Published on October 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


Military service

Brewers come in all shapes and sizes, writes Alastair Gilmour, though not many of them also have combat duties.

“Big lads” look after Sandy Tse. She makes beer for a living, so that’s no great surprise. Big lads like beer. She is, by her own admission, “five-foot nowt” so maybe she looks like she needs looking after by big lads. Sandy is also a lance-corporal in a Territorial Army battalion specialising in military tactics and weapons, therefore it stands to reason she’s pretty good at sticking up for herself anyway.

Sandy is also the brewer at the Bridge Tavern in Newcastle and gets to work on that lovely kit at the back of the pub whenever she likes.

“I’ve got pretty much free rein, I just milk it for what it’s worth,” she says. “We do two brews a week, maybe once a week depending on what’s required. Interesting more experimental beers take a bit longer and I always believe in quality over quantity.”

In between times, Sandy is a member of X Company, Fifth Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, a fighting company based at Sandyford Road in Newcastle where she’s been training for the last couple of years as a combat medical technician (CMT).

“Being in the TA is quite physical – I’m five foot nowt – and it’s just like being a normal soldier, but part-time,” she says. “I see it as something else to develop my skills; it would be so easy to let yourself go in a brewery with all that beer around, but I see it as a duty to be fit and look after myself, it’s a nice balance. There’s a good bit of banter in the battalion and the big lads look after me.”

Sandy, originally from Sheffield, studied biosciences at Newcastle University then started on a PhD, which she decided not to complete.

She says: “The more I did it, the more I realised a career in science wasn’t for me. I wanted to extend my skills, broaden my horizons a bit, and prove to myself that there’s something else.

“I always had a love for real ale, starting off with a home-brewing kit as a hobby at uni. In my final year I got involved with Stu Brew, Europe’s first student-run microbrewery. I wasn’t enjoying university but I got on well and they kept me on in a supporting role. Stu Brew actually funded a four-day brewing course at Brewlab in Sunderland and it was then I thought, ‘this is what I want to do’.

“I was recommended for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was quite academic post-graduate study in brewing and distilling by distance learning. I had to work while studying to pay the bills and got part-time bar work at The Bridge Tavern. I knew the brewery was there and thought that if I do well at the bar maybe they’d let me share the brewing.”

Sandy soon discovered that the incumbent Bridge Tavern brewer was moving on, so she was in a handy position to apply for the vacancy. From her background in science study she knew how to work things out, to be meticulous, self-disciplined and careful – perfect attributes for a brewer – so the job was hers.

“I develop the recipes and everything I brew is mine,” she says. “Some people think there’s a large input from Wylam Brewery (under the same ownership as The Bridge Tavern) but there’s not, although I keep asking the lads there for advice and have the backing of all their skills. I’m still learning, after all.

“It’s really rewarding to sell your own beer over the counter; I get a real buzz out of it when people take a sip. The pumpclips are designed by the bar staff or by artists I know – I think it’s a nice touch. People here are really good at art so it’s great to get them involved and it’s a nice platform for them. They also think the names up – what’s the most stupid name for a beer you can think of and get away with? I tell them to just go for it.”

Fermenting away while we talk are beers called Ctrl Alt Right Del, No Sleep Till Brooklyn and Dimitri’s Fault which demonstrates their personal nature – and fun side. They’re pretty damn good as well.

Sandy says: “I’ve trained up some enthusiastic members of the bar staff to help keep things ticking over and make the most of the brewery while I can’t possibly be there – gravity readings, yeast drops and hop blasts. They contribute so much to the quality of the beers.”

Bridge Tavern brew days start at 6am and can take 10 to 12 hours, but when Sandy first started it was much earlier than that – the wee sma’ hours – until she realised that the pub’s customers enjoy being around on brew days. They feel part of it and want to eventually drink what has filled their nostrils.

“It’s nice to play around with different ingredients – there’s such a range of clientele in this pub,” she says. “Brewing 30 gallons doing the same things all the time would be such a waste of the facilities we’ve got. It gives people the opportunity to try styles they wouldn’t otherwise find.

“All the cleaning with caustic and so on is done before the pub opens but when there’s hot stuff about you rely on people not to be stupid and put their head in something.”

X Company, Fifth Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, is an active, deployable force that has served alongside their regular counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently, Kenya, Croatia, The Falklands and at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

It’s nice to know that Sandy Tse is looking after us – in both her roles.

About the Author

Alastair Gilmour

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