Brewing beer is now women’s work

Maddie Culling, a brewer at Wharfe Bank Brewery in Leeds.
Maddie Culling, a brewer at Wharfe Bank Brewery in Leeds.
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Craft beers are on the rise with more breweries opening each years. Nicky Solloway visited Wharfe Bank Brewery and met brewster Maddie Culling.

Maddie Culling sits on a pile of malt sacks in the upstairs warehouse at Wharfe Bank brewery as she takes a break from cleaning the boiler.

She’s one of a growing number of female brewers hopping into a career in the real ale industry. She apologises for the pungent smell of chlorine, but adds that cleaning the equipment is a task she actually likes.

“I really enjoy just getting my hands dirty and digging out the vessels and cleaning everything,” she says. “It keeps you physically fit.”

Maddie, 27, from Leeds, splits her time between bar work and brewing. She’s been on a number of brewing courses and is now learning the trade alongside Wharfe Bank’s head brewer, Tyler Kiley.

“I’ve just started brewing on my own,” she says. “I made 40 casks of Washburn Best Bitter last week. It went fine and it’s fermenting nicely now.”

Craft ale continues to ride the crest of a wave across the country. According to a report by the Campaign for Real Ale last year, the UK has more breweries per head of the population than any other country in the world.

Over the last year and a half more than 170 new breweries have opened up. And female brewers, or “brewsters” are no longer such a rare breed, if indeed they ever were. Up until the middle of the 18th century, brewing was largely women’s work. The ale-wife made the beer in most villages around the country.

Maddie is now part of a modern new network of female brewers across Yorkshire, including brewers from Ilkley and Huddersfield.

And she now has her sights set on becoming one of a select few female “beer sommeliers” in the UK.

A beer sommelier is a qualified beer expert who can serve up advice on everything to do with real ale.

There are now around 15 beer sommeliers in the country, including Annabel Smith from Wakefield, who was one of the first women to take up the role.

Real ale is sometimes associated with old geezers in countryside pubs, but research for The Good Beer Guide 2015 shows that over a third of young people aged 18-24 have tried real ale and of those 87 per cent would drink it again.

Wharfe Bank Brewery opened five years ago in a converted paper mill on the banks of the River Wharfe near Pool-in-Wharfedale. Former professional cricketer Martin Kellaway set up the craft brewery after working in sales and marketing for a few breweries around the country.The microbrewery is well known for its quirky flavours and experimental ales.

Head brewer Tyler Kiley, 30, came over to the UK from Savannah, Georgia and is adding an international flavour into the brewing process.

He is on a mission to seek out new tastes and trends and has just created a ruby grapefruit pale ale.

“We used about 37 kilos of really, really good ruby grapefruit and we put it into every aspect of the beer,” explains Tyler.

“It’s full of flavour, we used the peel in the boil to get a really good nose and I used the flesh of the grapefruit in the conditioning tank, which gave it a really interesting grapefruit zing.”

He also created a rhubarb beer in cask for the company’s “special brew” for June, which was a sell out. “We use 100 kilos of Wakefield’s finest rhubarb into a wheat beer and then we use amber malt to colour it red,” he explains. The fruit is locally sourced and comes from Kirkgate Market in Leeds. The brewery also uses malt grown by Yorkshire farmers and many of the beers are produced with British hops.

Many microbreweries favour hops from the US, New Zealand and eastern Europe for the stronger flavours they can produce, which has led to a worrying decline for British hop growers.

But Wharfe Bank says it wants to support British hop growers and they use exclusively British hops in a few of their beers.

“British hops are making a resurgence,” says Tyler. “Our ruby ale uses all British hops but sometimes you have to go off shore to get a bigger flavour.” Tyler is largely a self-taught brewer. He worked his way up from a role in sales and packaging to become the lead brewer at Wharfe Bank.

Prior to that he worked as a bar manager for a number of years in Leeds and before that, he was a shoe salesman in Savannah.

“I was a very, very novice home brewer, I brewed with kits and malt.” More recently, he has taken a number of courses and trained with a brewer who worked with Carlsberg. “The American flavour was here before I started brewing but I think I bring a creativity and innovation that maybe was not being shown by every beer.”

He is on the hunt for new flavours and innovations and is quite proud of his hot new beer fermented with chilli and pepper.

“We’ve dubbed it the Mexican,” he says.

“We’ve put cayenne pepper, birds eye chilli and jalapeno.

“Our most popular beer at the moment is called Ro Sham Bo which is Rock Paper Scissors in America. It’s a 4.2 per cent and is what we’ve dubbed a session IPA (India Pale Ale).”

“The craft beer market in Britain is booming,” he says.

“There’s no other time I can think of that is better to be a drinker in Britain than at the moment. There’s so much diversity of flavour.”

Both Maddie and Tyler say they are absolutely passionate about beer.

“There are loads of

things to remember,” adds Maddie.

“Before I came here I knew a lot of the science behind it and a lot of the basic principles, but for me the hardest thing was learning how to use all the equipment, but I love learning about all the ingredients and how they work.