The North East women who are changing the image of beer
PUBLISHED: 01:01 07 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:00 20 February 2013
Beer is no longer a male preserve and the industry is ale and hearty. Guy Kiddey reports
A revolution is brewing. The image of real ale as the preserve of men of a certain age wearing over-filled woollen jumpers is changing. For years beer has been a predominantly male preserve but Julia Austin and Mikaela McConnell have put an end to all that.
A revolution is brewing. The image of real ale as the preserve of men of a certain age wearing over-filled woollen jumpers is changing. For years beer has been a predominantly male preserve but Julia Austin and Mikaela McConnell have put an end to all that.They have joined the microbrewingmovement and in just a few months they have proved it is no longer a mans world.
Although most of Mikaelas friends are beauticians and hairdressers she sees no reason why a woman cant make outstanding beers. The 22-year-old, who is in charge at the Jarrow Brewery, South Shields, said: Its hard work and you have to be very methodical.And she has reaped the rewards of her hard work. Her Rivet Catcher ale was a Champion Beer of Britain in 2008.And demand for the beer she describes as a light, smooth, satisfying gold bitter with subtle fruity hops remains high.
We cant keep production high enough at the moment, she added.In the past nine years, the number of mircobreweries across the UK has boomed from 200 to over 800 and quality has never been better, with a huge range of aromatising and bittering hops available from all over the world.
Theres no sign were at saturation point at the moment, but were going to have to stay creative to remain competitive. Theres no point in making something predictable. You need to stamp your identity on what you make, Mikaela said.Julia, 41, founded the Tyne Bank Brewery in Byker, in February last year after being made redundant from the chemicals industry.
When the time came to leave, the mother-of-two turned to drink.For two years, I experimented in the kitchen, teaching myself from books how to brew. I also did a week-long course at Brewlab at the University of Sunderland, she said.In 2010, she entered the National Cask Ale Awards with four of her home creations and emerged from with prizes for each of her entries.
I came third in the bitter category and the man who came second said his other beers hadnt come anywhere in years of entering the competition.It was the motivation she needed to take the plunge. A wise property investment gave her the capital she needed to buy a brewery.Its a 20-barrel brewery, which is big for a start-up company.
Buying it was a risk, and there was no money available. Even if there had been a loan,the repayment costs would have been prohibitive, she says.But paying through the teeth was worth it. Julia started selling her award-winning brews last June. By the same month this year, she hopes to be in profit.Were making ten barrels a week at the moment, but if the pre-Christmas trend continues over the next few months, well have to start making fifteen.
Julia says her success comes from a blend of creativity and caution. Social media has helped her tap into new markets, and attract interest from a largely untapped source. By avoiding stereotypesand marketing her beers as drinks for all, she is attracting a growing female following.Fruit beers are especially popular with women, she said.
The Christmas Cherry Stout, which our customers voted for on Facebook, was a real hit. Weve recently started selling a black IPA, made using coffee from Piccollo Coffee in the Grainger Market.And both women see the potential in microbrewings small-scale credentials.
The approach satisfies the main -isms and ilities of our time: localism in sourcing ingredientsand selling goods, revivalism in reintroducing craft to production, and sustainability in cutting transportcosts and pollution.Julia calls herself a managed risk-taker and her business operates on a minimum of personnel and expenditure,with one employee working on a freelance basis.
Crucially, she says, you have to be sensible about size and not grow too much. Its going to have to be this way, she said. Look at the mess were in at the moment from being so greedy.
Five more super microbreweries around the North East
Allendale Brewing, Hexham
A interesting and exotic range of 13 beers and lagers, including one flavoured with Mexican chillies
Big Lamp Brewery, Newburn, Newcastle
The North Easts oldest microbrewery, founded 30 years ago, now produces a variety of regular and seasonal beers
Darwin Brewery, Sunderland
Often produce one-off brews for festivals with their sister company Brewlab, based in the university
Derwentrose Brewery, The Grey Horse Pub, Consett,
Brew a range of six ales, three of which are available at the pub at any time
Durham Brewery, Bowburn, County Durham
The oldest brewery in Durham produces cask and bottled beers, including the 10 per cent Temptation, with hints of caramel and blackberry
The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of North East Life
We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here