Chris Cooke, junior brewer
Find out more about his environmental career
This interview was conducted in 2012. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.
What do you do?
I make beer.
What did you study?
I did chemistry, biology, physics and general studies at A level, then I did a BSc in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. After university I went and taught English as a foreign language in China for three years. When I came back to Britain, I applied for this job as junior brewer at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, which is owned by Fuller, Smith & Turner.
How do you use biology in your work?
You have to know about bacteria and yeast and how easy it is to contaminate your beer. Historically, breweries have jealously guarded their yeast strains, because it’s such a major factor in defining the taste and character of the beer. Some years ago, Fuller’s bought Gales Brewery, and we brew the Gales beer on the same site, so we have two separate yeast strains (the Fuller’s and Gales strains). We have to make sure that never the twain shall meet.
What does a typical day entail?
It varies. I could be mashing in and running the brew, which means mixing the germinated malt with hot water, or pumping the hot wort – the sugary solution at the bottom of the mash tun – from the coppers into the fermentation tanks. I could be cleaning and refilling the storage tanks that we use for repitching, or reusing, the yeast from one batch to the next, or I could be doing routine checks and maintenance of the equipment.
How has the technology changed?
The general processes of brewing have been the same for hundreds of years. Nowadays, the equipment is made of stainless steel, and it’s on a slightly larger scale and more automated. That’s the only difference.
What are the most challenging and satisfying things about your job?
It’s a batch process, so the biggest challenge is to stay constantly on the ball so that we produce beers of a consistent quality. The quality of the raw materials changes, so we always have to make adjustments for that. If the colour from a particular variety of malt changes, we alter the amounts of different malts in the grist to maintain a consistent colour. The temperature and amount of time it takes to ferment the beer also have to be consistent. If you ferment a beer at a high temperature, very quickly, the yeast produces different metabolic by-products, which give you fruitier flavours, like apple, banana and raisin.
The best thing?
Making something that is enjoyable to drink.
A levels: biology, chemistry, general studies and physics (1998).
BSc, brewing and distilling, Heriot-Watt University (2002).
Evening classes studying accountancy (2008).
Gap year, working in a garden centre and as a surveyor’s assistant (1999).
Work in the packaging and bottling department, Scottish & Newcastle Brewery, Edinburgh (2003).
Teaching English in China (2004–06).
Junior brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner (2009–).
Salary guide (2017)
Typical starting salary: £18,000–£25,000 (Prospects).
Essential subjects (2017)
For brewing and distilling, at least one science (for Scottish Highers). Biology or human biology is required if applying with A levels (UCAS).