I started brewing aged 13, (remember Boots kits?) and graduated to full mash brewing as a student. I studied history and trained as a solicitor but three kids and twenty years later, I was still dreaming of my own brewery. I have brewed in my back yard in Cullercoats since 1995, a highlight being an 11% barley wine bottle conditioned from 1995-2000 in time for the Millenium celebrations. The jigsaw of funds, family and jobs fell into place in mid 2011 and having made the leap from law to beer, I am now one happy brewer! A week in the Life tells you about my job now.
I couldn’t secure any premises in Cullercoats, or indeed in Whitley Bay, so the brewery is in a unit in Wallsend. Some people think it odd to call it Cullercoats Brewery and yet it is in Wallsend, but it’s been Cullercoats brewery with the RNLI link planned since 1996 in all our dreams and plans, with the nautical beer names and branding. Changing tack when we couldn’t get the right place in the village seemed unthinkable once the dream came true in 2011, so Cullercoats brewery it is – and I still have the back yard brewery for my pilot brews!
My years of experimenting convinced me that the tastiest beer is made with a 100% malt brew, English hops and the best top fermenting yeast. I’ve chosen my ingredients carefully, preferring Yorkshire Malt, from Thomas Fawcetts of Castleford, and English hops, from Charles Farham of Worcestershire.
Before choosing the brewery plant, I spent some time helping out at a number of small and medium sized breweries. I found a great variation in plant quality, and by far and away the best equipped brewery was the Red Willow Brewery in Macclesfield where Toby Mackenzie had recently installed a state of the art plant built by Elite Stainless Fabrications of Swindon. Toby’s brewery worked like clockwork in terms of controllability, efficiency, ease of cleaning and sterilization, which are all essential for brewing top quality beer. I knew from years of brewing experience how the quality of brewing equipment has a massive effect on the quality of beer, so I knew this was the plant to install, even though it was nowhere near the cheapest option. Toby could not recommend ESF highly enough and in particular ESF’s Mark Herring’s brilliant service.
The plant is all stainless steel, made to measure, with highly efficient pumps and a system to avoid undesirable hot wort aeration. The fermenters have automatic temperature control, thereby avoiding unwanted flavours produced by too hot or cold fermentations.
For me, yeast is the real brewer. My job is to create an ideal environment for the yeast to make the beer. I selected the best yeast for my style of beer with the help of Brewlab, the expert brewing scientists in Sunderland. Brewlab then supplied the pure yeast culture for the first brew, which I have harvested from the top of each brew, to use for the next brew. This ensures an abundant and continuous supply of yeast, and consistent quality beer. Brewlab have helped me to monitor the health of the yeast, which I have managed to keep in tip top condition. Son Ben ( 8 years old) delights in explaining how yeast gobbles sugar and farts alcohol; he enjoys donning his white coat and working at our kitchen table, to check on the yeast health, down the microscope!
I now brew once or twice a week, producing 40 firkins (72 pints each) per brew, with the help of our assistant brewer Sean Hardy, and sometimes with my wife Anna, who also keeps the paperwork at bay. Anna was once upon a time a solicitor, but after 5 years jumped ship to set up her own children’s music business, Piccolo Music, with a friend, which she ran for 13 years. She moved to help run the brewery full time in 2012.