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The brewer's craft: insights from industry experts

24/05/2024
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Behind every pint are passionate people who dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft. But what drives them, and what challenges do they face on a daily basis? 

We interviewed three experts to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in the beer industry.

Jayne Lewis is a trailblazer in the Australian brewing scene, known for founding Two Birds Brewing, the country's first female-owned brewery. With accolades like Entrepreneur of the Year and multiple brewing awards, she has made a lasting impact. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Viticulture & Oenology, a Diploma in Brewing, and a Change Management certification, and more. Jayne's brewing journey began in 2004, leading her to co-found Two Birds in 2014. Despite Two Birds closing in 2023, Jayne embraced change. She founded Full Colour Life, an advisory and mentorship business servicing the Drinks Industry. Now, as Business Development Manager for Beer at WSET, Jayne continues sharing her passion for beer and empowering others.

Caiti Sullivan is a brewer with a decade of production experience in craft beer, hard cider, and kombucha. She co-founded Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Coven Brewing in 2022. Caiti has led numerous beer and fermentation tastings and workshops. She is currently pursuing a Beer Judge Certification through the BJCP program in addition to being among the first to earn the new WSET Level 2 Award in Beer. For several years she has been an active member of the Pittsburgh Pink Boots Society chapter and the Pittsburgh Brewer's Guild.

Mike Sayer joined the brewing industry in 1984 after graduating in Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. Mike successfully negotiated his Master Brewer examinations in 1989 and a year later moved to Burton upon Trent with Bass. Since that time Mike has had a varied career, holding many different jobs at different breweries in the UK and Ireland, as well as spending five years in an international brewing role working in many breweries in China, Vietnam, Philippines, Russia, Mexico, and Ukraine. Mike is currently employed by the Molson Coors Beverage Company and has a senior technical role which allows him to be involved in the development of internal brewing talent.

Looking for an introduction to beer? Visit our Level 1 Award in Beer page.

What sparked your interest in becoming a beer brewer?

Jayne: I was working as a winemaker in Margaret River and I visited a brewery, loved the beers and I remember thinking "I'm going to work here." And I did! Brewing appealed to my love of instant gratification - it allowed me to brew a beer and be drinking it at the bar 2 weeks later, as opposed to 6 months to many years later with wine.

Caiti: As I was learning to cook in my early twenties, I started reading about pickling, fermentation, and brewing, and my interest in fermentation and brewed beverages took off. I started working in alcohol production and became increasingly interested in beer. There are many possibilities in crafting beer - brewers can use different grains, yeast, hops, flavourings, fruit...almost anything! I like making something each day and the potential for creativity.

Mike: I was brought up in a brewing town and was always aware of the industry and the opportunities it presented. I always enjoyed studying the sciences at school and wanted a career which allowed me to use my qualifications but also which gave me the opportunity to develop personally and to deliver results working through and with other people.

Tell us about your journey to your current brewing role. Did you complete any training or apprenticeship programmes?

Jayne: It is a long journey! I started brewing at Little Creatures 20 years ago, was Head Brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery and went on to co-found Two Birds Brewing, Australia's first female founded brewery. I am now working a hybrid role as Business Development Manager for Beer for WSET and running my own advisory & mentoring business for the Drinks Industry, Full Colour Life. Early on in my career, I completed the Diploma in Brewing at the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. I'm a lifelong learner and have taken so many courses, depending on what support I needed at the time.

A blonde woman leaning on her arm and smiling

Jayne Lewis

Caiti: I became a brewery by working my way through companies that interested me. I reached out to breweries that I wanted to learn from, showed up, asked questions, and shadowed more experienced employees. I have not completed any formal brewing training, but I have learned a lot through working and hand-on learning.

Mike: I qualified with a degree in Chemical Engineering before joining the brewing industry as part of a graduate intake. Whilst employed I sat my Brewing examinations via the Institute of Brewing & Distilling and became a Master Brewer after working in the industry for 5 years.

What skills and knowledge are essential for someone aspiring to become a successful brewer?

Jayne: It's a physical job, so you need to be practically minded and love getting your hands dirty. It's a great job for people who love to mix science with creativity. It's a job that requires a lot of passion and love of the process of brewing!

Caiti: Successful brewers are willing to learn new things, and to learn from their mistakes. They have good attention to detail and curiosity, plus an enthusiasm for problem-solving.

Mike: The art of brewing is all about consistently making a fantastic product using raw materials from nature, which is always challenging, but always fun! Understanding brewing biochemistry and process engineering principles is a great help, but being able to successfully work with others and to deliver consistent results through teams is a key requirement.

What challenges have you faced in your brewing career, and how have you overcome them?

Jayne: Running a business was one of the most challenging things I've ever done. It took me from physically brewing to running the day-to-day operations of the brewery to overseeing multiple production sites. My biggest challenges were always internal - restrictions I would place on myself, imposter syndrome and self-doubt. I surrounded myself with talented people in the business and in my life, who helped put me back on track if I lost my way.

Caiti: It can be a struggle for folks working in brewery production to move up; in my area there are not many jobs and a limited pipeline for professional growth in production. Eventually, I opened my own brewery, but small business operation is a mountain unto itself! As the American craft beer industry matures, I hope to see the professionalism of the industry grow alongside various levels of opportunities.
I have also experienced a lot of physical wear and tear on my body, and I've had to learn to stretch and make time for strength training. I would always encourage folks not to be stubborn, but rather take care of your body so that you can keep brewing long term.

A woman working in a beer brewery

Caiti Sullivan

Mike: Different challenges present themselves on a daily basis, which is part of what makes the brewing industry such great fun! Working for a successful brewing company requires you to balance quality, cost, and service levels at all times – this requires experience, judgement, and decision-making skills, as well as the innate knowledge of when to seek advice and/or bounce ideas off others… I believe part of my career success has been down to my willingness to embrace new opportunities when they arise and also my ability to manage through ambiguity i.e. to make decisions when not all facts are clear!

What does a typical day in the life of a brewer look like? (if you have one!)

Caiti: Something I enjoy about being a brewer at small breweries is that there are always new puzzles to solve. Any given day might involve graining in and brewing a beer, cleaning a tank in the cellar, or packaging up a beer to be shared in the taproom. Sometimes everything goes well, sometimes there are challenges to solve, but it keeps my mind busy and lets me learn new things about beer or problem-solving.

Mike: There is honestly no such thing as a typical day in my current work – this is, in part, by design. Every day will however involve decision making, communications, project planning and execution and, critically, beer tasting!

A man wearing glasses, looking directly at the camera

Mike Sayer

Lastly, can you share a bit about any upcoming projects or plans you have?

Jayne: I am focusing on developing wider awareness of the new Level 1 & Level 2 Award in Beer for WSET. It allows me to talk about beer and education - 2 things that I'm incredibly passionate about! I think the courses are a great way to build knowledge and skills in beer production and tasting. My favourite part of the courses is watching the students’ confidence grow as they learn more - it's so rewarding!

Caiti: I am planning to take a bit of a sabbatical this summer and fall. After several years of brewing IPAs in a heavily dominated IPA market, I'm ready to scratch that creative itch again. I am planning to step away from the day to day of my brewery and reach out to a few producers and farmers to learn more about koji, sake, natural wine, spontaneous fermentation, and apple growing. The world of brewing is vast! I'm looking forward to learning and growing a bit more this year... and I'll see where that takes me next!

Mike: I am currently involved in three or four live ‘product matching’ projects which I love. This involves producing a beer brand in a different brewery to normal, using different raw materials, different process conditions, different brewing equipment, and collaborating with different people – the key requirement being that the resultant beer is identical in flavour, aroma, and chemistry to the ‘normal’ beer – quite a challenge! My other passion is people, and I am privileged to be part of our graduate recruitment and development programme – passing my knowledge and experience onto other, younger, brewers is a big part of what drives me after 40 years in the industry.

Interested in expanding your beer knowledge? Take a look at our WSET Level 2 Award in Beer.