Published on April 6th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The globe in a glass
The North East is a world leader in brewing education, writes Alastair Gilmour
It’s hugely encouraging to acknowledge that the region is home to one of the most respected brewing schools in the world. Students arrive at Brewlab in Sunderland from all points of the globe – with the current crop coming from Canada, the US, Ecuador, South Africa, Greece, Italy, Australia and County Durham.
A huge number of graduates from several levels of Brewlab courses are now operating their own microbreweries across the world, from Japan to Hawaii and the Falkland Islands. They have been given a comprehensive grounding in the theory and practice of brewing, plus an introduction to business start-up, finance and marketing theory, microbiology and tasting.
Industrial placements are also a terrific introduction to British beer.
“The breweries in the region like to take on students,” says Brewlab course administrator Richard Hunt. “They’ll go to places from the tiny Northern Alchemy to the much bigger Maxim. They’re all very happy to help with their development and they all get ideas from each other – it’s a great beer community.”
Ian Pershey from Chicago is a long-term homebrewer and discovered Brewlab online. He has been experimenting with ingredients like peppermint and vanilla pods but his first attempt at a witbier is his favourite.
“It turned out very nice, I got what I was going for, if not quite true to style,” he says. His peppermint beer appears to be more of an acquired taste.
“When I graduate, I’ll work for somebody else first. I’d rather make mistakes on someone else’s equipment.”
Sokratis Theodosiadis from Thessaloniki in Greece had gone into electronics from university and when he was sent by his company to sort out some control panels in a small brewery, the bug bit him big time. He enjoyed working there so much he asked if he could stay on for a couple of months which the brewery was quite happy to do. Luckily his original employers have a generous streak and allowed him the time off.
“It was a turning point in my life,” says Sokratis. “From then on all I wanted to do was be a brewer.
“My old job is waiting for me back in Greece, but I’ll definitely pursue my career in brewing first.
“I’d like to brew proper English pale ales. There’s a new wave of breweries starting up in Greece, with many new micros popping up. Eventually I’d like to open up my own brewery producing quality ales.”
Nick Leach, an HR professional from Sydney has also been a home brewer for 10 years and was keen to make a career out of it. Studying on the other side of the world was made easier by the fact that his wife is from Middlesbrough and his dad was originally from Newcastle – plus he has grandparents in Hexham – so his wife and daughter have come over with him.
“I’ll probably work for someone back home then eventually start up on my own,” he says. “Craft beer is really growing in Australia. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while – it certainly beats sitting in front of a computer.”
David Mera from Ecuador has a Brewlab graduate friend at home who was forever singing the praises of the Sunderland course. David has been working with global brewing giant SABMiller in Ecuador and got to really like the business of making beer. But he wanted more.
“My friend Xavier used to talk all the time about Brewlab,” he says. “When I go back to Ecuador the aim is to start up a brewery with my brother and father-in-law. It’s mainly lager-style beers at home but we’re going to do a Red Ale, a Mild and an IPA and want to go a bit crazy as well.
“The craft brewing market in Ecuador is going up and it’s a great moment to start.”
Michael Ray from Durham had been home-brewing for many years and ordered the beers for the Durham Beer Festival in the early 1990s. Redundancy from his offshore job made him think about going back to his old hobby – this time on a commercial basis.
He recently won a Brewlab competition organised by Camerons and Castle Eden breweries and Close Brewery Rentals which guaranteed the winning beer national distribution and availability in the expanding Head of Steam group of pubs.
Michael says: “I decided to brew a version of Butterknowle High Force which I remembered from working with them years ago. I didn’t have the recipe, just did it from memory.”
His 6.2% abv traditional bitter is now being scaled up on Castle Eden’s 20-barrel kit.
“It’s all very exciting,” he says in an understatement that could also be applied to Brewlab in general.