Five minutes with… Jemima Vickers - Laboratory Manager

Posted: 28 April 2014

Blog category: Meet the Team

Age: 30

Lives: Canterbury

Education: Microbiology degree from the University of Kent; Diploma in Brewing from Institute of Brewing and Distilling; Tasting qualification from Campden BRI

Career: Joined Shepherd Neame in 2005 as a laboratory technician, and was appointed laboratory manager in 2009.

Hobbies and interests: Cooking, going on walking holidays and home brewing.

What are your main responsibilities?
I oversee the day to day running of the laboratory, managing five lab technicians and the resulting data and trend analysis.

What does a typical day involve?
Every day is different, but we always get together for a team meeting at 8.30am, then at 9am I go to the sample room to test all of the previous day’s production. It is a taste test, to make sure it is true to type and there are no off flavours. This is a final check, as we test every batch of beer at least five times throughout the brewing process. Samples come to the lab and we test them for the percentage of alcohol, colour, bitterness and haze - whether it is visually clear. I also perform daily tasting checks of the water we use in the brewing process, known as liquor. Other aspects of my role include helping with product development, and running taste panels with brewers every week. I generally finish at 5pm and work five days a week.

What can affect the test results?
The main factor for batch variations is the weather. We use natural products and they are weather dependent. For example, if we have a wet summer, it affects the hops and malt.

What personal characteristics help you in your role?
You need to be calm under pressure, as there is a large workload to deal with. You also need to be a good team player, as everybody at the brewery is interlinked and needs to work together.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
 I take pride in producing good beer – and obviously getting to taste beer for a living is great! I was a fan of lager before I started at the brewery, and ale is now my favourite drink, particularly 1698. I also enjoy the creative aspect of my job, when I get involved with product development. The latest was Whitstable Bay, when we tried out lots of different types of hops in the lab and whittled them down to a small number for the brewers to test when they were deciding on the recipe.

What is tough about the job?
It is really busy. The lab is a service for the brewery, which works around the clock to produce beer, so our workload is non-stop.

What attracted you to the industry?
My mother was a biology teacher and my Dad is a pharmacist, so I have always enjoyed science. I never thought I would end up working for a brewery, but the lab technician job came up after I finished university, and I decided to go for it. It is a brilliant industry to work in. It is really friendly, all the regional brewers know each other, and there are some great social events.

Has the brewery changed since you first joined?
I have been here for nine years, and there are a lot more microbreweries now, so we are creating a lot more seasonal cask ales to compete. That is great, though it does increase our workload.

Is it hard to be a female working at a brewery?
It is definitely a male-oriented industry, but here at Shepherd Neame we have several female brewers, probably more than any other brewery, and it really isn’t an issue. We are all part of a team.

Does the industry offer career progression?
I have definitely enjoyed a lot of support and development opportunities during my time at Shepherd Neame. They arranged for me to take the Diploma in Brewing, which I completed in 2009, before I was promoted to laboratory manager. They also organised my tasting qualification.