Our assistant brewer Gareth Reid caught the brewing bug after spending twenty years as an electrical engineer. He completed a MSc in Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in 2012-13, before joining the Black Isle team last September. We had a chat about his transition from power lines to pints…
How did you make the career leap from engineering to brewing?
It started when I got into drinking good beer. Being a bit geeky and OCD, I decided I wanted to learn how to make it. I quickly realised that the skills needed to be a brewer suited my personality. When my homebrew experiments filled the room that my wife had earmarked for an en-suite bathroom, she suggested that maybe the hobby was getting serious! So five years later, here we are.
How does brewing differ from engineering?
In many ways it doesn’t – you need a good eye for detail and a creative streak to be good at both. Sometimes both jobs require the skill and knowledge to think on your feet and improvise and of course there is a lot of equipment and machinery in the brewery. The main difference is the end product is tastier!
What are your favourite Black Isle beers?
I like Hibernator, Scotch Ale and Export Scotch Ale because they’re fun and interesting to brew – you have to really pay attention as you use a partigyle technique and have to get the sparging and cut off points right to get the right amount of sugars in the wort. Taste wise, they’re good sipping beers with relatively high alcohol for warmth and loads of flavour. Great comfort beers for Scottish winters!
I like Blonde for the opposite reasons. The recipe is really simple and the flavour profile relatively light so there’s nowhere for any off flavours to hide. It’s our biggest seller so you have to brew and ferment it carefully to ensure consistency.
What beers do you like, in general?
It honestly changes all the time! Recently I’ve been learning more about Belgian Trappist beers and just tried Rochefort 10 for the first time, which was spectacularly good.
What’s your favourite part of the brewing process?
Mashing in. The brewery starts to smell really good and you’re anticipating the rest of the brewday; going through a mental checklist to make sure that you do a good job. There’s a bit of pressure to get it right when you’re brewing 30 barrels at a time. A bit of a change from my formative years brewing 20 litre home brew batches in the garage!
Now, your non-brewing life. What’s your favourite…
Film? Doctor Strangelove
TV show? Northern Exposure
Book? Anything about the Space Race!
Non-beer beverage? Strong tea.
Weekend activity? Cycling and hillwalking.
What’s the best part about brewing at Black Isle?
I like the location. Working on the farm is very different from brewing on an industrial estate. Sometimes you forget where you are until you go outside and there are chickens wandering around or dogs looking for a pat!
Any tips for someone wanting to follow in your brewing footsteps?
Read, read and read some more! Always keep brewing and keep learning about ingredients, styles and techniques. Ask lots of questions. Some of the best professional brewers I know started out as (and still are) homebrewers; the science and methods are equally applicable at both ends of the scale.