I first met Gordon McCallum, a Junior Brewer at Timothy Taylor’s, whilst he served me some excellent beers at the Craft Beer Rising event in London in February 2018. Gordon achieved a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering from the University of Strathclyde before continuing his studies at Edinburgh Heriot Watt University with an MSc in Brewing & Distilling. He then joined the five strong team of brewers at Timothy Taylor’s. He was also kind enough to spare some time for Inside the Cask and answer some of our questions…
Inside the Cask: You joined the team of brewers at Timothy Taylor’s in late 2015. What is your day to day like with your role as junior brewer? How have you found the experience to date at the company?
Yes I joined the Timothy Taylor’s team in December 2015, fresh out of university, and at first I didn’t have much of a clue to what I was doing. Working with the Timothy Taylor’s team is one of the best but steepest learning curves I have ever gone under.
We have a fantastic team of brewers and operators in place and they are the reason why we make a truly exceptional brew. As for the day to day runnings of the brewery, there are 3 different duties the brewers share, packaging, brewhouse and second brew.
The packaging shift concerns the onsite packaging line: overseeing cask washing, quality inspection, labelling, filling and then storage. The mashing shift is considered the typical brewers shift. Mashing in the brew in the morning then acting as a supervisor for the Brewhouse processes and anything else which may require our attention. The final shift is the secondary brewing shift of the day. Similarly to above, it starts by mashing in the second brew, but the brewer is responsible for enacting each process in the Brewhouse operations and see the brew through to finish.
Each shift consists of these primary focusses, but every day is different. There are new challenges and difficulties that we have to find solutions to or spot problems before they arise, everything from issues with equipment, management or the brew.
I have really enjoyed my time so far. This is a company that takes care of their employees. Timothy Taylors is steeped in tradition and has a mission statement of wanting to do right by the people involved from the shareholders, employees and the customers. They believe in brewing to the best of their ability with the most well suited ingredients on offer. The longevity of the company shows plainly how well this has been done even after 160 years since starting.
I feel privileged to work with people who care so much for a product that they take pride in. Landlord was the first real ale that my dad introduced me to and it’s surreal for me to work here now.
Inside the Cask: Where does your interest in brewing come from? Have you always wanted to work in the drinks industry?
My interest in brewing came from my father, who took to homebrewing ales in university to save money and from the love of trying and concocting different beers and the hobby has stuck with him since. I seem to be have developed this affinity. Throughout my teenage years I sampled a lot of ‘homebrew’ but I then began my own university career when a lot of the British craft breweries were becoming really popular. I had enjoyed real ales up until that point, but never thought much past “That’s a tasty beer”.
It wasn’t untill a trip to New York in my early 20’s that I took the brewing industry as a possible career seriously. I was introduced to such a massive variety of beer styles there that I thought the opportunity to undertake the production of beer would be something I’d be very interested in.
Once I had graduated from my first degree in chemical engineering, I was looking for something to specialise in. I had heard about the brewing and distilling MSc in the summer after my graduation. It made sense to me to go for it considering I already had a leg up with my engineering degree and I was already very interested in the subject. I had no real plan of what I would do after I got my MSc, but I was excited to see where a career in the beverage industry could take me.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your background? How did you find the Heriot-Watt University MSc in Brewing & Distilling?
I studied Chemical and Process engineering at Strathclyde gaining a Bachelor’s degree after 4 years. Chemical engineering set me up very nicely for the Brewing & Distilling course as it meant I could focus on the science aspect of the degree rather than the process engineering side. Overall I found the course stimulating and enjoyable, and the field visits from various beer and spirit moguls definitely made it worthwhile. I didn’t have much knowledge prior to the lectures about any of the science behind brewing and distilling so it was a lot to take in over the 3 semesters, however I can honestly say it was a brilliant course and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Inside the Cask: For people interested in coming into the drinks industry, and especially if they want to work as a brewer, what would be your advice? Are there different ways to access a job as a brewer?
There are two degrees available from universities in Britain that specialise in brewing. Brewing & Distilling and Brewing Science. To have one of these degrees under your belt is certainly the best way of displaying your interest and intent on working in the brewing industry, but other disciplines such as science and engineering will help with the production side. Business acumen is key, especially if one is considering to launch their own brewery but even when joining a larger drinks company it should be considered in order to achieve a successful understanding and hopefully evolution of the business.
The best way to start would be to apply for an internship with a local brewery. I myself spent some time volunteering with a couple of breweries after graduating to get some first-hand experience before applying for jobs. Most will be willing to let you muck in if you show interest and it’s a great way of displaying your interest on your CV. Also the best way of finding out if brewing is or is not for you!
Inside the Cask: What is so special about Timothy Taylor’s beers? Which one is your favourite and why?
Boltmaker seems to be the brewer’s choice and it’s certainly my favourite right now, but it’s a close call. For me it’s a perfectly balanced bitter. When it’s served well the malt and hops play off each other in a way that I feel few other beers can do. Although I have been enjoying our Knowle Spring Blonde with this bout of nice weather. It’s fantastic to sup on in a good beer garden.
Timothy Taylors style of beers stick to a simple formula of using the most well suited ingredients to create beer that is difficult to match in terms of standard. Using golden promise malt and whole leaf hops is more expensive than other options offered, but they are necessary in order for us to produce beer of a consistently high quality that our customers expect and that is the idea that Taylors have and will always stick by.
Inside the Cask: We met at the Craft Beer Rising event in London this year (pictured below). Are consumer and trade shows something which you are involved with much? How do you find them?
We have always stuck to real ale festivals rather than craft, because with these kind of festivals, it’s less about the marketing strategy of getting our name out there and more about the introduction of a new Taylor’s range. I enjoyed Craft Beer Rising very much. It’s always great to meet up with different people involved with breweries I admire and am interested in. You always gain fresh perspectives on a lot of the progress that has been made in the industry.
By my own choice I’m usually on the receiving side of the bar at these events, but I do enjoy interacting with people and it’s always fun to answer questions for people who are genuinely interested in the brewery or the product.
Inside the Cask: What surprised you about working in the Brewing industry?
The variety of people that work in brewing. People from all walks of life that happen to share a common interest. I found this from the very beginning. When I started the course at Heriot-Watt I was surprised at the variety of backgrounds people had before they came to the MSc course. Some who had been in the industry since the start of their career and were taking the next step and some that had never done any science or engineering based learning and had come from a completely different path. I love this variety of people in the industry and it always makes it the complex and engaging discipline that allows constant new ideas and technologies to spring up all the time.
Inside the Cask: How important is innovation in brewing? What do you think about the rise of craft beers across the US, Europe and elsewhere?
Competition is part of business. The rise of beers is inevitable. Trade has been dominated by standard fare for too long and for the worlds most consumed alcoholic beverage there needed to be more choice for the consumer.
The rise of craft beers on an international scale was what first attracted me to brewing in the beginning. I think it’s fantastic that we now have such a variety of beers from all over the world and that they are easily accessible. As one of the oldest profession in the World, it has the need to constantly evolve and develop. This makes all the more exciting to be a young brewer.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job?
I enjoy finding solutions to problems that crop up from time to time especially when it’s related to the equipment or finding an alternative process when something fails. I have yet to see a true crisis mode situation, but we’ve had a few times where an alternative solution needs to be found quickly to ensure we maintain our quality assurances. In those times the satisfaction of applying the correct solution is an achievement in itself.
Aside from that it’s immensely satisfying to see people enjoying the product that the team works hard to make.
VIDEO – Timothy Taylor’s Brewery Tour
VIDEO – Heriot Watt University MSc Brewing & Distilling