Magazine article Management Today

MT People: On Sharp End - I'm Only Here for the Beer

Magazine article Management Today

MT People: On Sharp End - I'm Only Here for the Beer

Article excerpt

Dave Waller savours the rich smells and timeless skills of a traditional brewery.

It's too early for this, I think, as I arrive for a day at St Austell Brewery. Creeping through the drizzle at 6am, past forklifts and kegs, tankers and silos, all I can smell is booze. Here's a whole industry running on the stuff.

I run to the warehouse door asking for Phil. A shaven-headed bloke looks up from beside a tanker, where he's fiddling with a big hose. 'That's me,' he says, holding up the glass he's just filled with ale.

I'd imagined brewing had moved on from the days of rosy-cheeked labourers manhandling hops and sacks of malt. Surely everything is computerised and made of stainless, soulless steel? Not here - not yet Phil takes me through a maze of corridors and upstairs to two lovely old wooden mash tuns. In a month it all gets a shiny overhaul, for now it's defiantly traditional. I meet Will, a 37-year veteran whose ample gut suggests he's definitely sampled his share of the proceeds.

Dodging splashes of hot malty liquid from the steaming mash tun, Will bubbles with information. This is the first of two brews today. Each will give around 120 barrels - that's four tons of booze. Unlike 'dead' pasteurised beers, real ale is alive and vulnerable to less-than-expert attention. You stick the ingredients in, set the conditions as best you can, adjust if need be, and see what you end up with. It all feels admirably artisanal, but, with the brewery now knocking out 57,000 barrels a year, you're aiming for consistency.

'Taste that,' says James, the head brewer, scooping a pint glass into a run-off tank of hot, sweet beer as he shows me around. The place is like a warren - all narrow staircases, twisting corridors and old stone rooms housing sacks of grain.

You can feel the age. The brewery got its first phone number back in 1876. It was '4'. When Will started here he was surrounded by old boys who'd joined from school, a link to a time when it took two days just to get the beer 70-odd miles to Exeter in an old steam lorry. He recalls his job interview: 'The first question was: 'You're not too bright, are you?' No. 'Good. We want someone who's not educated out their arse.''

The air hangs thick with smells, from the bags of Slovenian hops we're chucking around in the fridge to the sickly sweet stench of bubbling beer. …

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