When you think of craft beer, images of bearded hipsters in checked shirts come to mind. Certainly not mothers of two with long luscious locks (went a bit Daily Mail there. Forgive me.)
For the last 200-300 years, beer has been seen as a man’s world, even though for all the years before that it was a woman’s thing. But craft brewing is allowing women back into the fold and in the UK, that’s being led by the likes of Julia Austin of Tyne Bank Brewery.
Julia’s journey into the world of malt and hops began in 2005. A graduate of Newcastle University with a masters in chemical engineering, she was working as a production manager at Arizona Chemical when she took a trip to Vancouver.
It changed her life. Eventually.
“I experienced a craft beer scene way ahead of where we were in the UK,” she says. “The skills, passion and knowledge evident among these breweries and tap rooms fuelled my dream to open my own brewery.”
Back home, she told her husband John that with a chemical background, brewing would be no problem – it’s a chemical process, after all. Sounding like a supporting husband, John bought her a couple of books on home-brews, which promptly did what most of us do with books on a new hobby: they sat on a shelf for a few years.
Eventually, John asked if he should throw them away and that was the impetus she needed.
After using her second round of maternity leave to ferment her plans, she returned to work to be offered redundancy.
And with that, in 2011, Tyne Bank Brewery on the launched in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the banks of – yup, you’ve got it – the River Tyne. In my old stomping ground of Byker, to be exact.
As well as brewing old favourites, Julia began experimenting with new tastes. It was a roaring success and quickly became one of the UK’s fastest-growing breweries.
Within five years, after crowdfunding an amazing £214,000, they moved to bigger grounds in a Victorian warehouse on the Ouseburn (which is my mam’s old stomping ground. Very old. Sorry, Mam.) A tap room means punters can watch beer being brewed while they drink.
Now, several awards and many innovative beers later, including one brewed for Brit winner Sam Fender, who is friends with Tyne Bank’s events manager, Julia is a brewing hit.
All this and she still doesn’t have a beard.
Here, Julia tells us more about starting up, making it in a man’s world and her recipe for work/life hoppiness (sorry!).
Tell us how you ended up in Newcastle?
I fell in love with Newcastle when I studied chemical engineering here, but initially moved back south for a job with Johnson Matthey as a production engineer for the ceramic glazes division. This covered the manufacture of basic glazes for sanitary ware and expensive gold and silver glazes.
After two years I returned to the North and started work as a paint engineer for Nissan in Sunderland, which was a great training ground. But after nine years of working with paint suppliers to resolve technical issues such as shade and mottle and bumper-to-body colour match issues, I felt the need to return to a more hands-on role. My next move was to Arizona Chemicals.
During this period, though, the chemical industry was downsizing and during times such as these, it is good to reflect on what we enjoy doing. This and an inspirational trip to Vancouver led to me founding Tyne Bank Brewery in 2011.
How did you start Tyne Bank?
I fell in love with the craft beer scene in Vancouver. Everything was fresh, the tap rooms were great and all the staff were knowledgeable.
As a chemical engineer, the thought of making something I loved was too great an opportunity not to progress. In 2011, we moved into our first premises and started brewing shortly after.
As founder of Tyne Bank Brewery, my role is to keep moving the business forward, providing beer our customers want to drink and a great environment for them to drink it here in our tap room while ensuring the team are focused and motivated.
My day can vary from speaking at a conference to paying the bills to cleaning the toilets, but there is never a dull moment.
Since then Tyne Bank has out grown its first premises, crowd funded to finance an expansion in new premises and continues to expand its customer base nationally and internationally.
What has been the most difficult part?
Cashflow through our growth phases and debt collection is always challenging.
And what has been the best?
Winning the Great British Beer Hunt in 2011, as it was the first recognition of our achievements. And then achieving our crowd-funding target, which helped us move into our new home.
Has it been difficult running a business in a male-dominated profession?
I don’t think It is really any more difficult for a woman than a man. But one thing that does annoy me is when salesmen, especially from equipment suppliers, cold call and automatically only talk to the male employees. Often they even continue to do so when informed that I am the person they need to speak to and am standing right in front of them!
Needless to say they never have a successful call.
I’m a lager girl. What should I look for in a craft beer?
That is the million-dollar question. For me, craft means a beer is brewed by people who care about the drinker’s experience. Ingredients and flavours should be true to the style.
Luckily the explosion in brewers means great choice and variety for the drinker, whether it is crisp pilsners, traditional bitters, sours or IPAs, there is something for everyone.
And finally, what advice would you give to women wanting to start their own business?
Never be afraid to ask, don’t conform or never think about stereotypes.
Understand what you want and what you need to do to get it. Be prepared to fail and retry.
Be the best you can be where ever you are. This was a piece of advice I heard three years ago and wished I had heard it way earlier.
What does that mean for me? I strive to be the best mum and partner I can be when I’m at home and the best MD when I’m at work.
This simple mind shift, if you can do it, makes focusing easier and increases your chances of happiness and success.
You can follow Tyne Bank on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook at @TyneBankBrewery. And if you’re in Newcastle in May, I’ll see you there!
Have you ever tried brewing your own beers? Or do you have hobby books somewhere waiting for you to turn them into a business? Let me know in the comments below!