Five minutes with... Jean Timmons - Senior Brewer

Posted: 30 June 2014

Blog category: Meet the Team

Age: 58

Lives: Faversham

Education: Degree in industrial microbiology and biochemistry from Nottingham University; Degree in medical microbiology and biochemistry from Nottingham University; Brewing Diploma; adult education lecturer accreditation.

Career: Worked at the Boots laboratory in Nottingham for 10 years, owned an off-licence for 7 years, then worked in the lab at Mansfield brewery before being recruited to join Shepherd Neame in 2002 as lab manager. Appointed shift brewer in 2007, bottling hall manager in 2009 and became senior brewer in 2011.

Hobbies and interests: Walking and reading

Favourite Shepherd Neame beer: Whitstable Bay Blonde Lager

Favourite non-Shepherd Neame beer: Guinness

What are your main responsibilities?
I oversee the entire brewing process and some elements of packaging, with responsibility for around 25 staff. I ensure the beer is brewed precisely to our recipes and is processed at the right time ready to meet the packaging programmes.

What does a typical day involve?
I am in the brewery from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although my phone is always on and I can get calls as early as 6am or late at night. There is no typical day, but regular tasks include managing recipes and planning brew programmes, cask programmes and filtration programmes. I check every beer made before it goes forward to be packaged, conduct audits and liaise with external clients over our contract brews.

What personal characteristics help you in your role?
Good organisational skills are key, as I have to plan what is going on at the brewery, and then manage the brewery staff to carry out that plan. Experience is essential, so you have the confidence to make critical decisions quickly.  Being adaptable is also important, as the industry is constantly changing and you can’t be set in your ways.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
Watching the beer going out of the gates is still very satisfying, after all the work which goes into it. I also like going into one of our pubs and seeing people enjoying our beer. Another great part of my job is being able to come up with new beers.

What is tough about the job?
We are so busy, and this is an old site so we often experience problems. You never know what is going to happen next. We also create a lot of different beers, which requires our staff to possess a broad range of skills, and sometimes poses a logistical challenge.

What achievements are you particularly proud of?
A colleague and I converted an unused hop loft into a tasting suite at the brewery in 2006. Everyone used to do tastings sat around a table in an office, but after I did a sensory course I realised the importance of creating a specialised space. The suite has subdued lighting and individual booths, so tasters can concentrate and focus.

Did you always want to work in brewing?
I studied science as I wanted to be a forensic scientist, since there was a large forensic science unit in the centre of Nottingham where I grew up. But as soon as I qualified, it moved out of the area, so I began working for Boots’ laboratory, progressing to a senior management level. I left to have my two daughters, and took on the off-licence so I could be at home with them. When they were older, I saw a job advertised for the lab at Mansfield brewery in Nottingham, and thought it was a great opportunity to get back into science. I have been in the brewing industry ever since.

What are the attractions of working in the brewing industry?
It’s a generous industry, with a free flow of knowledge, and as a brewer, I like to see other brewers succeed. And, of course, I have always liked beer!

Have you experienced any difficulties as a female working in the beer industry?
You can have sexism anywhere, whether it is a traditionally male-dominated industry such as brewing or not. There are a lot more women in the industry now than when I started, but that is reflective of more women in science in general. There are more opportunities now, which is great to see. Shepherd Neame has more female brewers than any other in the UK. I have always just tried to be one of the team, without any reference to being male or female. My husband Ian also works at Shepherd Neame as a production operator, but I don’t expect any allowance or deference as a female from him or anyone else. When your male colleagues completely forget you’re a woman, and you find yourself lugging a heavy sack up a hill without any offers of help, then you have done it!