Brewing up ale success

Feature on Welbeck Brewery's head brewer, 24-year-old Claire Monk (w110726-3b)
Feature on Welbeck Brewery's head brewer, 24-year-old Claire Monk (w110726-3b)
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FOR a beer lover, being in charge of your own brewery has to be a dream come true.

Twenty-four-year-old Claire Monk is living that dream.

As well as being one of the youngest head brewers in the country, she is also one of the few female ones.

And it all came about by chance.

She said: “I did microbiology and bio-chemistry at Sheffield University and was chatting to a lecturer because I was panicking about what to do, and he suggested the food and drinks industry.”

“When I first left uni I worked for a year as a student union officer and then I started working at Kelham Island brewery in Sheffield as a brewer in September last year.”

Welbeck Brewery is owned jointly by Kelham Island the Welbeck Estate, so when it opened in April this year Claire (pictured) got the job as head brewer.

She has already produced four beers, all with names linked to the Welbeck Estate.

There is Henrietta, a 3.6 per cent golden ale named after one of the duchesses; Red Feather, a 3.9 per cent amber ale, named after the crossed red feathers logo; Portland Black, a 4.5 per cent black beer which takes its name from the Duke of Portland; and Ernest George, a 4.2 per cent deep ruby bitter, named after the architect who rebuilt one of the abbey wings after it burned down in the 1900s.

Claire, who lives at Carburton, said: “We are sticking with those four at the moment but each month we will also be doing a special beer of around five per cent.”

“I’ve had a love and passion for real ale since my dad got me into it when I was about 18. I love going to the pub and trying all sorts of different beers.”

“There’s quite a bit of competition round here because Sheffield and Nottingham are both big real ale-loving cities.”

Claire has managed to get the Welbeck beers into more than 50 local pubs and they are also sold bottled in the estate farm shop for £2.85. Customers can also buy a four-pint carry keg for £12 and then re-use the keg for £10 a time afterwards.

At the moment Claire and her assistant Josh Hopkins are producing two brews a week, which is equivalent to about 6,000 pints. This is either put into plastic casks for delivery to pubs, or hand bottled at the brewery.

Claire has the job of tasting the beer as it is brewed.

She said: “Brewing beer is a very scientific process and there’s a lot of microbiology and bio-chemistry involved which is where my degree comes in useful.”

“You have to consider what you want the alcohol content to be and work out how much sugar is needed for the yeast to ferment into alcohol. You also need to know what colour you want. It’s a bit like following a recipe for cooking, but the flavour can vary depending on where it is brewed and the water.”

“You also get different flavours from hops which can affect the aroma and bitterness.”

Claire orders her barley from Castleford in West Yorkshire and her imported hops from a Kent company.

She is a seasonal drinker, preferring pale and lower strength ales in the summer, and darker porters and stouts in the winter.