We spoke to Cath Mercer, Brewing Technician at Robinsons, to find out more about what her role entails. This October, Cath celebrates 10 years at Robinsons. Congratulations to Cath, and thank you for all your continued hard work!
What brought you into brewing?
When I was little, my dad used to be Head Engineer at Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. He used to take me out at weekends and we’d sometimes have to pop into work, and he’d lift me up and show me inside all the vessels. From being really tiny I said I wanted to work in a brewery when I grew up, never thinking that I actually would do. When I was at university I did my industrial placement at Thwaites, and spent a couple of months there. After I left university I was working in Manchester for the NHS, but wanted a change. My dad had mentioned that a job had come up at Thwaites and that I should try applying for it. And so I did! Because I’d worked there previously – they knew me well and I got offered the job. So, yes, that’s almost 30 years ago!
So, did you do a related degree?
I did Applied Biology at university, which is a broad study of different sciences, and then I’ve gone on to do my brewing qualifications since working in the industry. I’ve gained my diploma from the IBD, which was hard work, but really interesting and rewarding.
So what brought you to Robinsons?
I got made redundant in June 2013, and decided to spend the next 3 months travelling and seeing the world. A couple of weeks after I returned home, I was made aware of a temporary position in the Laboratory at Robinsons, which I applied for. I was lucky enough to get the job and six weeks turned into a permanent position. After just over 3 years, I transferred from the Laboratory at Unicorn Packaging Company, to the brewery in Stockport so I could be more ‘hands-on’ with the brewing side.
So historically were you always in the lab?
Yes. I’ve always wanted to get into brewing, but trying to get that step up was quite difficult, as it used to be quite a male dominated workforce. I don’t think females were taken seriously! Luckily, things have improved over the years. I loved being in the lab, but wanted to expand my knowledge and learn some new skills.
So what has been your journey at Robinsons?
I was at UPC [Unicorn Packaging Centre] for three years, and then came down to the brewery on a temporary secondment to cover maternity leave. One of my colleagues who used to work in the brewhouse took early retirement, which meant there was a position going. I was hopeful I would be offered the position as I had already learnt much of the role, but I still had to be interviewed. Luckily, I was offered the position, and I’ve been at the brewery ever since. It was funny, because I recall getting told off from the Technical Brewer for dressing up in a suit and making an effort – I think they expected me to go in my work scrubs!
What’s an average day like?
I don’t really have an average day. I could be doing all sorts of different things from monitoring and checking fermentations, monitoring the brewing process, analysing samples in the lab or filling road tankers. There is a lot of planning and paperwork to do too. Usually I’m juggling a few jobs at once!
So what does the quality side entail?
Quality is making sure that all our beer is what we call ‘true to type’ and safe for customers. Each batch of Unicorn we brew has to be the same - the colour, the alcohol level, the flavour, etc. Every product has its own different specifications and we constantly monitor all the processes to make sure that our customers know they will be getting a great pint of their favourite drink.
So you mentioned you have to work a weekend this weekend? What does that look like?
Well, it can vary from one day to the next. We don’t brew at the weekends normally, but we have to check the fermenting beers in the vessels – we want to make sure everything is going as it should. We might put a vessel on cool, change the rousing or add FV hops, and a lot of the time we will need to skim the yeast when the beer has finished fermenting. That can be a messy job!
What do you find most interesting?
For me, I love the fact that throwing a few raw materials together, with the right amount of time and temperatures, produces something that will become beer. Obviously, there is a little more to it, but that’s a simplified view. It’s funny, because even though we have our specifications, we use natural raw materials and there will always be that little bit of variation. We have to sometimes tweak the process and use our experience to ensure that the end product is something that we can say ‘yes – that’s good’.
How do you make sure that it’s the right ABV?
Checks, checks and more checks! We keep a close eye on the beer whilst it is fermenting – both for gravity and temperature, and then use calculations to determine the abv at the brewery. Its quite a complex process and needs constant monitoring.
What’s kept you here 10 years?
I love my job! I enjoy the fact that I work shifts and the flexibility that gives me, and I work with a great bunch of people. No two days are the same and you never know what to expect when you arrive to work. I like that my role is quite active/physical as I’m not really the type of person to sit behind a desk all day. The variety keeps it interesting. I consider myself very lucky to have a job that I love!