the beer than anything else.
What is your first beer memory? It was pretty early, which I think is pretty standard for most people of my generation that grew up in the types of small towns I grew up in. Even at a high school age, I was interested in beer beyond the cheap 30-pack stuff. I started buying import beer, occasionally getting beer from Sam Adams, New Belgium. I certainly remember drinking my fair share of Mothership Wit and 1554. Beyond that, it would have been the summer after my freshman year of college. My wife took a travel nursing contract, and we went and lived on the East Coast. Neither one of us really liked seafood, so we ended up diving really deep into the brewpub and brewery culture that exists out there. Spending a lot of time at Smuttynose [Brewing Co. in Hampton, New Hampshire], Portsmouth Brewery [located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire], Boston Beer Works and tons of other phenomenal little pubs out there. Being exposed to the brewery employees and actually talking to the people who made the beer – I was floored by that.
What are your future plans? Right now, we’re really interested in executing our process as well as we can. A big part of that is really getting the highest quality raw materials we can and trying to be on the front edge of what’s happening in industry. For example, the industry seems to be very largely defined by hops right now, so we’re definitely working on some more hop-forward beers… Beyond that, there are a few projects that each one of the brewers is working on independently. I really love getting to work with them on recipe development and helping them grow and work on their own beers. That’s sort of what’s next for me: pushing their creativity and giving them room to grow.
Mother’s Brewing Co., 215 S. Grant Ave., Springfield, Missouri, 417.862.0423, mothersbrewing.com