A brewer’s tale

Let me recount a brewer’s tale…. As a kid I was a bit of a geek. I loved science and in particular the biological sciences. I come from a medical/veterinary family so, I guess, it was in my genes. Amongst my exams at school, I amassed 3 biology ‘O’ Levels in Botany, Human Biology and Biology, as well as an A Level in Biology. From there I went on to study Biochemistry at Oxford University. As with any normal person of that age, I had no idea what career path I wanted to take but I knew two things – I didn’t want an office based desk job and I wanted to do something that used my science. At that point I didn’t really know what that was.

I took myself off to Australia for a year to think about it and returned to take up a PhD position at Imperial College. I quickly realised that the ‘pure science’ route was not the right one for me but, during that time, I had a casual job in a brew pub across the road from where I lived, working behind the bar. The pub was called the Flounder and Firkin on the Holloway Road in London and it was a fantastically vibrant and lively place where the tables were mainly reserved for dancing on top of on a Friday night. It was the place where I was introduced to the brewing process and it really floated my boat!

I went to Japan for a year to be with my wife (and now business partner), Gill to think about it a bit more. On my return, I took up a place at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to study Brewing and Distilling Science. I loved it. It had plenty of biochemistry but also chemical engineering, physics, maths and much, much more. The science of barley, hops and yeast is genuinely fascinating and each differs from the other. The other bonus of it was that it incorporated one of my great loves which is cooking. Most brewers I know enjoy cooking and, indeed, many very good brewers started out as chefs. Makes sense in that brewing is just combining different ingredients and flavours to create something tasty.

After graduating, I worked at a Brewing Research Facility in Surrey, the Badger Brewery in Dorset and a maltings in Suffolk before heading to Herefordshire to take up the position of Head Brewer at Wye Valley Brewery. I was there 12 years and saw the staff grow from 15 to 50, installed a bottling line and an entire new brewery. They were good years.

So why decide to jump ship in 2015 and set up Swan Brewery on our own?

Inevitably, the more senior you become in an organisation the further away you become from the reason you wanted to do it in the first place. I was morphing into the office desk job which I had never wanted in the first place. My time at Wye Valley had run its course but, having fallen in love with Herefordshire, we really didn’t want to leave. I also didn’t want to look back in 20 years and wish I’d given it a go.

Regrets? I’ve had a few, too few to mention?

It has been incredibly hard work. It is also very personal – the highs are higher but the lows are very much lower. Anyone running their own business knows it is your life not just your work. You don’t park it at 5PM on Friday and pick it up again 9AM Monday – it is constant, especially if you are married to your business partner. It all seems worthwhile when we take time to look back at what we’ve achieved and we’ve also met lots of fabulous people along the way.

So, please try our beer in pubs and come to our Tasting Days on the first Friday of the month as and when we are allowed to do those kind of things. Our shop is open Fridays throughout.