Beavertown’s new head brewer Jen Merrick joins the growing number of women putting the ‘ale’ in female brewing.
Jenn Merrick isn’t your normal brewster.
“My colleagues used to be tickled by the fact I was a woman, American and a lesbian working in the brewery trade,” she says, as she guides me around the Beavertown Brewery on Fish Island, Hackney Wick.
Merrick is part of a growing number of women who are quite literally tapping into the rapid growth of independent breweries in Britain over the past few years.
With more breweries now than there have been in Britain since the 1940s, the market for real ale and craft beers is on the rise, and with this growth comes an increase in the number of females consuming and producing beer in the UK.
Figures from CAMRA’s 2014 Good Beer Guide showed a marked increase in the in the number of women brewers compared to five years ago, and that female membership of the organisation has risen by 20 per cent in the past three years.
Merrick attributes this to a “new school of beer lovers” who are “open minded to different styles of beer whether that is flavour, the way the beer is brewed or who it is brewed by.”
Squeezing our way through the towers of beer boxes and tightly packed barrels, I am struck not only by Merrick’s passion for beer but also her knowledge.
“When you get into brewing there is a lot to know. Duty, bonded warehouses, waste beer documentation – it is all very precise, technical and strict.”
Born in Salt Lake City in Utah, Merrick began her working life baking with yeast rather than fermenting it: ‘‘I’ve always liked the craft food and drink industry,” she says. “In the US I ran Brueggers Bagels a traditional bakery and a coffee roasting business called Milk Creek.”
Brueggers was so successful that Merrick was able to sell the shop, which eventually got franchised and spread across the US.
But, as the saying goes, ‘one cannot live off bread alone’ and after meeting her English partner Nancy at a music festival in Michigan, they decided to come to Britain and her career in beer began.
“When I got to England I was really interested in learning brewing and there are quite a lot of good schools to do that.”
Enrolling on a course at the Brew Lab College in Sunderland, Merrick learnt the basics of traditional brewing and was able to find a job at the York Brewery after graduation.
“We were old school, we didn’t have a forklift. It was all about lifting, carrying and sweating. It was hard work but we earned our pint at the end of the day.”
When asked her whether being a woman, American or lesbian has ever been an issue, Merrick says: “If I would go down to the boozer with my colleagues and have a pint of cask ale and really appreciate it knowing that I was the person that made it, they wouldn’t care if I was a woman, American or a lesbian.”
“I had to earn my keep, like anyone, but once I had it they are friends for life. It is the beer that comes first at the end of the day.”
After leaving Meantime, Merrick became a brewing consultant, helping London’s newest start-up breweries get off the ground.
“Nancy and I adopted a baby boy about two years ago and I quite fancied being able to make my own schedule and do part-time. Consultancy fitted in really well with that.”
But then Beavertown came calling.
“I wasn’t looking for a new job but Logan, who runs Beavertown, contacted me through Mark, my boss at Dark Star. He really liked my CV and was a fan of the kind of beers I had produced in the past.”
And it seems she is joining a winning team.
“The company began just a year ago, with founder Logan Plant brewing in the basement of his Duke’s Brew & Que restaurant in Hackney, and has expanded astronomically, supplying restaurants like Byron and a growing overseas demand. There are plans to move to a new larger 30-barrell brewery in Tottenham Hale next year.”
“There’s really a lot of fun and creative input in the process of making beer here,” she says. “The packaging, the beer, and who we have working with us mean we have so much to offer to the market.”
“I personally couldn’t think of doing anything else it’s the most fun job in the world.”