End of an era for Robinsons' Laboratory Manager, Margaret Holland

Margaret began her career at Robinsons Brewery in May 1981 due to her enormous interest and dedication to the brewing industry. She has always been deeply passionate about beer, taking courses and exams in her own time, and is now hanging up her boots after a remarkable 42 years with Robinsons. We caught up with Margaret to recap on her years with the Stockport brewers, and how she became a beer enthusiast.

She said: “On 25th January 1957, myself and my twin brother Paul were born into a family that at that point contained 4 brothers. 66 years, ago if anyone was pregnant and short of iron, doctors recommend you iron due to the yeast in it. So, my mum drank Guinness when she was pregnant with me! I was born on Burns Night, an evening that’s associated with alcohol. I was born into it! If you ask my mother what I was like as a child she would say I was a stubborn little madam, however, replace stubborn with determined at it was my determination that both got me into, and kept me in, the brewing industry.”

When Margaret started out, the brewing industry was heavily male dominated. She attended the International Brewing & Distilling Banquet annually, and at one point, there were 300 men and round 4 women (including Margaret!) Always interested in the sciences, Margaret looked in the local job adverts weekly in the area of science and technology, and saw an advert for a Lab Technician at Wilsons Brewery. She showed such an interest in her interview, that the one-hour long interview turned into a 3-hour long brewery tour! A few days later, she received a letter that changed her life – she got the job. After some time at Wilsons, Margaret moved onto Robinsons, and here’s what she said to say about it…

“The reason I stayed so long at Robinsons is very much the family. I have worked for Robinsons, but I work with the team. It was very different from my first job where it was a big organisation and a fixed structure, people in the lab didn’t connect with those above them, but here at Robinsons you’re included in every aspect and I’ve had wonderful relationships with members of the family, something I will always cherish.

So much has changed since I joined, the equipment is very different these days, the skill that and how you would do the job has changed - there used to be a couple of tests that required a lot of skill and practice but these days you just put a sample in the machine and it gives you the answer.

Everything’s changed, bottling used to be returnable bottles. The bottles would be returned to our bottling plant, rinsed and re-used. Now it is all new glass. I’ve done a lot of commissioning along the way, helping with a new bottling plant, new pasteuriser, a box maker, cask racking, and new lines in the keg plant. Where the fermenting vessels are, the room was open and didn’t have walls. I had to check the paint in the rooms to see whether it would kill the yeast off and check samples of the beers. You do weird and wacky things but it’s all part of why I loved my job so much.

When I first joined, most of our casks were wooden. The Time Serve Cooper fixed them if they broke. The inside of wood soon deteriorates, so we looked into updating the quality as wooden casks required a lot of repair. We turned over to metal instead.

Along my way there have been some big changes at Unicorn Packaging Company (our bottling site in Bredbury), we only had bottling and kegging and bottling only ran 3 days a week on a day shift only. Cask racking was down at the brewery in Stockport which required technicians to do the testing there, that has moved to Bredbury since.”

At one point, said Margaret, it was all lager that was drank, and cask beer was not the premium product. There’s a large demand now for low and no alcohol and low ABV beers, (hence our introduction of Citra Pale Ale at 3.4%), and we’re always looking to develop our range to suit consumer demand. However, Old Tom beer will always be my favourite!

One of Margaret’s biggest milestones was in 2021, when she was in the chair at the IBD Annual Banquet. Oliver Robinson (Managing Director, Beer Division) did the guest speech which was a real highlight. Margaret has seen the current Managing Directors grow up, and some of them were born around the time she was at the company.

Oliver concludes: “I remember visiting the brewery when I was around 11 years old, and Margaret had just started working at Robinsons as a lab technician. Margaret’s dedication to beer and beer quality has stood out massively for the past 42 years. She has never been anything but so loyal to us at Robinsons, but also to the industry and the IBD, where she has been Chairman, and has been on the committee for many years organising socials and walks. Organisations such as the IBD don’t exist without people like Margaret, who contribute hugely to the success of it. She has transformed how our lab works over her time here which we are all so thankful for. We wish Margaret a very happy and healthy retirement.”