Robert Baker (’08, DB) earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle and had plans to become an air traffic controller, until a diagnosis of color blindness changed everything. Now the head brewer at Sea Dog Brewery and Tasting Room in Clearwater, Fla., Baker has earned the nickname “Bobby the Brewer,” and he wears it proudly. Today, he develops beer recipes for Sea Dog Brewing Co., and oversees a 20-barrel brewing system, managing distribution throughout Florida. A fan of craft beers, Baker says, “If I couldn’t do air traffic control, I wanted to do something I really loved.” Here’s the skinny on Baker and how he went from Embry-Riddle graduate to brewer extraordinaire.
HE WAS an engineering student at Florida State University when he visited an air traffic control tower and decided that he’d found his calling. “It was the rush you get seeing the planes on the runway and bringing them in. I loved it. You have so much responsibility. It just really grabbed me.”
SHORTLY AFTER graduating in 2008 from Embry-Riddle, he tested positive for color blindness and his dream of becoming an air traffic controller was crushed. “It was a shock—I went through all of my classes not knowing,” he says. “I didn’t have a contingency plan.”
BAKER STARTED bartending at a craft beer bar in Lakeland, Fla., and it was here that he encountered the owner of Sea Dog Brewing Co. “We met, hit it off, and they shipped me off to Maine.”
BREWER TRAINING began in 2012 at Sea Dog’s Bangor, Maine, facility, where Baker learned the old-world English style of brewing beer with open vats and the reuse of yeast sources. “I am a hop head. I like very bitter beer,” Baker says.
HE SPENT one year in brewer training before heading back to Florida to help Sea Dog open a brewery in his hometown of Clearwater. “They wanted to introduce their beer in Florida, so it helped that I knew people down here. I was here from day one.”
“If I couldn’t do air traffic control, I wanted to do something I really loved.”
FOOD, SPICES and changing seasons inspire many of his beer recipes. “I just brewed an Eggnog White Porter for the holidays. We made a nice creamy beer and added eggnog spices.”
ALL NATURAL ingredients are the basis for Sea Dog’s beers. Some beers that Baker makes are small, limited-release brews, exclusive to the Clearwater tap room, while others, like Sea Dog’s famous Blueberry Wheat Ale, are produced on a larger scale with national distribution.
HIS RECIPES include flavors like Maple Bacon Stout; Chocolate Cherry Custard Milk Stout; Reese’s Peanut Butter Brown Ale; Sweet Potato Pie Brown Ale; Tri-Pepper IPA; Snickerdoodle Porter; Carrot Cake Brown Ale; and Cherry Sour Belgian Ale.
HIS FAVORITE is Banana Split Milk Stout, which includes real bananas and chocolate. “It just has so much flavor. It is literally like dessert.”
THE BIGGEST job challenge is distribution. Baker works with multiple distributors in Florida, balancing quality and quantity of beer with delivery times and costs. “The logistics side is a lot more difficult than people imagine. It’s like a giant chess match,” he says.
CHEMISTRY AND physics courses he took at Embry-Riddle have helped him in his career. He uses chemistry in the brewing process and mechanical knowledge when working with the brewery equipment. “It’s very related,” he says.
CREATIVITY IS necessary and one of his favorite parts of the job. “Creating something new and having customers come in and enjoy it, that’s the best part.”
HE ENJOYS the hands-on aspects of his career and visiting other breweries. He recently attended a craft brewers’ conference in Portland, Ore. “It’s a tight-knit community and we help each other out.”
ANY REGRETS? “No,” Baker says. “It just all kind of worked out. I totally feel I’m where I’m supposed to be now.”